Rest as Indigenous Way of Resistance
Photo — Production Zinkinz
Indigenous Peoples comprise less than five percent of the world’s population, yet their traditions, learned through generations, protect 80 percent of global biodiversity. At SPACE10, we want to learn from this intergenerational wisdom and amplify these voices in imagining a collective future for people and the planet. With Ancestral Futures, we pass the mic to Inuk filmmaker and activist Aka Hansen, who curated a series of conversations with Indigenous changemakers from the Arctic region.
Discussing their work in the contemporary mediums of memes, DJ-ing, ASMR, and films, Sunná Nousuniemi explores rest and connectivity as pathways to resistance for Indigenous Peoples. Sunná, who lives in the Sámi lands adjoining colonial Finland, reflects on how art and technology create space for connection with culture and provide a language for healing. Aka and Sunná discuss how being in relationship with community — past, present and planet — can shape a decolonised future.
Aka: I know you are an amazing DJ, meme-maker, and filmmaker. I would say that’s storytelling in different ways.
Sunná: I started working in the Sámi cultural field in 2014. First, I started as a film festival producer in my home village. When I started watching Indigenous films, I realised there was so much I didn’t know. And here I am, seven years later. I am part of a DJ collective called Article 3. We only play Sámi and global Indigenous music. And recently, with memes, I try to raise issues we have in Sámi society, and make jokes. That’s my way of transferring knowledge about our culture. When you are Sámi, or Indigenous, you tend to have to teach other people and let them know what’s happening on their lands, in our community. I’m so tired — there’s so much work to do! I am, myself, trying to reconnect with my history. It takes capacity to learn, let alone teach others. Through memes, I’m teaching people, and it can also serve as laughter for the Sámi people.
What are the Sámi languages? Do you understand the others?
We have nine different Sámi languages. In Anár, where I live, we have North Sámi — which I speak — Inari Sámi, and Skolt Sámi. And also the Finnish language. The languages are quite different, with different alphabets. It used to be that everyone would switch to North Sámi or one of the colonial, dominant languages to talk to each other. Nowadays, everyone keeps their own languages, so I will speak North Sámi and my friends will speak in their own languages.
How do Sámi live today? It’s quite a big area.
The Sámi people are Indigenous Peoples located in four colonial states: Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. We’re about 75,000 or 100,000 people. Here in Finland, the population is about 10,000 Sámi people, with about 2,000 people here in the Finnish area of North Sámi. So it’s a very small community.
I hear my community saying, ‘Only 60,000 people speak Greenlandic — why keep it alive?’ Do you think it’s important to preserve language?
I have had a connection to the Sámi language since I was born, but it hasn’t been so strong because I went through the Finnish school system. It is an ongoing process of reclaiming the language and learning about the Sámi worldview and belief systems.
It is a door to a different world that can be way more hidden. Taking care of and preserving Indigenous languages is really vital to keep these knowledge systems alive.
Can you tell us about the concept of rest as an Indigenous way of thinking? I know you have a residency that you’re building.
I have burned myself out a couple of times. It was bad, but I remember thinking that I did it for the culture, I did it for my people because I was reviving Sámi culture. After some time I realised, it’s still grind culture. Even if you try to paint it as a noble thing, it’s still upholding toxic and harmful systems. It takes energy from actual self-governance if we work in the system.
For a long time, I’ve noticed that the Sámi people are so hardworking with reviving our language and culture and our ways of living, but also, the homeland faces lots of threats, like mining, logging, and expanding mass tourism.
There are a lot of things that take focus away from our daily lives and there is not much space for rest because there’s always something happening. Sámi society is reactionary.
Then I was introduced to The Nap Ministry. The founder is an activist and theologian talking about Black liberation. They are committed to dismantling white supremacy and deprogramming from capitalism. Through getting to know them, I realised we need something similar for Sámi people when we work with decolonisation. Rest and care are not centred enough. We are mostly in survival mode.
The project I’m working on is to start a residency on my ancestral lands, where my late grandmother used to run a holiday village. The area hasn’t been in use for more than 10 years. I hope to be able to invite and pay for Indigenous Peoples to come over and work on projects, if they want; or just spend time here. To just reconnect with each other and take care of our natural human relations.
I don’t know if it should be called a ‘residency’, because North Sámi doesn’t have the word, and the concept comes from the western art world. Maybe it can be called a place dedicated to learning self-governance and reclaiming knowledge we have lost. Not a space for hyper-productivity.
How can rest be a form of resistance against the capitalistic mode of producing?
Decolonising the concept of time is important. Back in the day, Sámi people were semi-nomadic. It was the seasons that were leading how people lived. Things were planned by nature and weather conditions. There were specific tasks or chores through the year — getting certain foods and materials for living. The capitalist system doesn’t take weather conditions into account.
A few years ago, I thought I hated winter. One day, I got up at 6am and I was late for work, and I went outside to scrape the ice from my car windows, swearing in the darkness. Then I looked up at the beautiful Northern Lights in the sky and said: ‘How am I swearing? Why am I not noticing the Northern Lights?’ At that moment, I realised I don’t hate winter. It’s just that the capitalist system makes us go hard and keep up a relentless pace in winter, and people are exhausted.
Would it make sense to rest more during those winter periods?
Definitely. If you want to have a good life and thrive in the Arctic, here in Anár, in Sápmi, I think people should slow down, work less, and even see less people. Then, in summer, when the sun doesn’t go down at all, we socialise after not seeing each other for many months.
That’s not just an individual problem, but a systemic problem that we are forced to be out of touch with nature. I’d like to focus on the weather conditions. Practice more self-governance. Find our own community.
These two concepts in your work, rest and humour — which you were talking about with memes — seem equally necessary.
If someone doesn’t say we have to stop and rest, it will never happen. There will always be another mining project or legislation that we have to work on. I have been learning more about the old family belief systems and starting to reclaim the philosophy of our people: taking care of our relations. Not just the people, but land, water, air, and animals — all living beings. Now, in a pandemic, that is even more important. I’ve really been thinking about why do I make films? Who do I tell stories for if there’s nobody left? If all the land, all of the communities, are gone.
It’s important that our people need to know we are more than resources for teaching other people, or resources for fighting: we are human beings.
With DJ-ing, it is really healing because it’s not a protest against something, or a reclaiming of something, but it’s an actual party. I love Sámi parties. We wanted to centre our people’s pride and joy on the dance floor with Indigenous music. My first time playing with joik — a traditional Sámi song — I remember this person joiking along with the music, with this sad but happy look in their eyes. And I hear them say, ‘we are still here’. It was so moving!
In the future, I would like to help people visit the land, spend time there, and reclaim things that they miss. Give them a place to just be.
To just be. That is also a way of resisting, because the opposite is not being there, or being in this world. It’s amazing what you have shared today!
A warm thank you to Aka Hansen for this generous, seed-planting journey. Listen to the full conversation. Read abridged versions of Aka Hansen’s introduction to the series and conversations with Paninnguaq Lind, Brianna Olson-Pitawanakwat, and Alice Qannik Glenn. We’ve woven these stories together in Ancestral Futures.
Aka Hansen is an activist, mother, and Inuk filmmaker from Greenland. After gaining recognition in Greenland’s film and television industry, she founded Uilu, a production company on a mission to tell more Indigenous stories with Inuit voices. She has been active in recent debates on the decolonisation of Greenland.
Sunná Nousuniemi is a Sámi-Finnish visual artist, DJ, and former festival director of Skábmagovat Indigenous Peoples’ Festival from Anár, Sápmi. With their work, Nousuniemi pursues intergenerational, communal healing by artistically exploring the different dimensions of cinema, discussion, memes, and music.