Max Mackhé, photo © Ellen Berit Dalbakk
A while ago I posted a relatively long post about the problematic aspects of appropriating a Saami identity as an artistic statement as manifested by Lisa Vipola’s art exhibition Authentic Saami Art. Shortly after, the Swedish musician Max Mackhé –…
Well written. My gut reaction to Mackhé’s acceptance into the registry wasn’t negative (more like an “oh, okay”) but it does highlight the problematics of the entire system in a way that I’ve been itching to examine but lack the tools to do so for now. I didn’t mind, very likely bc I sort of know him, and started thinking about what it means that I can accept someone like him as Saami while I cannot accept my mother?
So onwards. Especially this paragraph is something very many people miss and I am ever so glad you point it out so eloquently:
In a Saami context, I would like to claim that a person’s self-definition cannot stand purely alone – it is tied to the act of belonging to a community by virtue of being related to other Saami, and while this does not in theory exclude Saami who have lost touch with their roots, it emphasises the fact that one has to be related to other Saami, self-identify as Saami and perhaps most importantly of all be considered to be Saami by other Saami in order to be considered ‘real’ or ‘authentic’.
And this too should be taken in the context where different settler states’ legal definitions differ to the point where descendants of Saami people travel to another to gain that status.
IMHO it does come down to the acceptance of the community and I am very, very bothered by the narrative in which the individuals’ rights are the sole focus of the discussion. It is another effect of the colonization of our communities that we cannot put them first. I feel that what Cutcha Risling Baldy has to say re: cultural appropriation applies here, too:
We live in a world of responsibilities, not rights. What are you responsible to?
I too grew up in an indigenous community where we learn that as adults, we have to be first and foremost responsible and accountable to our communities. Children get rights. Adults have to get their own shit together and be there for others too.
And on one hand it does come down to who you are responsible to. I have trouble accepting eg. my mother because of her consistent lack of accountability to what would be her primary Saami community: mine, and her father’s. She has had no respect for mine, and she hasn’t done the basic job of (re)connecting her own children with her father’s side of the family. At the same time Mackhé has shown responsibility to his communities as far as I can tell.
Yet the problem still remains: it’s a whole lot longer and more arduous a journey back to being a responsible member of your ancestral community when that community was taken from you with threats of violence and ostracization and you grew up disconnected. An ethnic non-Saami without the baggage but with the benefits of cultural immersion will get there a whole lot sooner and we def need to look into that if we are to restore and heal ourselves.
In the context of our ongoing colonization and the destruction of our families and communities, restoring healthy relationships for the disconnected Saami people should be top priority. How any individual settler personally feels about their identity growing up, living and/or working in Saami communities is to me a total non-issue and the only reason it’s talked about is because settlers are born with a whole lot of privilege that amplifies their voices over everyone else’s. In identity questions as well as other forms of community participation, I should add.
Because in the end this is not about the individual or anyone’s personal feelings or accountability (or lack thereof); this is about our communities. This is larger than the individual, and the priorisation of the individual is, I repeat, an effect of ongoing colonization where we lose sense of ourselves in relation to others of our kind, as part of something bigger than us. And I posit that the restoration of that sense of not being the centre of human existence but a part of something bigger, a knot in a web of interdependence and familiarity, is one of our most important challenges of the near future.