Day 9: Where are you from? Where are you headed? – Exploring education, social justice and indigenous groups in comparative rural areas

By: Ashleigh Weeden and Román Sánchez-Dávila

As life returned to normal after the Midsummer holiday and our adventure to Kemijärvi yesterday, today we dug into issues of identity, education, and working together. We covered issues ranging from migration to education, explored what it means to engage indigenous communities in rural research, and finished the day with a visit to the beautiful Arktikum Museum.
We started the day by working in pairs to learn more about our own migration stories. Each pair interviewed each other about where they were from, whether they had moved away from home and why – and what they imagined their future would hold. Interestingly, our group included people who had lived in the same area for their entire lives as well as people who had moved more than a dozen times! Learning about how so many of us are migrants in different ways and for different reasons – from education to employment or just a life change – helped us get in the mindset of thinking about rural migration before the lectures on this topic started.

Dr. Philomena de Lima, the Director of the Centre for Remote and Rural Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands at Inverness College in Scotland started us off with a lecture about rural migration in Europe, specifically the United Kingdom. She challenged us to rethink the concept of migration through the experiences of migrants instead of the view of employers. Following this, Dr. Lidia Carvajal shared insights on Mexican migration – including some illuminating statistics about the size and impact of remittance transfers sent by Mexican migrants working in the United States – in comparison, these remittances are far more than from any other country. 

Following our exploration of the economic implications of migration for rural communities, Anne-Mari Väisänen from the Lapland University of Applied Sciences shared insights about the Finnish educational system. After having visited several of the vocational schools in Lapland and having had our classes at Lapland University for the last 9 days, it was great to learn more about the structure and learning pathways in the Finnish educational environment.
We were grateful to welcome Dr. Pigga Keskitalo, who is a Docent at the University of Helsinki, Associate Professor in Education at Sámi at the University of Applied Sciences, Guovdageaidnu, Norway, and a University Researcher at the University of Lapland – even more so as she and her family are in the middle of the busy season of preparing for marking the new calves in their reindeer herd.

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Pigga shared the floor in the afternoon with Dr. Bill Ashton, who is the Director of the Rural Development Institute at Brandon University in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada. Pigga shared her experiences as a Sámi scholar, including the interesting balance she maintains between serving on the Sámi Parliament while also working as a researcher and scholar in Sámi education. Bill shared his experiences as a non-indigenous rural researcher working with First Nations in Canada.

Through an engaging conversation between Pigga and Bill, as well as the rest of the class, we explored the challenging and often traumatic histories of indigenous peoples and reflected on the care and respect that must be embedded in any research that seeks to engage indigenous people. Across contexts and comparisons, it felt poignant to reflect on the fact that research that engages indigenous people must actively work to give something back to the community… it strikes us that this principle makes for good research, no matter the field or people engaged. Indigenous research principles are just good research principles.

The last academic activity of the day was a visit to the beautiful Arktikum Museum in downtown Rovaniemi. Arktikum is a science centre and museum, focused on showcasing Arctic science and research as well as the general history of the Lapland region of Finland. Although we are visiting during the season of the Midnight Sun, we got to experience a small taste of the northern lights through a simulation at the museum, as well as learn more about the unique challenges facing the Arctic region due to the effects of climate change. As a Canadian (Ashleigh) and Mexican (Roman), we know that our countries face similarly uncertain futures and challenges as a result of climate change and it was interesting to reflect on how Lapland is actively researching what the future might look like.

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In the portion of the museum that shares Lapland’s general history, we learned more about the Sámi culture, native plants and animals, and about the impact of World War II on Rovaniemi, when almost the entire city was burned down.
The day ended with a wonderful barbeque in the late-evening sunshine, at an open-air and communal grilling pit near our residences at DAS. As we near the halfway mark of our last week together, it was wonderful to share the things that make both summer and ICRPS so wonderful: laughter and time with friends over a simple but delicious meal!