The Memory and Knowledge of Climate Change Loss

“Gudenes dans” or "Dancing Gods" by Norwegian Sami artist, sculptor and illustrator Iver Jåks (1932 - 2007). Photographer: Jan Helmer Olsen.

The Memory and Knowledge of Climate Change Loss

Conversations with Anne May Olii, Director of the Riddoduottarmuseat, Sámi Nation, Karajok, Norway.

In this third blogpost Dr. Sandro Debono, a museum thinker based on the Mediterranean island of Malta, shares his thoughts and reflections about the Chatter Marks Museums in a Climate of Change podcast series with museum professionals from all over the world co-hosted with Cody Liska.

Anne Ollie, Riddoduottarmuseat Director
The third episode in the Anchorage Museum’s series of Chatter Marks podcasts featuring museums in a climate of change had a very clear take away for me. Museums can think one hundred, two hundred years into the future. I cannot agree more, but then, more than about the ‘if’ it is most certainly about the ‘how’! It might be difficult, at first, to picture this possibility clearly through the lens of a short-termism that still pervades the museum ecosystem. That is anything but guided by what we can describe as cathedral thinking. Medieval cathedral builders in central Europe made sure to plant the trees that would one day provide the wood to replace the beams supporting their monumental architecture. That, indeed, has much to do with sustainability but that is also informed by long-term thinking too. Can and how can we bring cathedral thinking into the picture when we think about museum futures? Our conversation with Anne May Olii, the director of the Riddoduottarmuseat, a Sámi nation museum in Karajok, Norway, suggests one possibility in response to climate change.

Anne May Olii is Sámi, a conservator by training but also a reindsherd like most of her family. Reindeer husbandry, and the challenges that climate change has brought to Sámi grazing land, features extensively in our conservations with Anne May. Climate change is impacting long-standing herding practices. Grass is increasingly trapped under an unusually sugary veil of snow and oftentimes beyond the easy reach of reindeers. There is no word to describe this type of snow inspite of the broad choice of words that Sámi use to classify diverse snow types. Sámi cultural landscapes are incresingly also becoming a habitat for alien flora and fauna.

Anne May admits that there is no knowledge or understanding of how this will be changing the Sámi way of life.

The Riddoduottar museum Norway.
Photographer: Jan Helmer Olsen.

Climate change is clearly and unequivocally impacting the Sámi way of life and this is where Anne May Olii’s museum comes into the picture. The Riddodu-ottarmuseat is a thriving and active museum. It also holds the national Sámi art collection which it has brought together over the past fifty years and to which it continues to add acquisitions for a future Sámi Art Museum that is still, as yet, on the drawing board. For Anne May, beyond the possibilities in collections de-velopment, more than empowerment and more than a call to action on climate change, it is documentation that has to take centre-stage and not just in re-sponse to climate change. As younger generations move away from reindeer husbandry, Anne May’s efforts are continuously focused on documenting tradi-tional skills and methods. That concerns documenting the context too. Indeed, documentation has to focus on how to go about choosing the right materials and resources, as well as the ways and means how to care of objects and artefacts that are now increasingly found in the museum’s collection.

This is where the conversation takes a most unexpected twist. Traditional schooling, Anne May claims, has fuelled the loss of precious indigenous knowledge that is much more relevant and pertinent to the conservation and preservation of Sámi material culture than established conservation ethics protcolos, guidelines and ethics might be. Can indigenous knowledge be recog-nised at a par with academic knowledge taught at universities? With her con-servator hat on, Anne May lives in the hope that this is a possible way forward.

The Riddoduottar museum in Norway.
Photographer: Jan Helmer Olsen.

Anne May also shares an unexpected perspective on climate change action. For the Sámi, climate change action is increasingly becoming a double-edged sword. The risk that traditional Sámi grazing grounds may be lost as Norway transitions to a green economy is real and possible. Anne May specifically men-tions windfarms that would take up traditional Sámi grazing areas and this would most certainly have an impact on Sámi way of life. Yet, and inspite of these humungous challenges Anne May is anything but pessimistic. Norway shall be much less impacted by climate change than the global South already suffering from increasingly desert weather condition, and would become much more de-pendent on the global north for its food supplies. Anne May’s optimism was but a stark warning to me, for one, based and living in the Mediterranean.

The Riddoduottar museum in Norway.
Photographer: Jan Helmer Olsen.

Cody and I could not help noticing that this conversation with Anne May coincided with the publication of Norway’s Truth and Reconciliation Report, detailing the country’s history of assimilation. There is much more that needs to be done for Sámi values and way life to be acknowledged and understood. That comes across clearly throughout our conversation. Anne May is most certainly contributing to make this ambition a reality but there is more about that in this podcast episode.

Listen to the podcast in its entirety here.

As you listen to this podcast you will hear Anne May mention a number of projects, museums and publications:

The Sámi parliament of Norway
The Riddoduottar Museat, Sámi Nation, Norway
Máret Ánne Sara and her work at the National Gallery of Norway
Norway’s Truth and Reconciliation Report
‘This new snow has no name’: Sámi reindeer herders face climate disaster (The Guardian, December 17, 2021)
The wind farms on Fosen and the Supreme Court judgment (Norwegian National Human Rights Institution, March 7, 2023).
Illegal Wind Turbines in Norway: an ecological and indigenous conflict (Energy News, October 13, 2023)

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