Accepted paper:

On Sámi words and lakes: mistranslation as colonisation


John Law
Liv Østmo (Sámi University of Applied Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

Norwegian environmental policy divides nature from culture in ways that damage Sámi care for lakes. The paper explores the Sámi term jávredikšun, and considers the analytical and political significance of refusing to translate such non-binary and environmentally-relevant indigenous words.

Paper long abstract:

Norwegian environmental policy divides nature and culture and seeks to protect landscapes from human activity. The idea is that natural forces should be allowed to operate without human interference. As a result, it becomes difficult or impossible for indigenous Sámi fisherpeople to care for their lakes. Sámi water-related practices are contextual and embodied, and caring for lakes involves a weave of material and social practices that include the need to sustain respectful relations with powerful and morally lively non-human actors. This conflict between the nature-culture binaries of Norwegian policy and Sámi understandings of landscape and water is indexed in a range of colonising linguistic differences. Norwegian terms are mistranslated into Sámi with important policy-relevant consequences, while environmentally-relevant Sámi words translate poorly into Norwegian or English. In this paper we focus on the notion of jávredikšun, a key term for Sámi people who fish on inland lakes. We explore how this word indexes non-dualist environmental actions and realities that translate only with difficulty into Norwegian or English, and consider the potential political and analytical significance of refusing the translation of such environmentally-relevant indigenous words.

panel A14
In other words: caring for water