EASA and Indigenous Peoples

EASA conference, Belfast, 26-29 July 2022

European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA)
Annual conference, Belfast, 26-29 July 2022 (Note 2).
Panel: "Anthropology, Human Rights, and Indigenous Peoples: Interdisciplinary Approaches and Advances"
(Note 3).
Convenors: Lars T. Soeftestad (CEO, Supras Limited, Bulgaria and Norway), Lee Swepston (Visiting Professor, Law School, Univ. of Lund (Sweden); retired senior official of International Labour Office), and Gudmundur Alfredsson (Stefansson Arctic Institute, Harvard Law School, USA).

Short Abstract
Anthropology engages with and impacts indigenous peoples globally. Their relationship with anthropology is changing because of several variables, notably human rights and inter-disciplinary work. The panel takes stock of these developments. It argues for reestablishment of a former EASA network.

Long Abstract
Anthropology has a long history of engaging with other cultures, and rightly so. This contact and interaction take place for different purposes. Two key aspects: (a) traditional fieldwork written up in theses, scholarly papers, and monographs, and (b) applied work to impact and change societies.
     The panel addresses how anthropology and anthropologists interact with traditional, small-scale societies along two interconnected parameters: (a) the cultures in question are indigenous, and (b) the focus and rationale are applied, either in connection with development projects (typically involving public and civil society) or investment operations (typically involving private sector).
Overarching all of this is a concern with human rights.
     Anthropology has come a long way since the work of our founding fathers. Beginning in academia, we have embraced public sector, civil society, and private sector. We have moved into international, regional, national, and local development organizations, including in the South. Not the least, anthropology departments in countries in the South increasingly train new generations of anthropologists.
The panel takes stock of these developments, and assess how anthropology has changed in how it works with human rights and indigenous peoples. There is a focus on the relations between anthropology and the society at large, on cross-cultural interactions, and on interdisciplinary approaches, including the legal profession (proposals from legal scholars working in the UN are being solicited).
     Finally, the panel contributes to re-establishment of an EASA network on human rights and indigenous peoples, originally founded in 1992 (details: https://lars.academia.edu/research#easahumanrightsindpeoplesnetwork).

Paper Abstracts (selected)

Abstract no. 1
Author: Lee Swepston (
Visiting Professor, Law School, Univ. of Lund (Sweden); retired senior official of International Labour Office) and Lars T. Soeftestad (CEO, Supras Limited, Bulgaria and Norway).
Title: Indigenous peoples and the right to participate in decision-making: Changing outcomes
Short abstract: When indigenous peoples in the 1970s began to acquire the right to participate in decision-making concerning them, outcomes in law, rights and development began to change dramatically.
Long abstract: Historically indigenous peoples have always been subject to conquest and subjugation, with no right to take part in deciding their own futures. This was given legal justification by the Papal Bull of 1065 that declared lands occupied by non-Christians to be ‘Terra Nullius’, i.e., occupied by people with no rights. This led to European colonization and subjugation of indigenous territories with the earlier inhabitants often not recognized as having any rights whatsoever. When the League of Nations was established in 1919, no recognition was given to the rights of colonial peoples. However, the International Labour Organization (ILO), established at the same time, began in the 1930s to adopt a series of international Conventions that began to recognize rights for so-called ‘Native populations’. The ILO continued this work after World War II with the adoption of other international standards concerning indigenous populations, and development programmes aimed at them. However, all this was done with a ‘top down’ approach, imposing the views of non-indigenous decision-makers on their conditions of life and work. Only in the 1970s did indigenous peoples begin to organize at the international level and to express their hopes and desires. Once they did, outcomes began to change dramatically, and today indigenous rights and development, with their participation, are a major focus of both national and international protection and development. This paper explores how that happened, and what has changed.

Abstract no. 2
Author: Lars Soeftestad (Supras Limited, Bulgaria and Norway)
Title: Anthropology and indigenous peoples: From object to subject?
Short abstract: Anthropology has focused on "the other", including indigenous peoples, since the beginning. It was and is our raison d'être. Except that we used other terms to refer to them for the longest time. We objectivized them. But a slow and steady move is taking place to change this.
Long abstract: The paper addresses the complexities of understanding the indigenous world and its relationship with anthropology. It aims to contribute to tracing the relationship between anthropology and indigenous peoples. It focuses on how indigenous peoples over time has been viewed by anthropologists, and vice versa.
Social/cultural anthropology has a complex relationship with the people it studies. It is partly to get that degree, and partly to publish that book or paper. This furthers the field, and it provides degrees and jobs. It is referred to as basic research. There is also applied work, largely done by people outside of academia. This began when British anthropologists got involved in administering British colonies, and American anthropologists worked on issues concerning Indians. The people were called a host of terms, including terms that can be left unstated. Some got own names, among them Eskimos and Lapps, all derogatory.

After World War II things began to change, for a number of reasons. There were initiatives and processes at macro-levels and local levels, and largely external (but also internal) to anthropology, which often were at the receiving end of these developments. These changes aligned with basic ideas in anthropology, including the two dichotomies of ethnocentrism-cultural relativism and emic-etic.
A case study presents a curriculum I developed at the Dept. of Anthropology at University of Zurich. This was a successful way of getting directly involved with indigenous peoples, and to analyze and understand their place in the contemporary world.

Abstract no. 3
Author: Carola Lilngaas (VID Specialized University, Norway)
Title: Norm collisions: Sámi indigenous customary law vs. domestic law
Short abstract: This paper discusses legal positivism and norm collisions, by examining the Sámi case. It examines how domestic law relates to customary indigenous law and whether courts set aside positivistic, written laws of the majority in favour of unwritten customary laws of the indigenous population.
Long abstract: Contemporary international law recognizes the importance of indigenous customary laws. Article 8 of the (legally binding) ILO Convention No. 169 upholds the substantive right of indigenous peoples to retain their own customs and customary laws and holds that “[i]n applying national laws and regulations to the peoples concerned, due regard shall be had to their customs or customary laws”. Moreover, Articles 27 and 34 of the (legally non-binding) United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognize indigenous peoples’ laws. Art. 34 gives, inter alia, indigenous peoples the right to maintain their juridical systems or customs, in accordance with international human rights standards. This paper focuses on the indigenous Sámi people and discusses legal pluralism, norm hierarchies, and tensions that are created when customary indigenous law conflicts with statutory domestic law, especially before national courts.

In foregrounding the obligations of States under international law, this paper consists of two interrelated strands. The first is a legal one that asks how juridical indigenous custom is dealt with before domestic courts of law and how the different legal systems relate to each other. The second is an anthropological one that examines how the Sámi experience the judicial in- or exclusion of their own customary rules by the majority courts. The paper discusses norm collisions that can arise when unwritten Sámi customary law that protects collective rights contradicts with written norms of the majority that protect individual rights.

Lars T Soeftestad

(1) Image credit: European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA).
This will be a fully hybrid conference, with participation in person or online. All panels will be hybrid.
(3) To submit a paper abstract, open this link: https://nomadit.co.uk/conference/easa2022/p/11552. Next, click on the link "Propose Paper" at the bottom of the page.
(4) Permalink:
(5) This article was published 8 March 2022. It was revised 20 March 2022.

Conference Website – https://easaonline.org/conferences/easa2022/
Call for Papers – https://easaonline.org/conferences/easa2022/cfp
List of Panels – https://easaonline.org/conferences/easa2022/programme
This panel – https://nomadit.co.uk/conference/easa2022/p/11552
Registration – https://easaonline.org/conferences/easa2022/registration