The soon-14-year-old organization was accepted as a UArctic Thematic Network in February 2020. BEBO currently has 28 member organizations. The main function has been organizing grassroot level workshops on such themes as reindeer skin processing, introduction to reindeer husbandry, and sacred sites of Indigenous peoples. In fact, in many cases it is the reindeer, the products deriving from it and the traditional knowledge and skills embracing it, that has been connecting people across the Arctic region. BEBO is, however, not limited to reindeer herding, but focuses also on cooperation with other Arctic Indigenous peoples’ livelihoods, their environment, languages, and culture.
In order to get feedback, to prove BEBO’s meaningfulness to ourselves, and to present our collaboration to the readers of Shared Voices, the Sámi Education Institute sent five questions to the most active BEBO members. We received plenty of replies and share them in full here.
1. Do you think that Indigenous cooperation in the Arctic has been useful to you and the organization you represent?
“A very useful experience which reassured us that all Indigenous peoples have common problems, and that there are activists in each country to guide their efforts to protect national interests in the Arctic.”
“BEBO is a completely unique place within UArctic, representing the direction of Arctic education to modernize the traditional economic activities of Indigenous reindeer herding peoples. It ensures integration into global education that preserves the dignity and ethnocultural identity of the Arctic peoples and their self-expression in culture, education, business, and worldview. And that is why it is precious and dear to us. In our BEBO community, we see our home – our school with a kind of intellectual courage, professional solidarity, and the humanitarian core of UArctic.”
“This experience is very useful, even necessary for our university. It is very important what we, the Indigenous peoples of the Arctic, can teach each other, share our experiences. This applies not only to the practical aspects of our northern lives, which are now under severe pressure from the pandemic and climate change, but also to higher education and interaction with the various stakeholders in the field.”
“Given that the Arctic region is a region inhabited by a large number of Indigenous peoples and that some of these peoples are segregated by national borders, all opportunities for cooperation are also useful for the conservation and development of Indigenous peoples.”
“Undoubtedly. It is an open and important forum for the exchange of views, information, and experiences, and the strengthening of cooperation and partnerships between Indigenous peoples and all stakeholders on a wide range of Arctic development issues.”
“Indigenous cooperation in the Arctic is beneficial to us, because through cooperation we have found new ways of doing things, and we have been able to exchange good practices, teaching methods, students, and teachers.”
2. What do you think is most important about BEBO cooperation?
“Opportunity to exchange invaluable unique experiences in the transfer of traditional knowledge, the preservation of national culture, and the training of Arctic staff.”
“Mutual understanding and mutual attraction to each other. We are a family of like-minded people. Our choice is to support the weak, young, “disappearing”, persecuted nomads, the poor who are out of “voting rights” and stand strong before the actors outside – international companies and the dominance of the majority when the beneficiary is not Indigenous peoples. We suffer, we rejoice, we empathize, we share all our experiences with each other. And there are many experiences, so we are saved by a common attitude to each other’s things and a belief in a common destiny. The feeling that family members have the same difficulties and the same problems to solve is very important for sustainable development.“
“The BEBO partnership is, firstly, a partnership of equals, the same small educational institutions. It is a community in which a sense of solidarity and an understanding of a common mission is well developed. In general, this is a typical feature of the entire UArctic network, and this is a very significant achievement.”
“Every nation whose lifestyle has always been reindeer herding has centuries-old traditions and life experience of living in the Arctic and northern regions, rich in Indigenous culture and mother tongue. The main goal of organizing the BEBO partnership, since the foundation of the association, is to combine the experience and traditions of reindeer herding peoples in order to find an effective solution to the problems of these peoples and make them competitive in today's world. The most important thing in this activity is to ensure that the peoples themselves become the main factors.”
“The BEBO network has made it possible to revitalize Indigenous languages, for example through language nesting, film cooperation, and the training of language masters in the region. The importance of reindeer husbandry for the Arctic peoples is particularly important. BEBO has made it possible to start reindeer meat processing in Yamal-Nenets. Taimyr College, one of the cornerstones of the BEBO network, has started reindeer training in the area at a new reindeer base. Crafts culture is tied to reindeer husbandry. The importance of BEBO to the revitalization of crafts culture in all BEBO schools is also noteworthy. As a result of the film collaboration, we have been able to train film professionals who have the opportunity to work in their own villages and gain access to make authentic documentaries.”
“Exchange of information and cooperation between Indigenous peoples, their organizations and educational institutions in the field of reindeer husbandry and sustainable development in the Arctic region.”
“The most important thing in BEBO cooperation is to solve problems in the development of vocational education and training by organizing annual international forums, Arctic Skills competitions, methodological seminars on the preservation and development of Indigenous languages and cultures by creating conditions for student and teacher exchanges.”
3. How do you see BEBO's role and activities evolving in the future?
“The future is created today. The area of our operations will become a center for ecological processes, humanization, change of human dignity, even the exchange of magnetic poles. The Arctic is becoming the Arctic Mediterranean. Its coastal areas already account for more than a third of the total length of the planet's oceanic coastal areas. And this is happening in the background of the activation of the Northern Sea Route. An active life is in full swing here. And it is important that this is done in accordance with the values of the Indigenous peoples who herd reindeer. We must actively promote BEBO in these processes.”
“I hope that in the future the network will be able to reach its full potential. We have a lot to say, and we can achieve a lot by working together.”
“It is necessary to ensure the institutional and financial sustainability of the organization while maintaining BEBO's core mission and mandate.”
“The importance of the association depends on the activities that meet the current challenges both in reindeer husbandry and in all walks of life of reindeer herding peoples. BEBO's activities should always be aimed at finding methods and opportunities to strengthen cooperation between these peoples.”
“UArctic is of great importance to the BEBO network, as we have also held our own meetings and side events in UArctic meetings, including Rectors' Forums, the Congress and Assembly. Those meetings are also a great opportunity to make new contacts and plan new projects. Through UArctic, the affairs of Arctic Indigenous peoples also come to the attention of the general public.”
“BEBO's follow-up activities aimed at developing traditional skills and capacity building will focus on:
a. Organizing workshops and masterclasses for target groups on the development and deployment of new technologies critical to traditional Arctic nature management and entrepreneurship training in reindeer husbandry;
b. Cooperation in the field of tourism;
c. Cooperation in the field of preservation of the cultural heritage of Indigenous ethnic groups by participating in the implementation of the summer (seasonal) nomadic school project;
d. Targeted support for the lives of Indigenous peoples in Taimyr, reindeer husbandry and assistance in the training and employment of staff of the peoples living in Taimyr.”
“It’s no secret that the new circumstances we’ve all been in because of the pandemic have complicated the routine processes in our institutions. However, the operation of the network can benefit from new conditions: we can develop e-learning; the active use of new technologies can facilitate the exchange of experiences; we can work on joint projects. The future of the network lies in new technologies, more specifically in their more active and efficient use. In this respect, we consider Sámi Education Institute as an example to follow because they have more experience and expertise.”
“I hope to expand cooperation through student exchange, joint participation in conferences, exhibitions, masterclasses, online events, Arctic skills, etc. All formats are good. New members must come to our community.”
4. How could BEBO's activities be developed in UArctic?
“To present more broadly the experience of educational institutions of mother tongue, arts and crafts, media, etc. as part of the life of reindeer herders.”
“The Arctic component in UArctic should be strengthened by disciplines that teach alignment with Indigenous values. One of the important tools is the course we have developed called ‘Arctic Circumpolar Civilization’. It has been translated into English and is available to almost all training organizations.”
“Work should focus on raising awareness of Indigenous issues among governments, research communities, educational organizations, and large corporations.”
“Within the framework of the Thematic Network, it is necessary to:
a. ensure the implementation of the BEBO Agreement between the members of the organization
b. set up a reindeer husbandry training center and management of new production technologies for reindeer husbandry; advice, development and implementation of basic and additional traditional nature conservation programs, filling with methodological materials developed by teachers; development of a unified training method in traditional crafts; regional exploitation; holding master classes in northern reindeer husbandry, national sports, preparation of Indigenous national dishes
c. organize e-learning and distance learning refresher courses from programs that allow you to learn more about the specifics of expert training in the fields of traditional environmental management of Indigenous peoples in the northern Arctic regions of Russia and Scandinavia.”
5. What are the main challenges for the future of Indigenous peoples in the Arctic?
“The biggest challenges for the future of the Arctic peoples are the challenges posed by climate change. As the climate warms, the region will open new opportunities for the mining, oil and gas industries. It means the loss of large areas from traditional livelihoods and, in turn, it means the deterioration of the living conditions of Indigenous peoples, even emigration from the area. With the expansion of industry, new people are coming to the area, with new ways and new languages. It threatens the traditional way of Indigenous peoples to live, to speak their own language.”
“Of course, mother tongue incompetence!”
“This is a complex issue. On one hand, the challenges facing Indigenous peoples in the Arctic are the same as for humanity as a whole – the pandemic, climate change, and other global problems. On the other hand, like the environment, Arctic human communities are most vulnerable to these challenges. We can say that all the challenges facing humanity are becoming increasingly difficult in the living conditions of the Arctic and require a much deeper and more serious understanding.”
“Climate change and industrial development in the Arctic, taking into account human rights and Indigenous peoples' collective rights to self-determination, land and natural resources. The most vulnerable and disenfranchised group are the small Indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East of the Russian Federation.”
“The linguistic assimilation of the Indigenous peoples of the Arctic is becoming increasingly threatening and, as a result, the emergence of new obstacles to the exercise of the peoples' right to development in accordance with their needs and interests is excluded from development cooperation. Also important are issues related to the ecology and conservation of biodiversity in the Arctic, the development of renewable agriculture and traditional livelihoods, and the transfer of traditional knowledge in the field of reindeer husbandry based on legal, economic and environmental principles in the context of climate change and changing markets.”
“The most important thing in this situation is that Indigenous peoples have the opportunity to educate themselves, to be part of research and development, and to influence the future of their own region. We are growing a highly international youth that is ready to take their lives into their own hands and network globally.”
“In response to modern challenges, further efforts should be directed towards cooperation in the field of digitization: the creation of an Arctic network of vocational training institutions, i.e. a single digital platform for the organization and development of online cooperation in the circumpolar region; digital and distance education in the field of traditional crafts and the preservation and development of the culture of small Indigenous peoples in the North; exchange of information on the use of digital educational resources; training in the field of traditional handicrafts and the teaching of the mother tongues of Indigenous ethnic groups; holding forums, discussion forums, international cultural festivals of Indigenous ethnic groups and exhibitions of virtual arts and crafts.”
As you can see, the responses to our questions were quite extensive, detailed, and well-thought. Big thanks to the people of BEBO for sharing! We hope the results will help us all to jointly work towards an even better network!
(Quotes from Sergey Gabov, Galina Nazarova, Liisa Holmberg, Ulyana Vinokurova, Rodion Sulyanziga, Darya Burnasheva, Vera Cherkasova)
This article is dedicated to Evgeny Yushkov, a Lovozero resident from Kola Peninsula, Russia, whom we lost in November 2020. Evgeny was there with us at the very first and founding BEBO meeting in June 2007 and also worked in numerous Indigenous connections through the years, including the Saami Council.
Evgeny was a Kildin Sámi language genius and a simultaneous interpreter and translator, and an intelligent, warm-hearted and approachable person who served as an important link between the Sámi and other Indigenous peoples of different states. Evgeny’s sudden departure was a shock and an irreparable loss to all who knew him, but above all to the Sámi community.
In honour of Evgeny, we would like to share with you a poem by Nils-Aslak Valkeapää (poem 565 in his collection Beaivi, áhčážan):
unique to everyone
part of life
light in the shade
in goodness evil