Indigenous People

Reykjavík Chautauqua

We will kick off our forum with a focus on indigenous people. Why? Well, we felt that it would be a nice preamble to future topics, setting some context and some kind of a flow. Its also a little bit arbitrary, but we hope that you like our choice.

Although we want to explore the diversity (and similarity) of traditional art, costume and custom, we want to go beyond a superficial appreciation of aesthetics and also take a look at the modern role of indigenous people around the world. What is the status of indigenous people living more traditional lifestyles versus indigenous people living in urban settings? What does history tell us? What are some current issues? What are some cool projects? Etc.


    • Italic text is surrounded by *asterisks*
    • bold text by a **couple**.
    • You add a paragraph by including a blank line.
    • Two spaces after a line will force a line-break (good for poetry).
    • Hyperlinks simply follow [Link Name](
    • Images are like links, but with an exclamation (!) in front ![fallback text](
    • YouTube and Vimeo embeds are like images but with yt and vimeo as the fallback text respectively.
    • In short, we follow the markdown syntax.

What does it mean to be indigenous?

by Chantal

Just to start, I would like to suggest a discussion about the definition of “indigenous”. This word gets thrown around a lot to describe “tribal looking” people but what does it actually mean? The word suggests people of a native origin, the original people of a land, but does that make Icelandic people indigenous? The Polynesians made their way to New Zealand around the same time that Iceland was settled. There is absolutely no question about Maori being an indigenous group, but what about Icelanders? Following this logic, Icelanders would be considered indigenous. However, one of the main criteria for being indigenous requires self identification and since Icelanders do not self identify as indigenous (that I know of), they aren’t. So, even though there is no strict definition of “indigenous” there are defining factors like self identification.

Additionally I would like to suggest that “indigenousness” should not be thought of as a measure of how traditional a person or peoples are. It might seem obvious, but I think its important to keep in mind that no matter how traditional anybody may be, nobody lives in a box where time stands still. Things happen, technology changes, new ideas are formed and tradition transforms.

Below are a couple of links that go further in describing who indigenous people are:


Rúnar Berg says

It is interesting to ask why Icelanders don’t think of them self (generally) as indigenous, but Polynesians do. Same goes with why Norwegian white folks don’t while Norwegian Saamis do. I’m going to suggest that this indigenous identification is somewhat triggered by being colonized. But even then it’s not so simple, because Greenland and Iceland were colonized by the same world power, yet Greenlanders consider themselves indigenous but not Icelanders. Perhaps it has something to do with the nature of colonization. While Denmark took the governance of Iceland in their own hands, they took the culture of Greenland and tried to make it theirs. Iceland has the luxury of sharing a large part of their colonial powers, hence they hardly lost any of their culture. In Greenland that is a different story. Now we can see that the white culture in Norway has emerged as the dominant one, hence white Norwegians are not indigenous, but the Saami Norwegians are.

Of course, this is a vast oversimplification. But it gives us a lot to think about.

John says

Well, obviously its a matter of being white or not.

“Real Indian”

by Chaniqua

This film is a University of Washington master’s thesis by Jonathan Tomhave. It is a nice follow up to the question of what it means to be indigenous. The film is composed of interviews with four Native American people who talk about what it means to be a “real indian”. The question isn’t so much a serious question (if it were, I wouldn’t post this video) as opposed to a means of showing how people identify and define themselves in different ways.


Peggy says

Didn’t Sherman Alexie write that poem about Walt Whitman playing basket ball?

Chantal says

Defending Walt Whitman

By Sherman Alexie

Basketball is like this for young Indian boys, all arms and legs
and serious stomach muscles. Every body is brown!
These are the twentieth-century warriors who will never kill,
although a few sat quietly in the deserts of Kuwait,
waiting for orders to do something, to do something.

God, there is nothing as beautiful as a jumpshot
on a reservation summer basketball court
where the ball is moist with sweat,
and makes a sound when it swishes through the net
that causes Walt Whitman to weep because it is so perfect.

There are veterans of foreign wars here
although their bodies are still dominated
by collarbones and knees, although their bodies still respond
in the ways that bodies are supposed to respond when we are young.
Every body is brown! Look there, that boy can run
up and down this court forever. He can leap for a rebound
with his back arched like a salmon, all meat and bone
synchronized, magnetic, as if the court were a river,
as if the rim were a dam, as if the air were a ladder
leading the Indian boy toward home.

Some of the Indian boys still wear their military hair cuts
while a few have let their hair grow back.
It will never be the same as it was before!
One Indian boy has never cut his hair, not once, and he braids it
into wild patterns that do not measure anything.
He is just a boy with too much time on his hands.
Look at him. He wants to play this game in bare feet.

God, the sun is so bright! There is no place like this.
Walt Whitman stretches his calf muscles
on the sidelines. He has the next game.
His huge beard is ridiculous on the reservation.
Some body throws a crazy pass and Walt Whitman catches it
with quick hands. He brings the ball close to his nose
and breathes in all of its smells: leather, brown skin, sweat,
black hair, burning oil, twisted ankle, long drink of warm water,
gunpowder, pine tree. Walt Whitman squeezes the ball tightly.
He wants to run. He hardly has the patience to wait for his turn.
“What’s the score?” he asks. He asks, “What’s the score?”

Basketball is like this for Walt Whitman. He watches these Indian boys
as if they were the last bodies on earth. Every body is brown!
Walt Whitman shakes because he believes in God.
Walt Whitman dreams of the Indian boy who will defend him,
trapping him in the corner, all flailing arms and legs
and legendary stomach muscles. Walt Whitman shakes
because he believes in God. Walt Whitman dreams
of the first jumpshot he will take, the ball arcing clumsily
from his fingers, striking the rim so hard that it sparks.
Walt Whitman shakes because he believes in God.
Walt Whitman closes his eyes. He is a small man and his beard
is ludicrous on the reservation, absolutely insane.
His beard makes the Indian boys righteously laugh. His beard
frightens the smallest Indian boys. His beard tickles the skin
of the Indian boys who dribble past him. His beard, his beard!

God, there is beauty in every body. Walt Whitman stands
at center court while the Indian boys run from basket to basket.
Walt Whitman cannot tell the difference between
offense and defense. He does not care if he touches the ball.
Half of the Indian boys wear t-shirts damp with sweat
and the other half are bareback, skin slick and shiny.
There is no place like this. Walt Whitman smiles.
Walt Whitman shakes. This game belongs to him.

Jackie Pierce says

I liked that guy’s point about America being a concept and a construct.

Backwards Look at Polynesian Migration

by Chaniqua

I came across this video while I was putting together the preshow for our upcoming screening. Unfortunately, it is too long for the preshow but I would still like to share it because I think it tells an interesting narrative from a valuable perspective. What I was looking for was a video that could shortly go through the polynesian migration to New Zealand. Typically these types of videos feature some pompous guy performing narrative gymnastics and using hyperbolic language…lame…but this video features two young, goofy guys, one Maori and the other Samoan, retracing their genes. They are just regular guys so its pretty relatable and really informative. Did you know that Polynesians originate in Taiwan, I didn’t!


María Sól says


Raymond says

I didn’t either. Apparently they started the migration between 3000BC and 1000BC. I found this picture when reading about it on wikipedia. It’s pretty interesting to trace the migration from Taiwan 3000BC to Hawaii and Raba Nui 900AD.

Polinesian Migration

Chantal says

Neat picture above, if only it could spin. That migration is crazy!

The philosopher’s take

by Heiða Eiríks

I had never thought about the word or the topic indigenous before it popped up on this site as a topic for January 2015. As I got the explanation of the term’s meaning I understood it perfectly, but at the same time I wondered why it was as important to some people as it seemed, and to some other people they seemed to be able to go on about their lives without giving it a second thought. I immediately thought of Harry Potter, as one should always do when trying to explain anything. I am reading the fifth book these days, probably for the 10th time as I read all the books on a regular bases. In this book the students of Hogwarts school are looking for a room to practise defensive spells and it must be a private and secret one as they are not supposed to have a group of their own to practise those spells. They come across a room that only reveals itself when there is need for it. It is called the Room of requirements, so when people are in need of something and walk past a certain wall inside the school a door protrudes and, according to the specific needs of the room-seeker, that sort of a room comes into existance. In theory, if one would be pissing one’s pants the room would be a toilet etc. I am thinking if indigeneity is not somewhat similar to this room. If you need to think about your origins and if your origins are a part of your make-up as a person, then it is important and you will find it for you to work with. I am all Icelander, as far as I know, and I don’t even identify as an Icelander. I never have felt any pride regarding being from this nation and not another one. I prefer British humour to Icelandic, I prefer German functionalism to the Icelandic chaos, I prefer French food to Icelandic, I prefer Chinese tea to Icelandic Braga-kaffi. I am not into nature or viking-stuff, I prefer hot temperature to cold weather. I never felt at home in this island, to tell you the truth. So I guess I never felt like this subject would be something to look into, as it rings no bell within me. Just like the room of requirement changes into whatever you need the most, my priorities might be on the opposite scale to indigeneity. I often wonder why people need to identify themselves with any group at all, and not just feel like the individual they are, with bits and pieces of influence and background scattered from all over the world. I would probably find a residency to write music and books, with a joint library if I would stumble upon a room of requirements. Or a white-sand beach. With constant sunshine. Oh the sunshine.


Chantal says

I totally see your point and I think the Harry Potter analogy is very apt. I would like to think of the room of requirements changing over time. I think there was a point in time where I felt like I needed to figure out my cultural identity, I thought it was embarrassing that I felt that way but it was just some weird burning desire I couldn’t shake and a strange loneliness. I can’t really explain the feeling. And then I explored and I felt at ease and now I don’t think about it anymore. Today my room of requirements would probably look like an art studio.

Chantal says

Also Heiða, I think maybe we have two different ways of approaching the world philosophically (I don´t think one is better, just different). I think you see the world as it should be. And I like to see it as it is. So, no one should have to talk about indigenous rights for example, because everyone should have rights (your view). But thats not the world we live in, so indigenous rights are an important topic (my view). I don´t know…

Heiða says

Yes, there are of course loads of minority groups who need to feel like a part of a group to find their strenghts, and to them this is an important tool. A way to reach for the freedom they might lack. We, the free Western and spoiled have never known oppression on our own skin, and that was sort of what I meant. I recognize the importance for it, for others than myself. I would simply like the world to be a place where people have the freedom to look for their own individual texture, without any specific gender, race or nation. I don’t know when the world is ready for that, but I am and have been a long time, so I cannot think differently about this.

The invasion of America

by Rúnar Berg

Claudio Saunt wrote a nice article titled The invasion of America about the history of indigenous people’s land loss to the United States. It includes a nice time-lapse of the rabid development, and an interactive map that maps the cessions in which the United States took indigenous lands.


Rúnar Berg says

I meant to say “rapid” development, of course, not “rabid”. But perhaps rabid is appropriate.

Chantal says

It really serves as a visual aid to the idea of manifest destiny. In a nut shell, Americans had a divine obligation to spread through out the continent and conquer…blah blah blah.

New old map of America

by Chantal

Native American Nations

The Map Of Native American Tribes You’ve Never Seen Before

Just a follow up to yesterdays post… Not only were native lands taken, but their history has largely been erased as well. This young Native American man has done a lot of research to create a map showing this lost geographical history.

FYI, I recommend reading the the article over listening to the NPR recording, the narration is really annoying!


Jim McMinn says

I wonder how many tribes still carry a name that was erroneously given to them by settlers.

Flags of Indigenous Nations

by Rúnar Berg

When new places were colonized in the last few centuries, the settlers brought with them new habits, new religion and a new language and introduced them to the native folks living there. The results were most often really sad for the indigenous cultures, and now only a few of them remain. Often times the alien invaders also brought with them flags of the motherland, such as the Spanish or the British flag, and proclaimed it as the flag that the indigenous people should recognize as their own. Later the colonized nations got independence, or autonomy and designed their own flag. These new flags were the flags of the colonizers, descended from the alien invaders, not of the natives. However, in an effort to have indigenous cultures recognized, people have raised their own flags. Agnostic towards their colonizers the flags are often designed with their own culture in mind. The last few decades we have seen a surge in elaborately designed flags of indigenous nations. This article attempts to describe a few of these flags.

Andes Indians


The earliest example of an indigenous flag that I found is the Wiphala—the flag of the indigenous Andes. It comes in several varieties, most famously, the seven striped rainbow flag of Cusco. The Wiphala actually exists in several varieties. It always consists of seven colors, with the middle color indicating a specific province of the old empire (white for Aymara for example). It dates to pre-colonial times and was used in resistance conflicts against the conquistadores. However (as in most cases) the idea of a “national flag” is a European introduction and it wasn’t used as flag for representing the indigenous nations of the Andes until late 16th or the 17th century (as such it still predates the Peruvian flag introduced 1825). Today the Wiphala is one of two national flags of Bolivia (since 2009) and the official flag of Cusco. Otherwise they are often used by resistance movements throughout South America, as well as a symbol for cultural independence for people indigenous to Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as parts of Argentina, Chile and Colombia.


Berber Flag

The Berber nation (Imazighen) is indigenous to North Africa. Previously they have been colonized by the Romans, the Jews, the Arabs, and finally the French. Currently they live in nation states composed of an Arab majority. The origin of the flag is up to debate, but most sources seem to agree that it was designed in the 1970‘s at the Berber Academy, most likely under the guidance of Muhend Aarav Bessaoud. The academy was established to standardize and popularize several aspects of suppressed Berber language and culture, most noticeably the Tifinagh—their alphabet. The ⵣ (ezza) in the middle of the flag is the central letter of Amazigh (ⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖ; often written ⵎⵣⵖ), the word Berber use to refer to themselves, meaning free man in the Berber language. The colors represents the landscape of their homeland, with green mountains between the blue Mediterranean ocean, and the yellow Sahara desert. The Berber Academy was dissolved by the French in 1978. But the flag was adopted as the official flag of the Berber people in 1998, although it still lacks official status from any nation state.

Australian Aborigines

Australian Aboriginal Flag

The Australian Aboriginal Flag was designed by Aboriginal artist Harold Thomas in 1971. It is one of few indigenous flags that hold official status as a national flag in the homeland. It received that status by the Australian government in 1995. In 1994 it caused a controversy when Cathy Freeman (a sprinter) carried it during her victory lap after she won the 200m sprint in the Commonwealth Games in Canada. The colors of the flag represent the people (black), the earth (red), and the sun (yellow) and placement represents the spiritual relations.


Oglala Sioux Flag

The Lakota people of North- and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana have long battled the federal government of the United States of America for both autonomy and compensations for lost land and resources. On many occasions there have been violent confrontations between Lakota activists and the Federal police. Understandably the Lakota people rather flag their own flag than the flag of their oppressors (and if they do they flag it upside down as a sign of distress). The most noticeable of the Lakota flags is that of the Pineridge reservation occupied by the Oglala Sioux Indians in South Dakota. Eight white tepees, represent the eight districts of the reservation, the circle is symbolic of unity and continuity. The red color has many meanings, including the blood shed by the Sioux in defense of their lands, the red paint used decorate the face and hair parting in ceremonies, and cloth used to wrap offerings to their creator. The flag was first displayed in 1961 at the Sun Dance ceremonies and was approved in 1962 by the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council.


Sámi Flag

The Sámi people are indigenous of northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. The area of Sápmi crosses four national borders which has been troublesome for this herding nation. The flag that currently represents the Sámi nation was inaugurated in 1986. It was the result of the winning design by the artist Astrid Båhl. The precursor of that flag—first flown in a protest against the planned Alta Dam in 1977—was designed by another Sámi artist Synnøve Persen. The colors used for the flags are popular on traditional Sámi clothing. The circle is a motif derived from the shaman‘s drum and the poem “Paiven parneh” (Sons of the Sun) by Anders Fjellner (1795-1876). The circle therefore represents the sun (red) and the moon (blue). The flag received official status from Norway in 2003 as one of the national flags and has it‘s own compulsory flag day of February 6, the Sámi National Day. However it has yet to receive official status from the other three nation states with Sámi habitation.


Mapuche Flag

The Mapuche Indians of Southern Chile and Argentina were among the last thriving Indian nation to be annexed. They successfully resisted the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. And thrived as an independent state until Chilean and Argentinian expansion periods of the latter half of the 19th century. A century later, efforts to rebel against the annexation continue. In an effort to create the Mapuche nation in 1991 a Mapuche national flag was adopted. It hasn’t received an official status yet.


Greenland Flag

Greenland flagged the Danish flag as their national flag until 1985 when it adopted the current flag. It was designed by the Inuit painter and graphic designer Thue Christiansen in 1978. The upper white part of the flag represents the Greenland glacier, the bottom red represents the ocean around Greenland, with floating icebergs represented by the white part of the circle. The red part of the circle symbolizes the ascending and descending sun bringing about the altering summer brightness and winter darkness. It narrowly won a selection over the much more boring design of a green cross in a white background. It is now often flagged along side the Danish flag.


Tino Rangatiratanga

the phrase “tino rangatiratanga” means ‘absolute sovereignty’ in the Māori language and a flag based of that term has become the de-facto Māori national flag—the flag of the indigenous people in New Zealand. It was designed by Hiraina Marsden, Jan Smith and Linda Munn in 1990 and symbolizes the creation myth Rangi and Papa, depicting the sky, the earth, and the physical realm of light and being which was created when they were separated. It has been flown by activists and protesters frequently since then. The New Zealand government has been reluctant to grant it any official status alongside the flag of New Zealand. However, in 2009 the New Zealand government flagged it along side the flag of New Zealand on government buildings during Waitangi Day. Tino Rangatiratanga still has no official status in New Zealand.


Dorothy says

I think its interesting to see how varied the flags are from one another and also from traditional national flags.

Movie Screening: Once Were Warriors

by Chantal & Rúnar Berg

Date & time: Friday, January 16th at 8pm
Location: Grettisgata 20A (Chantal and Rúnar’s place)

For this months screening we wanted to pick a film that didn’t rely on a stereotypical image of indigenous people. Once Were Warriors is a New Zealand film from 1994 depicting the struggles of a contemporary Maori family in an urban setting. This film was both praised and criticized for its depiction of alcoholism and domestic violence. Some viewed the film as bravely tackling the sad but realistic challenges of some families while others felt that it would negatively impact the way that people view Maoris.

As usual, expect a preshow that will last around a half hour. The preshow will be our attempt at setting some cultural context to life in New Zealand pre 1990’s; a little pop culture and history mashup. Early birds will be treated to a 1964 claymation short☺.

To read more about the feature film check out:

We have limited space, so just send us a quick email to let us know you’re coming. RSVP to Reykjavik.Chautauqua(@)


Darri says

Sign me up! :-)

Tribute to Crafts

by Sunny

Heres a fun video of people all over the world making stuff using traditional materials and methods.

In Praise of Hands (1974)
by Donald Winkler

This short documentary pays tribute to the craftsmen everywhere whose work adds color and richness to life. Filmed in the Canadian Arctic, Finland, India, Nigeria, Japan, Mexico, and Poland, it shows the special skills of artisans working at their crafts - stone sculpture, pottery, ceramics, weaving, dyeing, puppet making, embroidery. Each indigenous skill is a reflection of the culture of the country.


Post event thanks…

by Chantal and Rúnar Berg

Hi everyone.

We would like to thank everyone who came to the movie screening event. It went really well, we had almost a full house and our audience was really pleased. Afterwards we had a lengthy discussion about the role of indegenous people in modern society. Now for those of you that came, we have a surprise haka, namely the Aunty Missy, surprise haka, marginally related to the show. We hope you enjoy it as much.


Indigenous Japan

by Chantal

Growing up half Japanese and a citizen of Japan I learned absolutely nothing about the indigenous culture(s) of Japan. This is probably mostly due to the fact that I didn’t take any interest in being Japanese until I was in my teenage years and mostly grew up in the United States, but also partly due to the fact that the Japanese government has severely suppressed indigenous groups. Infact, its been less than a decade since the Ainu, the indigenous people of the north were recognized as an official minority. While I don’t have any blood connection to the Ainu or to the Ryukyuan of the south (that I am aware of), they are my closest ties to indigenous people next to my upbringing with Pacific Northwest Native American culture (which hardly counts as any connection).

I’ve spent some time looking for good videos and articles to inform myself and to share with everyone and in the process I have come to some conclusions. Of the two groups, Ainu and Ryukyuan, there is far more information available about the Ainu. There are many historical ethnographic photos and even films of the Ainu and modern interviews but there seems to be very little evidence that the Ryukyuan are even a distinct group other than their sadly endangered languages. This just goes to show what a powerful suppressive force the Japanese government can be. Additionally, in my search I learned of yet another group of people, on Hachijo Island south of Tokyo who speak an older form of Japanese. They are not considered an indigenous group, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the same suppressive forces were at play.

Here is a kind of dated video (90’s), but it shows pretty well how the Ainu fit into Japanese society, their struggle for recognition and their effort to continue traditional practices.


Rúnar says

Here is some old film footage of the Ainu Bear Ceremony (1931). This film is very sparsely narrated and can feel a little bit too long but I think it shows very well the traditional ceremonial culture of the Ainu, how they look and how they used to live (traditionally, as opposed to today).

Chantal says

Here is an interesting article about the need to revitalize Ryukyuan languages (I think its 5 languages and 750 dialects). I found it really informative. Its sad to say, but I think the struggle that the Ryukyuan language faces is similar for many other indigenous languages and dialects.

Use them or lose them: There’s more at stake than language in reviving Ryukyuan tongues

Chantal says

My mom was reading an article in the New York Times called Old Ways Prove Hard to Shed about the Amami Oshima people (who are part of the greater Ryukyuan people) and their tradition of textile making. She was really excited about it because she had been admiring them for a long time. Apparently they were relocated off of their island during WWII to make a Japanese military base. They were mostly sent to different parts of Kyushu (where my mom is from) that had vacant military factory housing, basically shacks according to my mom. She has fond memories of hearing the sound of looms when she was in Amami Oshima communities.

San Francisco: then and now

by Chantal

As some of you may know, I’m in San Francisco visiting friends. I thought it would be interesting to spend some of my time here focusing on the native peoples of the region. Maybe I can gather some information in person rather than just relying on the internets to tell me everything. So expect this initial post, but then I’ll try to keep adding more to the topic in the comments section (this is sort of our vision for how the website should work). And as always, feel free to add to the comments with your own content or just feedback.

I lived in San Francisco for seven years and although I found out bits and pieces about the Alhone and Miwok people it was pretty cursory. I’d like to know more and share it because as a transplant or visitor to San Francisco there is almost no obvious evidence of a native culture, but of course, there must have been people here before. Its just less apparent than say, the Pacific Northwest where I grew up (but still didn’t really have any close contact with native peoples because of the the whole reservation system and such).

Its just my first day here and I’m adjusting to the time difference (I struggled to stay awake until 9pm and woke up around 5am), so stay tuned for more:)


image description

And now:

image description


Raymond says

I did read somewhere that the Ewok (a race from Star Wars), were named after the Miwok Indians. Incidentally their homelands were shot at the Redwoods forests in California.

Somebody says

Hi Chantal, If you happen to make it to Gasquet, please let us know. Love reading your post! Nancy and Vern

Chantal says

Mission Dolores

Somewhere on a small residential street of San Francisco a nondescript plaque reads:

On June 29th 1776 Father Francisco Palou, a member of the Anza expedition, had a brushwood shelter built here on the edge of a now vanished lake, Lago de Los Dolores (Lake of the sorrows), and offered the first mass. The first mission was a log and thatch structure dedicated on october 9, 1776 when the necessary church documents arrived. The present Mission Dolores was dedicated in 1791.

This is the so called birth place of San Francisco as we know it today and a block away is the Mission Dolores, or Mission San Francisco de Asís.

Mission Dolores

Today Mission Dolores is an active church and a tourist attraction/trap, you can pay some amount of money and take a tour. And by this point some of you may be wondering how this is at all relevant. Well, if you take the tour or go around back like I do, you’ll see one of two remaining San Francisco cemeteries. Along with Friars and pioneers lay thousands of unnamed Native Americans in a mass grave. All other dead bodies take the 15 minute trip out of town to the necropolis of Colma (another fascinating story). When the spanish came to California, then Mexico, they set up missions (church/military compounds) to assimilate the native population, luring them in with material goods, relocating some of them and often holding them against their will. In the early days new missions were built with Native labor (slave or otherwise).

Mission Dolores Cemetery

So sadly today, visible remains of Native American presence in San Francisco is reduced to a mass grave and a plaque or two. I have also seen the Native American Council and birthing center on my old street, but its in a dicey spot with a locked door, otherwise I would go in there asking around.

The Indigenous African Culture

by David Hartness

From the perspective of an American Abroad

image description

I first came to Africa in 2006 as an ‘idiot abroad.’ I called myself the idiot, because the culture was so vast, abnormal, scary and something that made my stomach flutter from my nerves of interacting with the people that I couldn’t understand or comprehend the cultural norms. Do I bow? Smile? Shake nervously? Or none of the above. I didn’t know how to act or feel, but I was excited to share my culture, and learn theirs.

I went to Kenya, and spent my time in a remote village on the western side of the country. I called Ebukolo my home for three months. I lived in a small mud hut, made from cow dung, dirt and small sticks to help provide support. I fetched my water from a small river, down a long hill, and carried it back to the small home that sat on a small property with a larger home to share the land.

I sat in darkness during the night. Sat under a large tree, watching children play during the day, and continued my daily chores, as if it was part of my normal routine. I got up every day, ate my breakfast, and then made the short walk to a small school, where I taught English as a volunteer. I returned home, cleaned the house, washed my clothes by hand in a bucket and laid them out to dry. Checked my water supply, and if needed, made the mile journey to the small river. Upon returning, I went to the local market, made of two kiosks, which sold modest goods and purchased what was needed for the evening dinner.

I learned from the locals how to live and survive with what they had, and not with what they could buy. I learned to work the land, and grind maize to make a local dish. I learned to plant, care for the cows, milk them and let them graze the land. I learned how to kill the animals and use everything they gave, in order to make their life meaningful. However, the most important thing learned, was that community helped in whatever way they could. This was evident when I came across a local women who was homeless. She had dirt that covered her face, because she was eating it to get the iron. The women who shared the property with me, my host mother, rushed to her side, invited the homeless women into the home, gave her a meal. She talked with her and soon sent her on her way. I told my host mother that it was kind to see her take care of this women in the way she did. However, my host mother didn’t understand why I praised her for an action that everyone in the village did as a normal way of life. She was a member of the community, therefore, it was everyone’s responsibility to take care of her.

One day I ate a pastry that was being sold on the side of the streets. To this day, I don’t know what the pastry was made from, but I do know that it made me sick. When my host mother came across me throwing up, she rushed me into the home. I knew why I was sick, and I knew that it would pass, but the look on her face did not share the same sentiment. After about thirty minutes of me throwing up and then rushing to the outhouse, she sent her son to the school to fetch the reverend. Not a doctor, or a nurse, or a car that could take me to the hospital, she wanted the reverend, to heal my wounds and pray for my safety. It wasn’t rational, but it was what she knew. He returned promptly, with his family, other colleagues and a few more individuals that I didn’t know. I laid on the bed, sweating, unsure of when I would throw up again. The reverend grabbed my hand, and prayed.

The rest of the community gathered around and prayed for my safety. They prayed to god that I would survive, make it to tomorrow. All I really wanted was to be left alone, allowed to sleep, and rest through the night. What I got was a community who cared, who looked out for their own, and made sure that the people they cared for was okay.

That was the start of a lesson that I learned about Africa, the community is strong, not from the individual or the chief, but strong because of the individuals. Everyone has a responsibility to raise the children, everyone has a responsibility to take care of the elderly and everyone has a responsibility to share with each other what they have to offer.

What you think you know about Africa, think again. We often see only the negative part of Africa, and we have very strong images of this place, full of violence, full of hatred, full of political unrest, but I see the culture of Africa as peaceful. A place that has their moments of violence, and problems, but people that care for one another. Perhaps there are many lessons that we can learn from the indigenous people’s way of life. We can learn to use what we have, live off the land, and care for one another, as if they are family.


Tómas Ari says

A good read, some food for thought.

Engines of European integration

by Elvar Sævarsson

The CEEC Adventure – socially constructed or realistically determent


When the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 90’s, the western states needed to find a place for the ex-soviet states with in the world order. The integration of the CEE states and the sheer willingness of both parties to unite can in my view be explained through a social constructivist approach but also through a rational one, even to the extent of liberal intergovernmentalism. Two compelling arguments can be made to justify either view:

# Rational argument ###

Armed conflict had broken out between national groups within the region and the risk of ethnic tension spiralling out of control was considered high. The EU and NATO could not just stand by as the situation either calmed down or escalated. Given that the prime concern was to ensure the power balance within Europe, and to secure further development of the capitalized world, the integration of the CEE countries was considered necessary.

# Socially constructive argument ###

Most of the CEE states did openly express their eagerness to rejoin Europe as soon as the iron curtain fell and in that light the European Council announced ‘that the associated countries in Central and Eastern Europe that so desire shall become members of the European Union.’ (Nugent, 2010, p. 42). The announcement was followed by a list of conditions, the Copenhagen criteria, which the CEEC’s had to meet, but the spirit of the announcement suggests a European identity of share values and norms and thus a social constructive explanation.

In order to determine which one of these arguments give a more accurate picture of the CEEC integration we need to examine more closely the actions and decisions made by both parties, leading to, and during the accession negotiations. By examining the rule transfer process I believe I can decipher if the CEEC integration was driven by security issues or by a shared European identity. In that regard I base my analysis on Frank Schimmelfennig’s and Ulrich Sedelmeier’s 2004 article Governance by conditionality: EU rule transfer to the candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Will Kymlicka’s analysis of the CEEC/EU relations in Multicultural Odysseys – Navigating the new International Politics of Diversity 2007. Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeier analyze the case through a ‘governance approach’ and look specifically at how those rules and norms where transferred. Although ‘government approaches’ are generally used for ‘policy network analysis’ within the EU, Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeier claim that it serves a useful tool for external relations analysis as well (Schimmelfennig & Sedelmeier, 2004, p. 1). To look more closely at the issue of national minorities Kymlicka’s analysis offers a vital insight of the case, for he believes that in order to fully secure democracy as a just international norm; we must first and foremost secure the rights and autonomy of national minority groups. Only then can we create a normative foundation for developing human rights, without which democracy is nothing but an illusion (Kymlicka, 2001, p. 69). Whether or not the EU offered membership to the CEEC based on self-interests or not can by determined from Kymlicka’s analysis.

Approaching governance

The Copenhagen criteria included various issues of reforms, including minority rights in the region. From the liberal multiculturalist point of view the CEEC integration process offered an opportunity to address humanitarian issues regarding the mistreatment of national minorities in the post-communist states. The EU did without a doubt manage to diffuse humanitarian norms from the west, to the east, but it’s been a matter of some debate if the method and the norms themselves did to any extent offer a permanent solution.

The integration process was time-consuming and involved hard negotiations as the pending member states where expected to meet the demanding conditions of the Copenhagen criteria (and subsequently the acquis communautaire), including economic, democratic and humanitarian reforms (Nugent, 2010, p. 43). The EU’s strategy was to implement a rule transfer scheme in order to elevate the candidate countries to Western-European standard so that their new membership wouldn’t have a negative impact on the EU’s prosperity.

In Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeier’s article they offer three different models of the EU’s external governance on CEEC’s rule adoption and analyze their effectiveness in implementing EU legislation into domestic law: ‘The social learning model’, ‘the lesson-drawing model’ and ‘the external incentives model’, which seemed to be applied the most. The logic behind the ‘the external incentives model’ was to uses carrots and sticks as conditions to further accession.

Overall the rule transfer proved rather context-dependent. The democratic conditionality turned out to be least effective, as none of the three modes contributed to that area, especially for the most nationalist and authoritarian states. This can be explained by the fact that democratic reforms threatened the power position of the political elite which found the adoption cost to be too high (Schimmelfennig & Sedelmeier, 2004, p. 10). Of the three models ‘the external incentive model’ seemed most effective in regards to the acquis conditionality, especially when applied with a credible membership perspective. Also the acquis conditionality did not interfere as much with domestic power politics as the democratization did.

The social learning and lesson drawing models explained economic reforms and environmental issues in some cases as those rules had been implemented before the EU set the bar. This was also the case with Hungary and Poland as they had started working on minority protection as soon as the Soviet Union seized to exist. Also, in regards to those alternative models ‘the presence or absence of epistemic communities promoting EU rules emerges as a key factor’ (Schimmelfennig & Sedelmeier, 2004, p. 13). The external incentives model is a rather rational approach to the integration process of the CEEC countries. It rests on various factors but they conclude that the effectiveness of rule transfer rests primarily on the willingness of the third country to join the union. All of the CEEC countries expressed their will to join the EU as soon as the iron curtain fell (Nugent, 2010, p. 47). With that fact in mind, and also because they had nowhere else to go, the EU was in full control of negotiations with an strong bargaining position capable of offering rewards hard to resist. This can lead to a seemingly coercive rule transfer, which might prove ineffective in the long run as the rules for the enlargement acquis where designed for accession candidates and not binding for full members (Schimmelfennig & Sedelmeier, 2004, p. 16).

Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeier found evidence implying that ‘[r]ules that are transferred through social learning or lesson-drawing are much less contested domestically (Schimmelfennig & Sedelmeier, 2004, p. 14). Concluding that if the CEE countries where conditioned, instead of persuaded, to accept external governance through cost-benefit analysis they might reverse some, or even all, of the reforms as soon as membership is insured. In other words, the carrot and stick strategy only works while the carrot hangs on the string. They also noted that some member states and parts of the Commission ‘indicated that rather superficial alignment would not present an obstacle to concluding negotiations in the areas of EU social policy’ (Schimmelfennig & Sedelmeier, 2004, p. 13).

Minority rights and autonomy

In order to understand Will Kymlicka’s point of view we must look in to his philosophical premise. As a political philosopher his work has to a large extent revolved around the ontological misunderstanding of western individualism as a building block of human society. Rational/liberal individualism can be traced back to the political analysis of the enlightenment from state-of-nature-theorists and philosophers such as David Hume, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Although not fully compatible theorists they share a fundamental ontological view of the individual as a rational being, forming a societal realm of governance. Kymlicka fears that by accepting the ontological view of a ‘bottom up’ social structure, it will lead to a normative homogeneity and injustices towards national minorities and indigenous people. He argues that individuals form identities through interaction with their socially constructed reality, indicating a ‘bottom up/top down’ ontology. Liberal western individualism in fact assumes one world view, cosmopolitanism, which denies those who wish to define their individuality from their national culture from leading a meaningful life. As an attempt to prevent the injustice of homogenising nation states Kymlicka suggests a diffusing of liberal multicultural models of the state and citizenship through International organizations (Kymlicka, 2001, p. 307).

In his view, institutionalizing minority rights is of the outmost importance and the key to a stabilized Europe once the CEEC’s join the EU. The solution rests not only in institutionalizing minority rights on the basis of the UN’s declaration of ‘generic minority rights’ which applies to all ethnocultural minorities, but through ‘targeted rights’. ‘Targeted rights’ apply to particular types of minorities ‘such as indigenous peoples, national minorities, immigrants, the Roma/gypsies, and so on’ (Kymlicka, 2007, p. 199). Kymlicka claims that the initial drive for the EU’s initial 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Declaration was a ‘complex mixture of humanitarian, self interested, and ideological, reasons’ (Kymlicka, 2007, p. 174). The declaration strongly supported minority rights and endorsed territorial autonomy for national minorities. Following the declaration Kymlicka identifies three strategies formulated by the EU to help improve state-minority relations: ‘Publicizing best practices’; ‘formulating minimum standard’; and ‘case specific interventions’. All of the three tracks failed miserably according to Kymlicka. The best practices strategy, designed to introduce previously successful western models of minority-majority relations, simply failed to convey the message for the epistemic community completely overlooked the underlying cultural difference between eastern and western Europe. When confronted with the problem in the west, most of the humanitarian norms we take for granted already existed.

By formulating minimum standards, and this brings us to Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeier and the external incentive model, the EU made a number of tremendous mistakes leading to the abandonment of useful multicultural norms. In 1993 all of the major European organizations had developed a consensus to establish minimum norms and standards of minority groups, and they all endorsed territorial autonomy. The problem was that no one seemed to have a clear idea what these standards should be or how to formulate them. Again the epistemic community failed as the short timeframe resulted in norms with serious limitations (Kymlicka, 2007, p. 199). Another critical issue regarding minimum standards and probably the main reason for the failure of the whole experiment was the fact that these minimum standards were off course intended to apply to all member states of the EU. But as it turned out, the current member states could not abide to that. ‘While they were willing to insist that the post-communist states be monitored for their treatment of minorities, Western democracies did not want their own treatment of national minorities examined (Kymlicka, 2007, p. 210). By resisting their own norm diffusion the western part of the EU self-destructed further progress leading to the diffusion of minority self-government. As the post-communist countries strongly opposed all ideas in that matter, based on security reasons, the idea was dropped and subsequently all efforts to promote something like liberal multiculturalism disappeared (Kymlicka, 2007, p. 211). The case specific interventions according to Kymlicka are misleading and rest on the logic of security instead of multiculturalism. Conflict prevention may turn out effective but it results in a double-standard-dilemma as the actions taken by the EU ‘have demonstrated their preparedness to follow any policy measure to create stability’ (Kymlicka, 2007, p. 233). Kymlicka concludes by saying that it has become the norm to deal with minority issues in the post-communist states by calculating actions about how to restore security. In his view the CEEC integration process opened a window for implementing a liberal-multicultural norm for all of Europe, ‘but the window has gradually closed, with the job only half-done (Kymlicka, 2007, p. 315).


Even though Kymlica’s analysis rested on a much narrower viewpoint his conclusions are consistent with the findings of Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeier, which underlines the contextual momentum of state-minority relations in the CEEC/EU relationship.

This case is extremely complicated. Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeier note that even though the integration of the CEEC can be explained initially through a shared European identity, the EU approached the accession through a fair share of what is commonly called old governance (Schimmelfennig & Sedelmeier, 2004, p. 16). The accession meetings had the aura of an old fashion, top down hegemonies where the EU explained what needed to be reformed, how it should be done and what the prize was in return. It’s obvious that the EU made a mistake in going in to the accession negotiations with a “one size fits all” rule transfer model thus failing to diffuse important humanitarian norms such as minority rights and sustaining democratic reforms. I find that the methodology of the rule transfer applied by the EU to be rational and that the actors on both sides performed as utility-maximizers as the CEE countries where subjected to substantial external governance. As the case progressed I noted a tendency of self interests from member states coherent with rational choice institutionalism, but not liberal institutionalism, for I found that the states acknowledged the institutional framework. In the case of member states accepting superficial alignment to the acquis it indicates a lack of commitment on behalf of the EU, and I wonder why. Perhaps they were hoping for the superficial alignment to spill over into a more determent domestic reforms.

In my view the EU overestimated the kinship of the formerly divided continent, hurling the accession negotiation it to a setting of ‘old politics’ and because of the strong institutional ‘path dependency’ within the EU framework they lost control of the process.


  • Eriksen, E. O., & Fossum, J. E.(2007). Europe in Transformation - How to Reconstitute Democracy? Oslo. Retrieved from
  • Hollis, M., & Smith, S. (2009). Explaining and Understanding International Relations. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.
  • Kymlicka, W. (1995). Multycultural Citizenship. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Kymlicka, W. (2001). Politics in the Vernacular - Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Citizenship. New York: Oxfor University Press.
  • Kymlicka, W. (2007). Multicultural Odysseys - Navigating the New International Politics of Diversity. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.
  • Nugent, N. (2010). The Government and Politics of the European Union (7 ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillian.
  • Rowlands, C. (2013, February 5). The Guardian. Retrieved April 7, 2013, from
  • Schimmelfennig, F., & Scholtz, H. (2008). EU Democracy Promotion in the European Neighbourhood - Political Conditionality, Economic. Europen Union Politics. Retrieved from
  • Schimmelfennig, F., & Sedelmeier, U. (2004, August). Governance by conditionality: EU rule transfer to the candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Journal of European Public Policy. Retrieved April 2013, from
  • Simmerl, G. (2013, April). A Critical Constructivist Perspective on Global Multi-Level Governance - Discursive Struggles Among Multiple Actors in a Globalized Political Space. Germany: Unpublished Manuscript, Freie Universität Berlin. Retrieved 2013, from
  • Wiener, A., & Diez, T. (2009). European Integration Theory (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.