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UCR Scholar to Study Sami Filmmaking


UCR Scholar to Study Sami Filmmaking

Michelle H. Raheja receives a Fulbright fellowship to study visual culture of one of the largest indigenous groups in Europe.

(August 15, 2011)

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Michelle Raheja

Michelle Raheja

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Michelle H. Raheja, an associate professor of English and Native American studies scholar at the University of California, Riverside, has been a awarded Fulbright fellowship to study filmmaking and media of the Sami in northern Europe.

Raheja will conduct research at Norway’s University of Tromsø, which houses the Centre for Sami Studies, and among indigenous communities in Sápmi (the Sami homelands of northern Europe. The Sami are one of the largest indigenous groups in Europe who live in an arctic region that encompasses parts of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Tromsø is the second-largest city and urban area in Sápmi and hosts an annual Sami Festival that features the work of artists throughout Sápmi.

The author of “Reservation Reelism: Redfacing, Visual Sovereignty, and Native Americans in Film” (University of Nebraska, 2011), Raheja’s Fulbright project will be an extension of her research by examining how Sami filmmakers and new media artists have intervened in discussions of settler colonialism and policies of assimilation by creating documentary and narrative films and hip hop videos, and by employing innovative Sami aesthetics. This research will be incorporated into a new book project tentatively titled “Visualizing Pedagogy: Transnational Indigenous Media and Representations of Education,” which will examine global indigenous media in northern Europe, North America and Australia.

Indigenous children and young adults in Sápmi, North America and Australia were compelled by the colonial powers and nation states occupying their homelands from as early as the 17th century through the mid-1960s to attend residential schools with the aims of assimilating them into the dominant culture, Raheja noted.

“This long and often tragic history has been documented in the past 20 years by an impressive number of scholarly monographs, essays, films, novels, and plays,” she explained. “However, there have been no book-length projects on the interaction between contemporary visual culture production and the historical experiences of boarding schools to date. Moreover, there have been no full-length book projects in English that focus on Sami filmmaking traditions despite the explosion of Sami cinema since 2000 and its importance to transnational indigenous discourses.”

Indigenous peoples located in the three regions Raheja will examine are “rendered primarily invisible in the official historical narratives of the settler colonial nations that occupy their territory and simultaneously hypervisible in tourist and marketing campaigns that serve predominately non-indigenous purposes,” she said. “All three sites also feature similar painful and traumatic institutional boarding school histories, as well as initiatives since the 1970s to create indigenous colleges and universities and indigenous-centered programs and methodologies within mainstream academic institutions.”

The Fulbright Program is the leading international education exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people of other countries, according to the program’s website. The program, which awards approximately 8,000 new grants annually, was established in 1946 under legislation by Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It operates in more than 150 countries.

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