The role of statistics in relation to Arctic indigenous realities

Authors: Olivia Napper*, The George Washington University, Timothy Heleniak*, Nordregio - The Nordic Centre for Spatial Development
Topics: Polar Regions, Ethnic Geography, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: Arctic, identity, census, enumeration, indigenous, colonialism, race, ethnicity, aboriginal, citizenship, indigeneity, nationality, polar
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM
Room: Roosevelt 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


All the Arctic states categorize their populations based on some aspect of identity in population censuses, registers, surveys, and other government data collection efforts. These aspects include identity according to race, ethnicity, ethnic origin, tribe, language, religion, nationality, citizenship, place of birth, national origin, place identity or other identities. The approaches that each Arctic state uses to classify the identities of peoples vary considerably, and there have been significant changes in classification over time. Some of the current classification practices are a vestige of frontier times, when data collection efforts expanded to Arctic peripheries and first began to include Arctic natives or indigenous peoples.

This presentation examines how the national statistical offices of the Arctic states categorize Arctic peoples, both currently and historically. This examination of identity in the Arctic in official government statistics reveals a complex and contested portrait. Concepts of identity, indigeneity, race, and ethnicity are social constructions and are thus fungible over time, space, and circumstance. People can have multiple identities or partial identities. In spite of these complexities, Arctic states have long sought to categorize the Arctic peoples they encountered—as they expanded state control northwards or through colonialism—according to western norms. This presentation will investigate how efforts to classify people are often at odds with how people view themselves, and how enumeration practices over time have resulted in distortions of indigenous realities across the Arctic.

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