The Displaced by Plastics report stems from an interest in exploring solutions and alternatives to the sometimes problematic use and disposal of plastics with Sámi Indigenous Knowledge holders. In 2019, the authors visited eight Sámi knowledge holders in northern Norway and one in Sweden. The idea was to use plastic as an entry point to discuss consumerism and explore Indigenous Knowledge and new inventions that can replace and help reduce plastic consumption and pollution. However, these conversations revealed aspects that are less discussed in the public debate, namely how the use of and easy access to plastic items affect people’s knowledge of making things, their understanding of ecological processes and natural resources, and their relationship with the environment.
Indigenous worldviews differ from Western understandings, often presenting the natural world as separate from humans. Indigenous understandings are multidimensional and more explicit in presenting human well-being and identity as intertwined with the environment through responsibilities, rights and traditions surrounding resource use. In the Sámi community’s worldview, the “boundaries between nature and culture, human and non-human, are in constant flux” (Kuokkanen 2007). How the rapid introduction of plastic products has affected Indigenous Peoples’ values, beliefs and culture, however, are aspects that have not received much attention from governments or the research community. As such, an influential voice is missing from efforts to understand the benefits and costs of plastics and find solutions to the growing issue of plastic pollution.
Plastic has replaced many objects traditionally made locally. At present, both the knowledge and traditional materials are still available within Sámi communities, but as fewer people use this knowledge handed down by generations to harvest materials and handmake items, it is in great danger of being lost.