Upcoming on May 10: Eeva Kuikka's PhD Defence

Picture of Eeva Kuikka
Eeva Kuikka. Photo: Jonne Renvall / Tampere University.

MA Eeva Kuikka's doctoral dissertation focuses on animals in literature written by Indigenous people of the Russian North.

TaRC is proud to announce that MA Eeva Kuikka will defend her PhD thesis ‘As If They Didn’t Understand That in the North Everything Depends on Reindeer.’ Human-Animal Relations in Indigenous Literatures of the Soviet North on Friday 10 May!

Eeva is known to us at TaRC as an active postgraduate student who has also taken part in the centre’s activities and projects. Now, her own work related to the role that animals play in the literature written by Indigenous people of the Russian North is about to be publicly examined.

Her study shows that authors from Indigenous peoples used depictions of human-animal relations to speak to the relationship between northern Indigenous communities and the Soviet power. Kuikka’s doctoral dissertation deepens the understanding of Indigenous people’s experiences in the Soviet Union, and in doing so, provides tools for gaining a better understanding of the situation of ethnic minorities in modern Russia as well.

In the northern and far-eastern regions of the present-day Russian Federation there are 40 juridically recognized Indigenous peoples. Their size varies from 45,000 to under 500 people.

The spread of Russian rule to the areas inhabited by Indigenous tribes began already during the 16th century. However, it was only the consequences of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 (collectivization, civilization measures, and large-scale industrialization) that caused the most significant changes in the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous communities.

“The effects of the Soviet era to Indigenous peoples in the Soviet Union are very similar to the experiences of Indigenous peoples in other settler colonial states,” Kuikka states.

In her doctoral dissertation, Kuikka focused on representations of human-animal relations in literary works by three Indigenous authors, Yuri Rytkheu, Anna Nerkagi, and Eremei Aipin. The works were published between 1963 and 1990.

In her analysis of these works, Kuikka shows how the depicted modes of interacting with animals were often based on oral traditions, worldviews, and the traditional livelihoods of Indigenous communities. Humans and animals did not appear as opposites to one another but rather as partners and companions co-inhabiting the northern and Arctic region.

“In this sense the works appear in a contradictory position in relation to the modernization and industrialization aims of the surrounding Soviet society,” Kuikka points out.

A careful study of the research material also showed that at the same time the literary representations of animals reflected Indigenous people’s experience of their position in Soviet society.

The descriptions of animals pointed to the difficulty and contradictions of trying to fit in with two completely different cultures at the same time. Furthermore, through the depictions of animals, the addressed authors challenged the claims of brotherhood and equality of peoples in the Soviet Union.

In some of the works analyzed in the dissertation, feelings of shame of caused by one’s Indigenous ethnicity are dealt with through dirtiness related with animals.

“This is connected with a common stereotype of northern Indigenous people as dirty or smelly which prevailed at the time in the Soviet Union,” Kuikka explains.

Even if the study is focused on the Soviet era, Kuikka claims that the phenomena which led to such relations between minority groups and the dominant society are visible in present-day Russia too.

“In Russia racism and discrimination based on non-Russian ethnicity is a common phenomenon. At the same time, Russia’s war in Ukraine has returned to public discussion the rhetoric underlining the multinational character of Russia that was also used in the Soviet Union.”

Kuikka reminds us that the war in Ukraine affects Indigenous people in Russia too. As is the case for many ethnic minorities, members of Indigenous communities have been recruited to the front in disproportionally great numbers. The war has also limited significantly international collaboration between Indigenous people in Russia and in other nation-states.

The doctoral dissertation of MA Eeva Kuikka in the field of Russian Language and Culture entitled ‘As If They Didn’t Understand That in the North Everything Depends on Reindeer.‘ Human-Animal Relations in Indigenous Literatures of the Soviet North will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication Sciences at Tampere University in room D11 of the Main Building (address: Kalevantie 4, Tampere) at 12:00 (Helsinki time, GMT+3) on Friday 10 May 2024.

The Opponent will be Professor José Alaniz from the University of Washington, Seattle. The Custos will be Professor Emerita Arja Rosenholm from Tampere University.

The full thesis is not publicly available for reading, but you can read more about it here. Everyone is welcome to the dissertation defence in Tampere, but if you cannot make it in person, you can follow the event via this online stream.

TaRC congratulates Eeva on the educational milestone and wishes her all the best on the dissertation day and beyond!