Finding identity and empowerment through Izhma-Komi research in urban areas

Maria Fedina is doctoral student in Indigenous studies, and she comes from the Komi Republic in Russia. With an autoethnographic approach, she has been able to bring together her research and her roots among the Izhma Komi people.
Doctoral student Maria Fedina

Maria Fedina studies in the doctoral programme in Political, Societal, and Regional Change.

For Maria, her doctoral research is entangled with personal growth and cultural heritage. Komi people have faced challenges in maintaining their culture and language, especially since the industrial revolution, which in many ways resembles the experiences of other Indigenous peoples of the world. Komi people do not have an official status in Russia, because they don’t meet the criteria of minor Indigenous peoples recognized by the state; therefore, they may lack access to important cultural practices, for example education in Komi languages. Maria tells of her experiences in the city and in her grandmother’s village, both in the Komi Republic, where most people speak Russian, and many Komi people may feel uncertain of their identity and heritage due to the discrimination and exclusion of their culture from the dominant society.

Maria found Indigenous Studies in the doctoral programme in Political, Societal, and Regional Change by chance, coming from the field of human geography and knowing very little about Indigenous research. Through her doctoral studies in this new field, she has found words to describe Komi peoples’ experiences and has learned about Indigenous research methods, which enhance collaborative and creative approaches. By conducting Indigenous research, Maria feels that she can give back to her community and empower Indigenous peoples living under the pressures of the modern colonial society. Her doctoral research focuses on Komi people living in urban settings, and their reconceptualization of Indigenousness in the medley of different cultures and traditions.

"I was struggling with this, who am I in my research? … [My supervisors], they recently suggested…maybe I really need to include myself in this research, even use autoethnography as one of the research methods, like see who I am…and reflect my own experiences in that research. And that made so much sense to me."

While doing field work and living in the same area in her homeland, Maria has experienced the blending of different areas of life in addition to the blurring of lines between the subjective individual and objective researcher, as she is also learning about her own heritage and identity in the process. While seeking reconciliation for Indigenous peoples, she also tries to find her own place in academia and in her community. Indigenous research methodologies have given her the opportunity to combine these different, yet interconnected, objectives – to empower Indigenous people and to explore her own identity.