(Note: This was written on Wednesday 8/8. We haven’t had a fast internet connection since then!)
Hello from the city of brightly colored buildings, ice bergs, deep fjords, and the seat of the Greenlandic government! The remainder of cohort III (Lee left us for Thule) safely arrived in Nuuk on Monday morning, after a 1-hr flight on a ~20 passenger prop plane, Dash-7. The views were so stunning that I don’t think anyone would have objected to a slightly longer flight, except perhaps the man in the window seat next to me who had to deal with my snapping pictures every three minutes or so.
On Monday, we kept busy by familiarizing ourselves with the central part of the city, the waterfront (rather, one of many), and some internet cafes. Internet is surprisingly hard to come by here, but the fact that it’s available only at the distant university or in cafes provides a good excuse to indulge in delicious pastries and cappuccinos. On Monday night, Courtney, Julia, and cohort III were invited for a “girls’ night” at the home of Upaluk Poppel, a Greenlandic woman who studied at Dartmouth two years ago with the Dickey Center’s Greenland exchange program. It was a rare treat to spend time in a home after so many weeks of traveling, and our frank but light conversations served as a perfect introduction to the culture of our new location.
On Tuesday, we elected to familiarize ourselves with the history of Greenland and its people at the National Museum, which houses an impressive collection of clothing; household and hunting materials telling the story of Greenlanders from the expansion of the Thule Culture more than 1,000 years ago to the present; and the Mummies of Qilakitsoq, made internationally famous by a National Geographic feature in 1985. Following the museum and a brief lunch, we attended a talk on the proposed Isua Iron Ore Project, which would create an open pit mine roughly 150 km northeast of Nuuk. The mine is controversial for a number of reasons (environmental effects, influx of foreign workers), though the talk centered around the engineering design of the mine rather than the social issues, which will be the focus of a meeting in late August after we leave. We heard from a London Mining representative as well as an engineer from the engineering company SNC, and the talk was translated into Kalaallisut, as well. Not only was the project itself fascinating to hear about (especially because they have to “mine” part of the glacier to access ore), but the dynamics between speakers with different interests were also thought-provoking. We observed how the project chose to present complicated science and engineering to a general audience.
Following the mining talk, we received our first official Kalaallisut (Greenlandic language) lesson with two students from UChicago working with Lenore Grenoble, renowned linguist and our other professor for the Nuuk segment of the seminar. TJ and Perry taught us basic phrases like hello, good day, how are you, thank you, yes, and no, which are, respectively: “aluu,” “kutaa,” “qanoq ippit,” “qujanaq,” “aap,” and “naamik.” We practiced some of our new skills when in town last night with noted documentary filmmaker, Patrick Morrell, and when meeting with the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) this morning.
View of Nuuk from the University. (Photo: A.Giese)
The roundtable gathering at ICC this morning was the highlight of our time here so far. After meeting ICC International president Aqqaluk Lynge at Dartmouth last winter and again at IPY, we were all familiar with the basic aim and structure of the ICC: an organization that acts as a “permanent participant” in the Arctic Council and advocates for Inuit self-determination, human rights, health, education, language, political participation, and other Inuit interests. The ICC bears the responsibility of implementing the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights locally and firmly believes indigenous involvement essential to its efficacy. The Inuit have reasserted their identity and human rights in recent decades as Greenland transitioned from colonial status to home rule and then to self-rule status in 2009. Now, Greenland has autonomy in all areas except foreign affairs, defense, and financial policy. (Note: this means that Greenland has complete ownership/control over its natural resources.)
ICC Greenland President, Carl Christian Olsen (Puju) spoke of the inception of the ICC, its integration into the Greenlandic government and UN, and its role around the circumpolar region in general. Its range of interests is instantly apparent within the first 10 feet of the office, where I walked by the Arctic Pollution 2011 Report and the Inuit Diabetes Calendar. Much of our conversation with Puju centered around the International Labor Organization (ILO) convention of 169, ratified by Denmark and Greenland in 1996, which required that nation states recognize indigenous identities, removed any mandatory assimilation practices, and permitted self identification. A particularly illustrative example of the types of issues resolved by the UN ILO convention number 169 was that of individual land ownership (imposed during colonization) vs. common land use (Inuit practice); now, all of Greenland is public land. Land use is a concern that extends beyond Greenland, too; because migratory patterns don’t conform to international boundaries, hunters often have to navigate different policies and regulations.
Another part of our conversation focused on the future, and Puju identified the navigability of the Arctic Ocean as a concern. He also spoke of knowledge and resource sharing between the various geographical divisions of ICC. Chukotka has been in need of aid following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ICC provided dentists, doctors, clothing, and housing. Alaska can share its experience with resource (especial oil) development, Canada its progressive reputation for environmental management, and Greenland its political and social integration of Inuit peoples as well as its focus on human rights. Despite the obvious and enormous challenges the ICC faces, it was reassuring and encouraging to hear optimism about the future.
It’s been an exciting, educational, and fun stay so far in Nuuk! We have more exciting engagements coming up, like our public talks at Katuaq on Monday (see below), so stay tuned!