Is Greenland For Sale? Exclusive Interview: Aka Niviâna
US President Donald Trump wants to buy Greenland. He is so interested, in fact, that he canceled a trip to Denmark when Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the idea was “absurd”. But is Greenland for sale?
The question is a divisive one. Many people have strong feelings on how Greenland should interact with Denmark and the world at large, and even though the population is small, there are many different opinions and perspectives, and the emotions run deep.
The Legacy of Colonialism
Greenland has been sporadically inhabited by Arctic Peoples over the last 4,500 years. Norsemen colonized Greenland as far back as the 10th century, and different European powers have made forays onto the island ever since. Even Portugal tried to stake a claim.
For the last 300 years, Greenland has been administered by Denmark and they continue to be the primary outside influence on the island. Denmark attempted to more fully integrate the island, starting in 1953, but disputes led to the government granting Greenland self-rule in 1979. Greenlanders have continued the push for autonomy, but the process has been slow and painful.
When Donald Trump asked Denmark to sell Greenland to the United States, it aggravated deep wounds.
Greenlanders Deserve Self-Determination
Aka Niviâna is a world-renown poet, climate change activist, and Indigenous rights activist. She lives in Nuuk, the capital city of Kalaallit Nunaat, the island known to the Western world as Greenland. Niviâna spoke with the PolitiPeeps panel and Dr. Mathias Nordvig, a visiting Associate Professor of Nordic Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and onetime resident of Greenland.
The way they spoke about Greenland was as if we were something to buy.Aka Niviâna
The fate of Greenland is often discussed in geopolitical circles, but Niviâna is concerned that President Trump and global leaders do not seem interested in listening to the people who live there and call the island their home. When she heard President Trump asked Denmark if he could buy Greenland, at first Niviâna thought it was some kind of joke. But she soon realized that it was no joke, and she was not surprised.
This is a subject for Greenland … what new kind of history would come out of a relationship between Greenland and the United States? I was worried.Dr. Nordvig
Niviâna reports that one of the biggest problems native inhabitants of Greenland have with Denmark is that they are not given the respect and status they deserve. She believes Greenlanders have a right to self-determination and should not have their lives and fates dictated to them by Denmark, the United States, or anyone else. Though she realizes that the path to self-determination is no simple task, she believes the people of Greenland have the right to decide these issues for themselves.
Human Rights and Self-Determination
Greenland is vast and covers an area three times the size of Texas with the population of a small city. The resident population is tiny, clocking in at about 50,000 Inuit and an additional 7,000 Danes and Europeans.
Dr. Nordvig told us that when Denmark decided to modernize Greenland, native settlements were destroyed and the residents forcibly relocated from their ancestral, community focused homes and made to live in Danish style single-family homes. A social safety net and modern services were made available, and while they look good on paper, the Inuit come from a culture of community-based self-sufficiency, where people voluntarily came together to share resources. As a result, many Inuit have had trouble adapting to a Danish-model of social services, funded by tax rates as high as 44%.
Greenland is probably the best example of how dysfunctional a well-meaning welfare state can get.Dr. Nordvig
Niviâna says the native inhabitants were used to a lifestyle of voluntary communal living and interdependence, but the interventions of the Danish government disrupted their way of life. Ever since the modernization efforts began, social problems have grown. The suicide rates in Greenland are over 100 per 100,000, which makes them the highest in the world. The United States, for example, has a rate of 14.5 per 100,000, and the global average is 11.6.
We have really high suicide rates in Greenland. The highest in the world. I think it stems from this colonial history. We treat these issues as individual cases. I think we have to look at it from a structural point of view.Aka Niviâna
Greenland is Rich in Natural Resources
For over a thousand years, Europeans have been interested in Greenland for farming, fishing, and mining. Today, American and even Chinese interests have repeatedly expressed interest in developing the country. In 1946, US President Harry Truman wanted to buy Greenland for $100 million in gold.
The island is known to have vast mineral resources trapped under the ice. As the ice melts and these resources become more available, special interests from around the world want to profit off of this wealth. When President Trump asks the country of Denmark if Greenland is for sale, people like Aka Niviâna and Dr. Nordvig express concern that the people of Greenland will not be included in discussions regarding who owns these resources and how they should be utilized.
Greenland Has Strategic Value
Even the Chinese are interested in Greenland. In 2018 China bid on building airports and mining bases, and if such a plan were to go through, China would exert enormous influence not only over the country of Greenland, but on the entirety of the North Atlantic region and the Arctic as well.
If Greenland is developed by outside powers it is quite likely that many people would immigrate to the country and further marginalize the indigenous peoples. The population is so small that any large influx would drown the voice of the natives and give them even less control over their lives than they already have.
The People of Greenland Are Significant
Despite their low numbers, Niviâna and many others believe Greenlanders deserve to have their voices heard, and that they deserve the dignity, respect, and autonomy that is the inherent right of all peoples, everywhere.
As a poet and activist for indigenous peoples and the climate, Aka Niviâna has a unique perspective on Greenland’s place in the world. To learn more about her ideas on how to solve these issues, watch the first of this three-part series with Aka, below, and be sure to subscribe to our blog and Youtube channel to get the remaining parts of this series.