Sovereignty in Kalaallit Nunaat

The Struggle against Colonialism and Imperialism in Kalaallit Nunaat: Part 3

Danish authorities have been in partnership with the plutocrats of the United States. Denmark, which was once occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II, is a supporting cog of the occupation in Iraq. This is even though a majority of Danes indicated opposition to the invasion of Iraq.1

Why? Because the right-wing government of Danish prime minister Fogh Anders Rasmussen adheres to the Elleman-Jensen doctrine, named after the Danish foreign minister who saw small states’ interests best advanced through alignment with ideologically similar great powers. Consequently, Denmark has chosen to ally itself with the US imperialist project.

Denmark thus finds itself caught up in the US imperialist aggression and occupation in Iraq; the Danish government has pursued sexed-up intelligence, war-profiteering business interests, and a phony casus belli.2 To his discredit, Fogh had foolishly stated earlier: “Iraq has weapons-of-mass-destruction. This is not something we just believe. We know.”3

The original pretext for invasion has been utterly discredited; the actual reasons have since been revealed by a series of Downing Street Memos to be contemptuously illicit — based on regime change.4 Yet the occupation carries on apace, and Denmark stands steadfastly with hyperempire. Denmark has tied itself so tightly to the hyper-imperialist project that it acknowledges having made itself a target for terrorist attack.5 Following the terrorist bombings in London on 7 July, the alarm became palpably existential, as is the propagandistic politicking.

Colonially bound to Denmark, Kalaallit Nunaat is also bound in the chimera of hyperempire. What is Kalaallit Nunaat’s role in hyperempire? Are there ramifications for Kalaallit Nunaat under the system of relations at play? Kalaallit Nunaat’s juxtaposition to continental Turtle Island has meant that the US has had decisive political security interests in this realm of Denmark’s monarchy. However, it was neither known by the Danish nor the international public just how much freedom of movement Denmark had given the US on Kalaallit Nunaat.

Just after World War II, Denmark’s monarchial representative, Henrik Kauffmann, entered into an agreement with the Americans that became a problem for the Danish government because the Soviet Union had stipulated conditions for its vacating Bornholm (a small Danish island in the Baltic Sea off Sweden’s southwest coast). The Soviet Union demanded that Denmark conduct itself neutrally by not having British and American forces on its territory, made problematic by the US base at Thule. The Soviets, nonetheless, eventually left Bornholm in 1946.6

In 1995, an official in the Danish foreign affairs department found a letter from [former Danish Prime Minister] H.C. Hansen. The letter revealed that the Americans wanted to know what the Danish government would say to the discovery of nuclear weapons in Kalaallit Nunaat. Hansen answered that the Americans’ enquiry on “ammunition supplies of a certain type in areas of defense” does not “give occasion for any commentary from my side.” The Americans were instructed that the request must not be made public, as this would create insurmountable problems for Hansen’s government.7

But the circumstances were such that Denmark’s indirect acceptance of nuclear weapons in Kalaallit Nunaat could no longer be maintained after the crash of the B-52 bomber in Thule.

Government Deceit and Kalaallit Nunaat

The Danish authorities did see the Inuit population as crucial to Kalaallit Nunaat, but the Danish authorities preferred a settled lifestyle for the Kalaallit.8 To encourage this, the Danes introduced the Kalaallit to the cod fishery in the mid-nineteenth century. The southeast coast of Kalaallit Nunaat might otherwise have lost its Inuit population because of the diminishing seal population, upon which they relied heavily.9 This could be construed as altruism on the part of the Danish state, but it is self-serving altruism.

If the Danish state’s intentions were guided by lofty principles, how is it that Denmark could expose the Kalaallit to nuclear danger? Indeed, there is a history of untoward Danish governmental actions to the Kalaallit. Aftenposten reported that, according to a report from three Nordic human rights experts on assignment for the North Atlantic Group in the Danish parliament, in the transition from colony to county, Denmark used a tactic that built on concealment, manipulation and direct lie to both the U.N. and Greenland. The report revealed a series of secret documents that require Danish historical revisionism.

According to Kuupik Kleist, Kalaallit Nunaat member of parliament, the report could serve as central documents to a common Denmark-Kalaallit Nunaat independence commission. “It shows that the rights that we should have had as people, were placed aside and to a certain degree continues today.”10

Denmark’s new constitution altered this status and took both Kalaallit Nunaat and the Faeroes into the Danish commonwealth. This happened in compliance with an initiative from the newly established U.N. in 1946 to change the status of colonies, to either independence, integration in the colonial power, or a freer attachment to the former colonial power with a high degree of self-rule.

However, the Kalaallit were never informed about such existing choices or that Denmark had a duty to carry out a meaningful development of the territory for possible independence. Instead, the Kalaallit received the Greenlandic national assembly, dominated by Danes, with three days to decide whether or not Kalaallit Nunaat should incorporate into Denmark. The Danish constitutional commission had two years to prepare for this scenario.

Nonetheless, the national assembly responded with a unanimous “yes” to the incorporation of the new constitution, without having received permission to put forward questions or conditions. 11

The Danish Foreign Ministry delimits Kalaallit Nunaat sovereignty.

Legislation formally comes under the Danish Folketing which includes two representatives from Greenland, but in practical terms the Greenland Landsting administers almost all legislative matters. This does not apply to the country’s foreign policy, Greenland’s mineral rights, the police and judicial system, or to the Greenland Command in Grønnedal. The most senior Danish representative in the area is a Commissioner appointed under the Royal Seal.12

Danish Imperialism

The Danes of Kalaallit Nunaat have been treated differently from the Kalaallit. Racism eases the colonization of distant lands and Denmark reportedly differs not from other colonialistic and imperialistic powers in this respect.13

That the intentions of the Danish government for Kalaallit Nunaat have been marked by colonialistic and imperialistic attitudes is clear from a close examination of the language. Such attitudes and policies have continued unabated after the establishment of Home Rule in 1953 when:

Greenland was formally made an integral part of Denmark. According to this terminology, “a colony” was a center in a colonial district. The Greenlandic word for “colony” in this sense is niuertogarfik, “trade center,” while Greenland as a whole, in relation to Denmark, was called nunasiaq, the same word used for other colonized areas in the world.

While the North Atlantic islands — including Greenland — were called bilande, “dependencies,” the trade and mission stations in Greenland were called “colonies.” … The difference was that the “colonies” outside Greenland were occupied with the purpose of economic and strategic exploitation, while Greenland was regarded as an inherited dependency.14

The Kalaallit culture, as is the case with many Original Peoples, was based on commonality of ownership — not on possessive individualism. This traditional economic structure is still extant in Kalaallit Nunaat. The capitalistic, colonialistic society of Danes, however, determined such territory to be free from title and it consequently became classified as “crown land” — a euphemism for territorial theft by the colonizing state.

Crown land was made available for exploitation by the colonizing state. Danish resource extraction was to begin in Kalaallit Nunaat.

As with the colonization of Turtle Island, the enforcement of dependency among the Original Peoples in Kalaallit Nunaat was entrenched in the name of “progress.” Settlement of Danish nationals in Kalaallit Nunaat was part of the strategy. The divisive and racist outcome was noted:

The Danish staff in administration, and not least in education, introduced Danish ideas concerning economic activities and organization. The means of attracting Danish staff to Greenland were economic, housing, and social privileges. This created a really visible discrimination between colleagues according to their Danish or Greenlandic origin.

… In the midst of the 1960s, this kind of discrimination was legalized by passing the “birthplace-criterion” in the Greenland Civil Servants Act, according to which civil servants born in Greenland would be in receipt of only 85% of the Danish basic salary.

… This kind of discrimination disappeared almost totally from Greenland about 1990. Only the Danish Ministry of Administration of Justice still practices it in Greenland.15

As the process of “Danization” was pursued in Kalaallit Nunaat, “the object of the colonized group changed from “Greenlanders” to the “Greenland community,” including both the ethnic Inuit and the ethnic Danes.

Full independence poses in the future for Kalaallit Nunaat. A self-rule commission was charged with preparing for a referendum on independence at latest by 2006,16 but this, for reasons unclear, has not yet come about. Besides when a referendum on independence will take place, questions abound about what genuine independence actually will mean. When the colonial connection between Kalaallit Nunaat is severed, it is speculated that other covetous lands will be attracted, especially the US which already has a physical and political presence in Kalaallit Nunaat. There is also the colonizing state of Canada next door, which is involved in a territorial skirmish with Denmark.

Hans Island and the Danish Claim for the North Pole

A tiny, ice-strewn, rocky island situated in the Nares Strait, approximately halfway between Umingmak Nuna (Ellesmere Island) and Kalaallit Nunaat, has spurred a competition between the colonizing states of Denmark and Canada.

A week after Canadian troops visited and planted the Maple Leaf on Hans Island in July, Canadian defense [sic] Minister Bill Graham paid an unannounced visit to Hans Island. This has spurred, what has been described as “diplomatic strife” in the Danish media, over sovereignty to the island.17

A Kalaallit government figure accused the Canadian government of carrying out an “occupation.” Deputy Premier of Kalaallit Nunaat, Josef Motzfeldt remarked, “When some people unjustly attempt to make their influence valid over the island that both Greenland/Denmark and Canada make claims on, I cannot interpret the matter as anything other than a regular occupation.”18 [18]

Motzfeld called for international clarification of Hans Island’s status under U.N. auspices. A U.N.-ratified treaty on the continental shelf has delimited the territorial sovereignty along 127 points between Nunavut and Kalaallit Nunaat. However, from point 122 (80° 49′ 2 – 66° 29′ 0) to point 123 (80° 49′ – 66° 26′ 3), a distance of 875 metres, no line is drawn. Hans Island is located in the centre of this area.19

Hans Island has been under dispute between Denmark and Canada since 1973. The recent wrangling was triggered in 2002, when the Danish warship Væddern landed on Hans Island and raised Dannebrog (the Danish flag) as a sign of sovereignty over the island that is considered devoid of valuable mineral resources.20 [20]

This is not the first time Dannebrog has been planted on Hans Island, a three kilometer long and one kilometer wide deserted island. The flag is scheduled for change once a year but this is not always possible. When the Danish ship Tulugaq changed the flag in 1986, over a decade-and-a-half passed before another ship reached Hans Island.21

Despite the media drama, the struggle for the island is carried out on mostly amicable terms. Canadians are said to leave behind a bottle of Canadian Club whisky when the Maple Leaf has been raised, while Danes are said to leave behind a bottle of Gammel Dansk (Old Danish) bitter after Dannebrog’s raising.22

Why is this island is so important? The island is remote. However, its location affects the manner by which the maritime boundary is determined between northern Kalaallit Nunaat and Canada. From an imperialistic Canadian perspective, the international boundary is important for three reasons. First, the division of rich turbot and shrimp stock will be affected. Second, Kalaallit Nunaat Inuit have been reported to cross over to Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island) to conduct what some Canadian officials deem to be illegal polar bear hunts. The government of Canada fears the Kalaallit Nunaat government claiming the hunt as an established right. Third, global warming might have a substantial impact on the Arctic climate and Canadian territoriality.23

For Denmark, the claim to Hans Island lies behind a much larger future claim on the North Pole itself. Danish authorities have invested millions in a project that seeks to identify a connection between the mainland of Kalaallit Nunaat and the ocean bottom under the North Pole. There are special conditions under which a continental shelf might extend past the usual 200 nautical mile limits according to article 76 of the Law of the Sea convention.24

Tensions have calmed down recently with the University of Toronto and the Technical University of Denmark collaborating on the building of a weather station on Hans Island.25

The Canada-Denmark squabble over the sovereignty of a big icy rock ought instead to raise a discussion of the legitimacy of the claim by either of these two colonizing states. Hans Island is located between Nunavut, where Inuit represent about 85 percent of the population, and Kalaallit Nunaat, with a slightly greater percentage of Inuit in its population. If Hans Island belongs to a people, it obviously belongs to the Inuit since their maritime sovereignty would encompass the island. That Nunavut and Kalaallit Nunaat have been colonized and that the Inuit have had their sovereignty ignored or subordinated undermines any moral legitimacy to the claims of European or Euro-Canadian governments in millennia-old Inuit territory.

The Struggle for Full Independence of Kalaallit Nunaat

Nunavut managed to gain an enhanced territorial status within Canada, but it is Kalaallit Nunaat that is poised to take the step to complete independence. Kuupik Kleist is a staunch supporter of independence for Kalaallit Nunaat: “I don’t doubt that we will become independent — it is only a question of time.” Kleist argued, “There are many states in the world which have a smaller population than we have and rule themselves. Every land has the right to be independent.” 26

Some Danes residing in Kalaallit Nunaat still hang on to colonialist dreams. A pair of Danish teachers raised three objections to independence: economy, population base, and education. Whereby Danes derive a right to pronounce on the sovereignty of another people living in a different land is stupefying. Such unfounded colonialist pretexts presented with the intent to further delay Kalaallit Nunaat from achieving complete independence include a low level of education, a low level of industrialization that purportedly prevents a sustainable economy, and a dependence on Danish subsidies. 27[27] Putting aside the ethnic blinkers as to what constitutes a low level of education or the questionable superiority of high levels of industrialization, there is the question of what attributes are necessary for independence — if any. One must also wonder about the wisdom and future developmental aspects of continuing under the Danish monarchy, when after centuries of colonial domination the educational and industrial achievements are condemned by Danes themselves as being too low. As for subsidies and survival, one wonders at all how the Inuit survived during and after the age of the Vikings. If Scandinavian civilization was so superior, why then did the Vikings in Kalaallit Nunaat disappear?

The Original Peoples of Kalaallit Nunaat found shelter and fed themselves in an otherwise climatologically inhospitable land where they have survived for centuries. If the Kalaallit cannot survive now, then the blame must rather be cast on the debilitating effects of colonization (or on the pernicious effects of global warming, a product of the industrialized world that also threatens the territorial integrity of Kalaallit Nunaat28 [28]). There is negligible argumentation in favor of delaying further full sovereignty for the people of Kalaallit Nunaat, other than entrenching the foreign-induced dependence.

Read Part 1

Part 2

  1. Fogh vil i krig, Socialdemokraterne vil i krig med Sikkerhedsrådsresolution — danskerne vil ikke,” Netavisen, 25 January 2002. Two opinion polls are reported from 24 January 2002 that reveal an overwhelming majority of Danes are opposed to participation in an Iraq war. A poll by Vilstrup for the Danish newspaper Politiken indicated that without a UN mandate only 29% of Danes supported an attack on Iraq and only 35% supported Denmark having a military role in such an offensive. Without a UN mandate support dropped respectively to 27% and 4%. []
  2. Detailed in an earlier article. Kim Petersen, “The Fairy Tale of Liberation,” Dissident Voice, 2 May 2004. []
  3. Commentary, “Noget for Noget Extrodinært,” Dagbladet Arbejderen, 28 February 2004. []
  4. Complete Set of Downing Street Documents including one with the infamous quotation: “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” [italics added] []
  5. Per Olav Ødegård, “Danskene forventer terroranslag,” VG Nett, 27 May 2003. []
  6. Sune Wadskjær Nielsen, “Fra kold til varm kartoffel,” FOV Nyhedsbrev, vol. 18, 20 September 2001. See the “Text of the US-Danish Agreement on Greenland,” 10 April 1941. []
  7. Nielsen, Ibid. []
  8. Farley Mowat, West Viking: The Ancient Norse in Greenland and North America (McClelland and Stewart, 1965). “The Danish authorities had no desire to see a mass migration of the Eskimos to the north, and the Eskimos themselves did not wish to move …,” 378. []
  9. Ibid, 379. []
  10. Translated from Ole Martin Larsen, “Dansker førte Grønland og FN bak lyset,” Aftenposten, 25 November 2004. []
  11. Larsen, Ibid. []
  12. “Greenland,” Utenrigsministeriet. []
  13. Ole Bidstrup, “Slaveriets ophævelse i 1848,” Dansk Vestindisk Selskab. []
  14. Robert Petersen, “Colonialism as Seen from a Former Colonized Area,” Arctic Circle — History and Culture, 1995. []
  15. Ibid. []
  16. Weekend-Avisen, “Grønland: Sørgelig skilsmisse efter sølvbrylluppet,” Steen Gade, 2 July 2004. []
  17. “Minister puster til dansk-canadisk strid,” Ekstra Bladet online, 24 July 2005. []
  18. Translated from “Grønland: Hans Ø er besat,” DR Nyheder, 25 July 2005. []
  19. Wikipedia has an excellent reference page on the Hans Island dispute. []
  20. Jane George, “Greenland, Canada squabbling over pet rock,” Nunatsiaq News, 9 April 2004. []
  21. AGPA til Thule (1997): Hvis vi blot kan nå Hans’ Ø på 80 grader 49 minutter,” Søværnsorientering, 1998. []
  22. Sigbjørn Strand, “Danskene leder kampen om Nordpolen,” Magasinet, 26 January 2005. []
  23. Rob Heubert, “The Return of the Vikings: New Challenges for the Control of the Canadian North,” Maritime Affairs online, Winter 2002-2003. Heubert saw the Danish naval ship Væddern’s visit to Hans Island as demonstrative of Canada’s need to strengthen its surveillance of what Canada claims to be its North and also of Canada’s ice-water naval ships capacity. See Andrea Mandel-Campbell’s “Who Controls Canada’s Arctic?” The Walrus, December-January 2005, 52-61 for insight into how Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic will be affected by greenhouse-triggered melting of polar ice. []
  24. Sigbjørn Strand, op.cit. See also Article76: Definition of the continental shelf of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. []
  25. Bob Weber, “Canadian, Danish scientists develop peaceful co-existence over Hans Island,” Canadian Press, 15 March 2007. []
  26. Translated from Inunnguaq Kreutzmann, “Et selvstyrende Grønland — visioner og målsætninger,” Selv Styrekommisssionen i Grønland, 13-14 September 2001. []
  27. Nina Larsen og Juliane Henningsen, “Selvstændighed — blot et personligt mål for politikerne?Medietimen, 2001. []
  28. Michael McCarthy, “An island made by global warming,” Independent (UK), 24 April 2007. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. En Dansker said on July 27th, 2007 at 7:46am #

    The articles smells of fifth colonne left Fascism propaganda – Those Quislings are worse than the Nazis and their collaborators, the Left extremism is the Nazis of the 21rst century.

  2. Kim Petersen said on July 27th, 2007 at 2:52pm #

    An unsubstantiated comment that would be expected of an imperialist/colonialist-supporting dansker. Overhoved ikke forbløffende.

  3. Shirley G said on September 19th, 2007 at 1:28am #

    Global warming has melted pack ice giving greater freedom of movement to shipping. The North West passage has become a reality. This could make exploitation of hydrocarbons and minerals an economically feasible. The US firm Alcoa looks set to construct a giant metal smelter on the island which may employ 3,000 (about 10% of the workforce). Denmark seems to do what the US wants. If Denmark agrees to independence are they acting out of ethical obligation to Kalaallit-Nunaat or obliging their hyperpower masters? How can the Inuit keep the US out (whether they separate from Denmark or not)?