• Indigenous peoples in Greenland

    Indigenous peoples in Greenland

    The indigenous peoples of Greenland are Inuit and make up a majority of the Greenlandic population. Greenland is a self-governing country within the Danish Realm, and although Denmark has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Greenland’s population continue to face challenges.
  • Peoples

    50,000 out of Greenland’s 56,000 peoples are Inuit
  • Rights

    2007: Denmark adopts the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Children's rights

    2010: The Government of Greenland and UNICEF Denmark enter into a partnership agreement to raise awareness of children's rights in Greenland


Indigenous Peoples in Greenland

The Indigenous Peoples of Greenland, Kalaallit Nunaat, are Inuit and make up the majority of the Greenlandic population. Kalaallit Nunaat is a self-governing country within the Danish Realm, and although Denmark has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Greenland’s population continue to face serious challenges.

In 1996, at the request of Greenland, Denmark ratified ILO Convention 169. Greenland also joined the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child without reservations on 26 March 1992.

The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), an Indigenous Peoples’ organisation and ECOSOC-accredited NGO, represents Inuit from Greenland, Canada, Alaska and Chukotka (Russia), and is also a permanent participant in the Arctic Council. The Inuit Circumpolar Council has recently initiated the Pikialaorsuaq Commission, which serves as a consultation tool for Canadian and Greenlandic communities that are most closely connected to the North Water Polyna (Pikialaorsuaq in Greenlandic).

Indigenous Peoples in Greenland

The population is 88% Greenlandic Inuit with a total of 56,367 inhabitants (July 2020). The majority of Greenlandic Inuit refer to themselves as Kalaallit. Ethnographically, they consist of three major groups: the Kalaallit of West Greenland, who speak Kalaallisut; the Tunumi- it of Tunu (East Greenland), who speak Tunumiit oraasiat (East Greenlandic) and the Inughuit/Avanersuarmiut of the north. The majority of the people of Greenland speak the Inuit language, Kalaallisut, which is the official language, while the second language of the country is Danish.

Greenland’s diverse culture includes subsistence hunting, commercial fisheries, tourism, and emerging efforts to develop the oil and mining industries.

Fishing is the primary industry of the country and Greenland has legislative power over the fisheries sector. The fishing industry is the largest source of income and is hence very important to the national economy. Also, it is the source of many people's livelihoods right across the country.

The majority of the people of Greenland speak the Inuit language, Kalaallisut, which is the official language. The second language is Danish.

Main challenges

One of the struggles of Greenland’s peoples relates to uranium mining. The uranium question has split the population in two, and there have been more demonstrations than ever before. The part of the population that is pro-uranium extraction argues that it will create much-needed jobs in Greenland, as well as financial benefits. Those who are against argue that the environmental and health risks for animals and humans are too high and that the community near the uranium mine Kuannersuit will have to be relocated because of the danger of contamination. There is also a fear that the tailings from the uranium mining will contaminate the environment for thousands of years. A smaller group of the population is arguing that far more hearings are needed throughout Greenland in order to make a decision. The uranium project led by Greenland Minerals and Energy is still under development.

There are an increasing number of suicides occurring in Greenland. There were 47 recorded in 2016, which is ten more than in 2015. It is mainly young people that commit suicide and the victims have become younger over the last decade. Indigenous suicide is a global problem and one that more and more states are addressing. Greenland suffers, along with many other Indigenous communities, the effects of self-harm and suicide.

Potential progress 

A new concession has just been awarded for a zinc mining project in the Citronen Fjord. There will be significant Greenlandic involvement in the project, and there have been several hearings in the local community. However, very few locals showed up to these. This is mainly due to the hearings not being announced properly, the meetings being led by outsiders and the interpretation often being very poor.

The Government of Greenland and UNICEF Denmark entered into a partnership agreement in 2010 aimed at working to raise awareness of children's rights in Greenland, both among children and adults. Over a five-year period, it has implemented various projects to promote children's rights.

Debate about uranium mining in Greenland

Next week, Greenlandic and Danish environmental organizations will host a conference on uranium mining in Greenland. The half-day conference will take place in Copenhagen and aims at having a critical debate on the impacts of uranium mining in both Greenland and in the rest of the world. In October 2013, the Greenlandic parliament repealed a 25-year old zero-tolerance policy on uranium mining. According to the Danish Ecological Council, Greenland has the potential to become one of the world’s five biggest producers of Uranium in the coming years.

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Arctic Council: Arctic peoples’ Nuuk press release

At the Arctic Council Ministerial in Nuuk, May 12 2011, the Foreign Ministers of the 8 Arctic states decided to establish a standing secretariat in Tromsoe, Norway. The establishment of a standing secretariat in an integral part of the efforts to strengthen the Arctic Council as set out in the Nuuk Declaration signed by the ministers at their meeting today.

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Lynge talks future of Inuit people

Greenlandic Inuit welcome the possibility of economic opportunity that comes with the growing international interest in regional oil and mineral resources but worry about the effect it may have on their environment and traditional lifestyle, Aqqaluk Lynge, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, said in a lecture to a packed Filene Auditorium Tuesday afternoon.

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

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