Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic January 09, 2018 - 1:30 pm

Greenland’s reconciliation commission sets path for national healing

"We understand the past. We take responsibility for the present"

JANE GEORGE
Members of the Greenland Reconciliation Commission were appointed by the Government of Greenland to operate independently. The commissioners include Karla Jessen Williamson (centre) an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan, who originally comes from Greenland, as an honorary member.
Members of the Greenland Reconciliation Commission were appointed by the Government of Greenland to operate independently. The commissioners include Karla Jessen Williamson (centre) an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan, who originally comes from Greenland, as an honorary member.

Nunavut’s next-door neighbour, Greenland, wants to move towards a safer, more “inclusive and respectful” society, and a recently-released report from its national reconciliation commission, which started work in 2014, is intended to point the way.

“We understand the past. We take responsibility for the present. We are working for a better future,” says the report released at the end of December, in which the commissioners described reconciliation as both a goal and a process.

And, after three years of consultation and reflection, the commissioners determined that the four main challenges facing Greenland today, from a reconciliation perspective, include:

• The after-effects of hundreds of years of colonialism under Denmark and Norway, which still affect the majority of the roughly 60,000 people, mainly Greenlandic Inuit, who live in Greenland. And that’s despite a home rule government since 1979 and increased self-rule, within the Kingdom of Denmark, since 2009.

• The feeling expressed by many Greenlanders that they are being left behind by development.

• The language situation in Greenland, where Greenlandic is the official language, but Danish is still used widely, which presents “many challenges.”

• The need for a common set of values to unite all people in Greenland.

After more than 30 public meetings and 1,000 interviews, the commission, which also produced videos and a documentary, art works, a play and short stories, came up with seven recommendations in its 63-page report.

These included a call for the establishment of a research centre, a reconciliation fund for healing and a strategy for a common societal vision in Greenland.

“The goal is to create cohesion in society and to take joint responsibility so that we give all the children in our community a good start in life,” said the report, published in Greenlandic and Danish.

The commissioners also recommended the strengthening of the Greenlandic language through a “massive” community-based effort and improved implementation of language laws about the use of Greenlandic.

Following what they heard during the commission’s consultations, the commissioners also said they want to see an apology made to those who were mistreated by, for example, forced relocations.

And they called for free and informed consent to future government actions.

Their suggestions also suggested the creation of a Greenlandic calendar, which would reflect important Greenlandic dates such as National Day and incorporate references to fishing, reindeer hunting and the darker periods of the year.

The commissioners would also like to see more research on topics such as how children sent to Denmark for a variety of reasons have fared.

During the commission’s consultations, commissioners heard about “almost apartheid-like conditions” in Greenland’s schools where the prosperous Greenlandic children, children of mixed families and Danish children studied in Danish classes, while lower-income Greenlandic children were grouped into Greenlandic classes.

Even more extreme, the report noted, were the cases of many children from Nuuk who were sent to Denmark and never returned to their families. Instead, even when they were back in Greenland, they lived in a hostel in Nuuk, where they were told to speak Danish and have no contact with their families.

The commissioners also heard how the majority of those consulted had experienced suicide in their immediate family or entourage, and how many had suffered from alcohol abuse, violence, sexual harassment and other forms of abuse.

Many also cited serious tensions between Greenlanders from different places, and between people with differing language skills.

The commissioners said the reconciliation process must create a place for a common future for everyone in Greenland, and called for an action framework based on what people told them

“Now it is up to the members of the Greenland government to create the framework so that the needed reconciliation process can continue,” said Josef Therkildsen, chairman of the reconciliation commission.

The commission included a total of five appointees as well as an honorary member Karla Jessen Williamson, an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan, who is originally from Maniitsoq.

Denmark bowed out of Greenland’s reconciliation process, Saammaateqatigiinnissamut Isumalioqatigiissitaq in Greenlandic, before it even got underway in 2014, dismissing the process as being of interest only to those in Greenland.

You can find more information about the reconciliation process on its website at sammaatta.gl

There you can see its logo symbolizing reconciliation, with the “S” for “Saammaateqatigiinnissamut”  shaped like a heart, while the “I” for “Isumalioqatigiissitaq”  shows a person reaching out for a hug. 

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(1) Comments:

#1. Posted by Samantha on January 11, 2018

Interesting approach and I am sure they will get this done unlike here in Canada.

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