Will small Greenland settlements soon be abandoned? | Polarjournal
Siorapaluk is the northernmost settlement of Greenland and is only 1,358 km away from the North Pole. The inhabitants of Siorapaluk mainly live from hunting. Once a year, the settlement is supplied by ship. Air Greenland provides helicopter flights via Siorapaluk Heliport all year round. The settlement has about 40 inhabitants. (Foto: Heiner Kubny)

Should Greenland’s smallest settlements continue to be supported. The latest Member of Parliament to address the issue is Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, one of the two Greenlandic MPs in the Folketing, the Danish Parliament. During the opening session in early October, she questioned whether Nuuk should still use resources in the event that a hamlet is no longer viable to ensure that the place can remain populated. Instead, residents should be helped to relocate to cities where there are adequate social services and infrastructure.

Aaja Chemnitz Larsen is one of the two Greenlandic deputies who have a seat in the Danish Parliament. (Photo, Mads Claus Rasmussen)

This could mean the end of 54 hamlets. Although there is no official definition of what constitutes a hamlet, these are usually remote settlements with less than 500 inhabitants. The smallest one has only 12 inhabitants. A few have increased in population in recent years, and in some, where fishing is going well, incomes are among the highest in the country.

In her comments from the speaker’s desk, as well as afterwards, Larsen chose her words carefully, stressing, for example, that not all hamlets are equal. Crucially, those who are not viable, should be allowed to die a “natural” death. She said residents would not be forced to relocate, as had happened during Danish-led modernization efforts from the 1950s onwards.

For the inhabitants of the remote settlements, hunting and fishing are an important livelihood. (Foto: Heiner Kubny)

Nevertheless, the overall picture of the hamlets is a picture of decline because of poverty and social ills. In 1979, the year in which Greenland received self-governance from Denmark, the 76 hamlets that existed at the time had an estimated collective population of 12,000, slightly less than a quarter of the country’s 49,000 inhabitants at the time. Today, the national population has risen to 56,000, but the number of inhabitants in hamlets has fallen to just over 7,000.

“It is appropriate to ask whether a society of 12 people can maintain the level of prosperity they expect,” Larsen said, noting that there is no form of prosecution in six hamlets.

Aappilattoq is one of the southernmost settlements of Greenland and is located on Prins Christian Sund. Although the town has a relatively constant population of 100 inhabitants since 2014, it has more than halved in the last 40 years. The main transport routes are by air or sea. Due to its remote location and the surrounding mountain region, the village practically is unreachable by land. (Foto: Heiner Kubny)

Sharp criticism in the government

The words of Aaja Chemnitz Larsen were like a ‘opening a can of worms’ for many people. The reactions of the opponents were also very strong. They criticise the project as a “disrespectful” and “degrading” attitude towards the inhabitants of the hamlets and their lifestyle. Her party, the IA (Inuit Ataqatigiit), supports the political consensus, the right of Greenlanders to “settle where they want,” said party leader Múte B. Egede in a public rebuke. “No one,” he added, “will ever be denied this right.”

Aaja Chemnitz Larsen had expressed her own opinion from the beginning and not that of the party, but she is not the only one who proposes that the legislator think about the future of the hamlets. An earlier proposal would have abolished hamlets with less than 100 inhabitants. Another proposal suggested a ranking of which hamlets should come first in terms of the resources they needed to survive, as well as an “orderly” strategy for the abolition of hamlets that could not survive.

A strategy to double the population of Nuuk begins with a new residential area. The proposed new Siorarsiorfik district in Nuuk could accommodate 5,000 people. (Video: The Arctic Journal)

Similarly, in 2017, the Sermersooq Municipality has drawn up guidelines to help lawmakers decide which hamlets and resources should be preserved.

Asii Chemnitz Narup (not related to the MP), a member of the IA at the time of the drafting of the guidelines and mayor of the municipality of Sermersooq, suggested last week in response to Larsen’s speech that national legislators should do something similar. “Some hamlets,” she said, “are blessed with an abundance of living resources that provide them with a good livelihood. Other hamlets do not have the same possibilities”.

We are curious to see how politicians deal with the situation. PolarJournal stays tuned…..

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal / Kevin McGwin, The Rasmussen

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