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.
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.
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.
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.
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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