Getting there is already part of the experience. Flying into the international airport of Kulusuk, which is the only way to visit this island from outside of Greenland, is a great appetiser for what is to come. The airport, which could be confused for someone’s house due to its size, is beautifully located between snowy mountains and ice-filled fjords. The airport is also the place where the adventure begins. In the summer, travellers and locals alike have the choice of either taking the gravel road into town and walk on foot or ask someone for a lift in their all-terrain vehicles. In the winter, the only way into town is a transfer by dog sled.
Having the choice between a dog sled and an all-terrain vehicle is just one of the many signs that show that the local Inuits have successfully managed to maintain their unique culture, as well as adapting to the modern world, which makes the Inuit a truly fascinating people.
Their traditions can also be witnessed at Greenland’s national day, celebrated on the longest day of the year, the 21 June. It is this very day five years ago, 21 June 2009, when the Greenland self-government replaced the home rule government; the latter was granted by Denmark in 1979. The new status gave the Greenlandic government more political and economic independence of the island’s vast natural resources. Under the self-rule agreement, Greenlanders are also recognised as a distinct people with the right to self-determination. In place of Danish, Greenlandic (also known as Kalaallisut) became the territory’s official language; a language that loaned the English language the word ‘kayak’ (or ‘qayaq’ in Greenlandic) in the middle of the 18th century.
The National Day starts off with a flag-raising ceremony, followed by songs and speeches, free food, storytelling and drum-dancing events; which are organised across the country. It perfectly showcases the national identity of the Greenlanders, which is reflected in the flag, clothing, national anthem and language used.
This national holiday celebrates a people who have lived on the world’s largest island under extreme conditions for thousands of years. Inuits, who traditionally lived as seal catchers and hunters, are well known for having found a great way to live in harmony with nature. This lifestyle is especially reflected in their music, myths and clothing, which are made from the materials available.
Despite Greenland’s small population, the people and their knowledge, gained from a life in extreme weather conditions, are becoming increasingly important in international climate research. In order to harvest this knowledge most efficiently, the Inuit living in the Arctic regions of Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Chukotka, Russia set up the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) in 1980. Alongside their aim to encourage long-term policies to safeguard the Arctic environment, the council is also committed to work for international recognition of human rights of all indigenous people.
Besides its leading role in climate research, Greenland has also gained increased international attention due to its vast natural resources. Besides holding 10 per cent of the world’s freshwater reserves, it also holds large mineral deposits and oil resources. Dealing wisely with this natural treasure will give the Inuit people a confident voice in environmental and energy-related issues arising in the future.
It is thanks to the Inuit’s great sense of community that ensures that traditional values, skills and knowledge are passed on to the next generation. Elders are given the utmost respect in any community because of their knowledge and wisdom. Greenland or ‘Kalaallit Nunaat’ in Greenlandic, meaning the ‘land of the people’, fits the island’s character perfectly. It is more than a name; it is a style of life.
What can we learn from the Inuit people and their culture?