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National Identity in Greenland in the Age of Self-Government

Naja Dyrendom Graugaard

Working Paper CSGP 09/5 Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

Greenland is undergoing significant changes in its relations to Denmark and its general position in the world. On June 21st 2009, a Self-Government arrangement will substitute theGreenlandic Home Rule, established 1979. The implementation of Greenlandic SelfGovernment is part of the process of decolonizing the relations between Denmark and Greenland which have been and still are, in many ways, characterized by domination. In a newspaper interview, Jonathan Motzfeldt, the former chairman of the Home Rule, talked of what he thought was the most important aspect of the Self-Governmentnegotiation process: “That we are recognized as a people according to international law. The Danes would not allow that with the Home Rule negotiations in the 1970s. But now, we have succeeded. The Self-Government agreement recognizes us as a people with legal rights. Maybe this is an expression of a political mentality change among the Danes. They have probably gained a greater sense of thefeelings which unite people. Political recognition is determinant for our self-respect” (own translation, Motzfeldt, Politiken, 2008, November 22). In this paper, I analyze some of the national processes involved in the development of Greenland as a post-colonial nation, seeking to advance its possibilities of greater self-determination. My examination of Greenland revolves around the question of whatit means for a ‘nation’ not to have an independent ‘state’. Such and examination must be tied to the relations between Greenland and Denmark. In my analysis, I question how Greenland emerged as a nation. This calls for a historical analysis of Danish colonialism which determines present day relations between Greenland and Denmark. The emergence of Greenland as a nation is connected toconceptualizations of Greenlandic national identity. The question of identity has been debated in Greenland throughout the last centuries. Thus, in my analysis, I question how conceptualizations of Greenlandic national identity reflect the colonial history and continued Danish dominance, the encounter between an Indigenous and a colonizing people, traditionalism, and new pressures for re-interpreting“Greenlandicness”. In this context, I furthermore



question the ways in which Greenland, as a post-colonial nation, is represented in Denmark. I analyze how Denmark is involved in the production and reproduction of images of Greenland in and for Denmark which position Danes as superior to Greenlanders. In this way, the essentialized images of Greenland as the Other reflects a “disguised”reproduction of colonial relations. My analytical questions are set in the empirical context of Greenland’s decolonization process. I argue that the process towards greater Greenlandic self-determination requires critical analysis of the national processes involved in the development of Greenland as a post-colonial nation, as well as identification of power relationships and their history. The currentimplementation of Self-Government in Greenland constitutes a political moment that invites a rethinking and re-visioning of the (post-)colonial relations between Greenland and Denmark. My paper therefore speaks to both Greenlanders and Danes. My analysis is based on three months of field research in Greenland in the summer of 2008. I spent two months in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, as a gueststudent at Ilisimatusarfik (the University of Greenland), and one month in the smaller towns of the Greenlandic West-coast. During these three months, I was able to research literature on Greenland, conduct interviews, and study first-hand manifestations of national processes. At the time of my field research, the Danish-Greenlandic Self-Government Commission presented their proposal on Greenlandic...