Being a Danish Inuit
I had just graduated high school in my hometown in Greenland. My last big assignment was about Spanish Flamenco where I was very inspired by the Gitano nomad lifestyle. I asked my father if it was possible to live like that today. I got a rather reluctant answer. Of course, no father wants his daughter to wander off and live like a gypsy. Clever dad. What he didn’t know, however, is that my upbringing in Denmark, moving to Greenland when I was two years old, moving back to Denmark after three years, to Greenland again five years later and then again shortly after to another city and living one year in Spain during high school, had actually already made me a global nomad. I just didn’t know yet.
Being a Danish Inuit:
After graduating high school, I left my home in Greenland for my new “home” in Denmark. I am now living in Denmark, where I often feel more Greenlandic than Danish. Greenlanders, the Inuit living in Greenland, are a native people formerly dependent on harvesting natural resources and later made economically dependent on their Danish colonizers. I share no genetics with the Inuit people whom I grew up with, yet I very much relate to their people: I love quietness, solemnity in nature and at church, laughing hysterically over silly things, family moments, and I am quite conflict-averse.
Moving to Denmark was a very troublesome and transformational experience. I suddenly learned how urban noise, people’s outgoing personalities and loud ways of communicating contrasted with the Greenlandic way: serenity, humility and soft-spoken voices. On one hand, I finally had a chance to get to know my “own culture”: I talked and joked emphatically with my peers, felt the vibrancy of city life and challenged myself by being bolder when talking to new people. Yet, I felt a huge loss. My inner peace was gone, and instead, I gained a nervous temperament. I had trouble sleeping every night during the first year I was living and studying in Denmark, and I often felt socially awkward.
I turned to my sister, who is two years older than me, and she tried to convince me that not everything is bad in Denmark or better in Greenland, our home. The only way I have been able to convince myself of the positive traits of my Danish nationality has been through time and experience. I have given myself time to adapt and I have had good experiences with fellow Danes. I sometimes find myself comparing my upbringing to Kipling’s Jungle Book with Mowgli growing up among his pack, not realizing he is a human.
Learning to accept differences:
Today, I have a more nuanced view of things. I no longer regard Danish people and living in Denmark as negative. I have made friends, had boyfriends and learned to love them as much – although not the same way – as my Greenlandic friends. It takes time to get to know people and it takes even longer if first, you have to get to know yourself.
I have learned to accept the differences between my two cultures. If I was to be very general, Denmark is neat, industrialized and organized, while Greenland is awe-inspiring, natural and raw. Recently I spent half a year studying back home in Greenland and I felt the odd feeling of home and homelessness that I think is characteristic of TCKs returning to their host (or home) country. I found my arrival in Greenland challenging and lovely at the same time. Everything was less organized, you had to be dependent upon other people and upon the weather to a much higher extent. Living in Denmark is the opposite. Everyone complains about things nobody can do anything about, yet we consider ourselves among the happiest people in the world because we are also good at being cozy and comfortable with each other (the now internationally famous concept, hygge).
Finding home in other global nomads:
It was an eye-opener for me to discover the similarities I share with our diverse group of TCKs (people who have spent their childhood and youth in another culture like myself). Nowadays I mostly feel that my TCK experience is positive, although I still struggle with it too. I really enjoy being able to move across my cultural stations and having more than one cultural standpoint. The negative side effects are that I feel lonely sometimes because I miss my Greenlandic friends, or I miss my family in Denmark whenever I am in Greenland. I feel restless at times when I have to make decisions that bind me to one place for too long and I feel rootless at times not knowing if I should move to another country when I finish my education. But all in all, I have experienced great improvements in my multicultural life experiences. I consider myself a global nomad armed with both the freedom and restrictions it has to offer.
My retelling of the relationship between Denmark and Greenland:
When the Norwegian/Danish priest Hans Egede arrived in Greenland in 1721, he thought his job was to convert the descendants of the Norse Vikings into Lutheran Christianism. He found only Greenlandic inuit and no people left of European ethnicity. He was granted permission to Christianize the Greenlanders instead. This is how the colonization of Greenland began. Both by their own will and by Danish influence, the Greenlanders turned into an industrialized society, as modern ways of living disagreed with their traditional way of life. The treatment of the population was less violent compared to other stories of colonization (e.g. the treatment of the native American population in the US). Still, there is still a lot of anger among people in Greenland towards the colonization – and the Danes. This is especially due to the fact that the Danish State has recently (within the past two generations) stood behind reforms that have modernized society further, pushing people living in smaller settlements into bigger cities and adding pressure to past wounds of being a native people who have lost their traditions and identity.
Generally, Greenland has a warm and welcoming population and the relationship between Danes and Greenlanders is not all bad. It has been based on kindness and respect for many generations.
Today, Greenland is a self-governing part of the Danish Realm (and has been since Home Rule in 1979, and later gaining autonomy in 2009). Although this means that Greenlandic Parliament and Government have great autonomy and influence, there is a political and popular wish among a part of the population to cut ties entirely from the Danish Realm and become a fully independent state of a little less than 57, 000 people.
Today, one could argue that Greenland is highly dependent on its former colonizer. Denmark pays Greenland an annual block grant of around 470 mio. € to maintain a Nordic welfare system alongside a medical and educational system. Furthermore, investments in the public sector during the modernization processes of the 1950’s and 1960’s (G50 and G60) caused a rise in public administration costs in Greenland due to increasing living standards among the population. On the other hand, Denmark has gained access to valuable resources through the years, and maintaining Greenland as a Danish territory allows the Americans to keep a strategic position in the North Atlantic through military bases. Some argue that Greenland is being economically subsidised by Danish subsidies. On the other hand, maintaining Greenland in the Kingdom of Denmark seems a great advantage due to Danish influence in the Arctic.
In my opinion, it is crucial that the two openly discuss the strengths and weaknesses of common past, present, and future in order to mutually respect each other.
First published 24 May 2017