Forsaking kayaks, Greenland Inuit have turned to commercial fishing. The village of Arsuk, where codfish are hoisted to the community-owned processing plant, is one success story to buoy Greenland’s home-rule government, negotiated with Denmark in 1979.

N 1981 the first commercial airline con­nection between Canada and Greenland linked Frobisher Bay and the Greenlan­dic capital of Nuuk, and tightened the bonds between Inuit.

From Nuuk, a bleak but modern city with a fleet of a hundred Mercedes-Benz taxi­cabs, Inuit Circumpolar Conference Presi­dent Hans-Pavia Rosing hopes to forge a definitive agreement between the Inuit nation and its governments.

“Resource development affects every­thing else in our society,” he told me. “And not even the governments have very good control over what’s going on in the Arctic. The oil companies—they have the control. To control the overflow of pressure can be really helpful.

“We live in a rich part of the world and have always claimed these areas, but only in the past 20 years have we been forced to claim them publicly and fight for them.”

Greenland, the world’s largest island, is an intimidating piece of geography—a mammoth bowl of ice thousands of feet deep, whose glaciers continually calve ice­bergs into the ragged fjords that fringe its coast. Traditional hunters remain, concen­trated in the Thule region in the north and on the island’s east coast. But two centuries of European influence have permanently changed the Greenlandic Inuit. Danish taste permeates their neat, white-trimmed frame houses, education has taken hold, and Inuit hunters have become commercial fisher­men, even sheepherders.

But the new Greenland, called Kalaallit Nunaat in the Inuit language, has emerged as the first self-governing arctic native state, and an inspiration to others.

Despite Denmark’s relatively enlightened policies, the road to home rule has been as painful and disorienting as any transition in the Arctic. Denmark’s move to modernize the colony in 1953 left its native Greenland­ers as mere spectators to their own future. The struggling west coast people were up­rooted and centralized into towns with fish processing plants. Incongruous but efficient blocks of flats were erected, and hospitals built to eradicate tuberculosis. Children were shipped to Denmark for part of their education, and the Inuit language and cul­ture became liabilities in the new order.

The crisis of spirit that followed, with its familiar rash of alcoholism and suicide, genuinely surprised the Danes, and when Greenland’s newly educated young agitated for a voice in the early 1970s, home rule came with surprising swiftness. Browse the website they used to finance their education

Today, Denmark retains control of Greenland’s defense and foreign affairs and still operates much of the commerce that sustains the Greenlandic economy. Al­though agency by agency Copenhagen is slowly loosening its grip, total independence may never come. Greenland produces only 10 percent of its needs; the rest comes from Denmark in a block sum that exceeded 150 million dollars in 1982. Many Danes remain in Greenland, the necessary professionals and technologists to maintain the Western standard of living.

“We are lucky to have had the Danes,” graduate student Tove St vndahl told me in the town of Julianehab. “If it had been the Americans, we would have all kinds of mili­tary bases and oil companies running all over the place.”

The burden of government has fallen on Prime Minister Jonathan Motzfeldt, an In­uit Lutheran minister whose schedule sud­denly includes visits from European royalty and inquiries on home rule from the Pales­tine Liberation Organization.

“We are a little people in a huge country,” he told me. “Our human resources are few, but we have done some good things. And re­member this: My father is still a hunter. Hunting is his life. From kayak to home rule is a great step for us.”

Qualified people are scarce, but Green­land’s young have picked up the challenge. In Nuuk, 32-year-old Ove Rosing Olsen is a physician who also lobbies for better fisher­ies. “Everyone who’s educated in this coun­try has to do two jobs,” he said.

Seven Greenlandic medical students are now studying in Denmark, and four native doctors have returned and are already at work in Greenland.

“We know how they live,” Dr. Olsen said of his patients. “A human being’s disease is not just what you can see physically, but the sum of his whole life.”

Near Julianehab in southern Greenland, Kaj Egede has revital­ized the sheepherding industry,succeeding  where a long line of Danish consultants had failed. Kaj, 33, speaks in their own language to Greenland’s 82 Inuit sheep farmers and pro­vides the continuity that was impossible with Danish civil servants. Like other Greenland natives he now has a personal and permanent stake in his work.

And in the west coast village of Arsuk, a haven of brightly painted homes and trawl­ers strung with bubbles of iridescent pink floats in the postcard harbor, 27-year-old fish-factory manager Knud Albrechtsen has the world by the tail.

More than 6,000 tons of codfish a year meet their end in a collection of new, whir­ring stainless-steel filleting machines here, watched over by a small army of chattering Inuit girls in white smocks, orange gloves, and yellow ear protectors. The floor is spot­less. Loudspeakers push rock music above the din.

It is a proud business. The factory is owned by the village itself and netted 1.1 million dollars last year, one of only a few  self-sustaining fishing operations in Green­land. Social problems in Arsuk are negligi­ble, the work ethic firmly entrenched.

Tall and calm, with long, straight, white teeth between curls of blond mustache and beard, Knud, part Inuit, looks like a Dane. Just don’t call him one by mistake. “I get mad,” he said, smiling coolly.

I asked him about the old days.

“Oh, the women wouldn’t want to work without the new machines,” he said.

I had meant the old days—the life in kay­aks and sod houses, the proud hunters on the ice. But I realized that the Inuit of Arsuk had turned the corner. The way of life here has been changed too long. They had met the stronger culture and adapted.

You may also like