All posts by Rachael Johnstone, Jonathan Wood, Martin Binachon

Town of Qaanaaq in November

Perspectives on Colonialism in Greenland

Fieldwork in Nuuk, Ilulissat and Qaanaaq. October-November 2021

Martin Binachon, Rachael Lorna Johnstone & Jonathan Wood, University of Akureyri

How do Greenlanders experience colonialism today? How can Greenland decolonise? Do Inughuit (Greenlanders from Avanersuaq, or the far northwest of Greenland) experience colonialism differently? How did the Reconciliation Commission contribute to decolonisation in Greenland? How do Greenlanders’ opinions influence decisions about resource activities?

These are some of the questions asked by Martin Binachon, Rachael Lorna Johnstone and Jonathan Wood during their fieldwork in Greenland in October and November 2021. The three University of Akureyri researchers interviewed 18 Greenlanders and held around 20 informal discussions. They also attended the Nuuk Nordisk Festival & Reflecting Nuuk Nordic side-event. Rachael gave a keynote presentation at Greenland Science Week where she discussed decolonisation of research and education in Greenland and took part in a panel discussion “Making Science Matter: but How?” Martin was also interviewed by the local radio in Qaanaaq where he discussed his research findings.



Martin went to Nuuk, Ilulissat and Qaanaaq to ask Greenlanders, and more specifically Inughuit, about their views on the colonial history of Northwest Greenland and its consequences today. Weather conditions disrupted the whole journey and highlighted how remote Qaanaaq is within Greenland itself. During this fieldwork, Martin encountered a lively and welcoming community and was moved by the people’s kindness and enthusiasm to share their stories and culture with him. Having done research on this subject already, Martin wanted to compare his findings to the perceptions of the locals. In his research, Martin showed that the legal and political history in Avanersuaq is based on colonial attitudes that defined the Inughuit as ‘primitive’ West Greenlanders. This definition justified excluding the Inughuit from political power and this exclusion continues today.

The thoughts and stories Martin heard generally confirmed what Martin had found in his research. These stories provided very concrete perceptions that supported Martin’s theoretical analysis. They highlighted that foreigners have misused the Inughuit, treating them poorly, stealing from them and abusing their generosity. They also showed that people from other parts of Greenland make decisions for the Inughuit but also often hold prejudiced assumptions about them. This directly endangers the Inughuit language and culture. Nevertheless, the Inughuit take initiatives to develop their community. “This is why the Inughuit community must be listened to; responsibility and decision-making power must be given back to them,” said Martin.

Read Martin’s full report

Rachael asked Greenlanders about the Greenland Reconciliation Commission. She wanted to hear Greenlanders’ views about the process and its relationship with other strategies for decolonisation. She learned that while most people though that it was a good idea in principle, there were difficulties from the beginning which limited its impact. The Commission’s recommendations are rarely discussed today in public life – in politics, academia, decision-making about mining or legal cases. Nor is it used by the Human Rights Council or the Constitutional Commission. The Reconciliation Commission did not have enough money to do all the necessary work or visit every community. Denmark was not involved unlike in similar commissions in other countries which made it difficult for Greenlanders to understand its aims. The Commission members had different opinions about its focus and there were a few changes in members of the years. During the Commission’s work, there was a change of government in Greenland and the new administration did not support the Commission or respond strongly to the report. Rachael views the Commission as a “missed opportunity” but still sees it as an important step. “This is a Reconciliation report. But reconciliation takes many years, many generations. We may see calls for a new commission in the future, this time with Denmark’s direct involvement,” she said. Rachael’s research is part of a broader project on Truth and Reconciliation in the Nordic countries as Norway, Sweden and Finland now have their own commissions to investigate colonisation of Saami and other minorities.

Read Rachael’s full report

Jonathan remained in Nuuk given his research was mostly legal and political in nature. Jonathan was delighted with the openness of the Greenlanders he spoke to. He heard about some common problems, such as lack of consulting in communities by industry represented. But he also learned that the Greenland government has created many different forms of consultation and tried to implement them in Greenland. The ongoing Covid situation has prevented many of these ideas being rolled out fully and budget limitations are also a problem. He was surprised that Greenlanders did not feel constrained by international law or Western practices. Rather, they take Western ideas and policies and adapt them to fit better the unique geography, demographics, culture and tradition in Greenland.

Read Jonathan’s full report


“There is only so much we can learn from the books,” says Rachael. “We have to listen to the Greenlanders to understand how colonialism, both in the past and today, affects their societies.” She adds that if we only read theory and make assumptions about how it applies in Greenland, “we are perpetuating our own form of colonialism by silencing them and telling only our own version of their history.”

Since the Self-Government Act 2009, the Greenland government has taken on more responsibility for its own affairs. There is a commission to draft a constitution for an independent Greenland. Decolonisation needs lots of different steps and strategies. The most important is that Greenlanders decide their own futures.


Martin and Jonathan’s fieldwork was supported by the University of Akureyri Research Fund. Rachael’s fieldwork was supported by the University of Greenland.

Town of Qaanaaq in November

Kalaallit Nunaata nunasiaataanera qiviarlugu

Nuummi, Ilulissani Qaanaamilu tikiulluni suliaqarneq

Martin Binachon, Rachael Lorna Johnstone & Jonathan Wood, University of Akureyri

Ullutsinni nunasiaateqartarneq Kalaallinit qanoq misigineqartarpa? Kalaallit Nunaat qanoq isiornikkut nunasiaataajunnaarsinnaava? Inughuit sineriammeersunit tamanna allatut atungarivaat? Saammaasseqatigiinnissamut Isumalioqatigiissitaq Kalaallit unaata nunasiaataajunnaarnissaanut qanoq sunniuteqarpa? Isumalluutinut suliaqarnermi aaliagiinissamut Kalaallit isumaat tusaaneqartarpat?

Apeqqutit tamakku Martin Binachon, Rachael lorna Johnstone aamma Jonathan Wood oktoberarimi novembarimilu 2021 Kalaallit Nunaannut tikiullutik suliaqarnerminni apeqqutigisaata ilagivaat. Akureyri Universitet-ianiit paasisassarsiortut pingasut Kalaallit 18 apersorpaat 20-llu missaat oqaloqatigalunikkit. Nuuk Nordisk Festival & Reflecting Nuuk Nordic side-event aamma peqataaffigivaat. Rachael Greenland Science Week-imi saqqummiivoq, Kalaallit Nunaanni paasisassarsiorneq ilinniartitaanerlu nunasiaajunnaarsitsineq eqqartorluniuk paasisimasallillu oqallitsinneqarnerani “Making Science Matter: but How?” peqataalluni. Martin aamma Qaanaami radio-kkut aallakaatitassiami apersorneqarportaaq, paasisassarsiornermi ilisimalersimasani eqqartorlunigit.


Martin Nuummut, Ilulissanut aamma Qaanaamut tikeraarpoq Kalaallit Inughuit apersoriartorlugit Avannaani nunasiaataaneq qanoq isumaqarfigineqarnersoq ullumikkumullu sunniutai qanoq innersut. Silarlunnera peqqutaalluni angalaniarneq ajornarpoq tamassumalu erseqqissaannarpaa Qaanaaq sineriammiit qanoq avanngasitsigisoq. Martin tikiulluni suliaqarnermini tikitami inussiarnerneranit, eqeersimaartuunerannit, tikilluaqqusineranillu kiisalu kultur-ertik pillugu oqaluttuassaminnillu ammanerannit attortippoq. Sammisaq pillugu paasiniaareernikuungami, ilisimalersimasani najungaqartut namminneq oqaasinnguinissaanut sanilliusserusuppoq. Paasisassarsiornerani inatsisitigut politik-ikkullu Inughuit kitaamiunit ‘kinguarsimanerusutut’ nunasiaatilinniit pineqartarsimanerat erserpoq. Isumasiuut taanna atorlugu Inughuit politikkikkut pissaaneqannginnissaat utoqqatsissutigineqarluni ullumikkumut suli atuuttumik.

Ataatsimut isingalugu isummersortunik oqaluttuartunillu Martin paasisassarsiornermini ilisimalersimasai uppernarsineqarput. Oqaluttuat tamakku Martin teori-liaanut miserratissaanngitsumik paasisitsipput. Erseqqissaapput nunat allamiunik Inughuit tukkortuunerat atornerlullugu eqqunngittumik pineqartarsimasut, tillingarfigitillutillu. Aammattaaq ersersippaat Kalaallit Nunaanni Inughuit sinnerlugit aaliangiisoqartarnera, aammattaaq kinaassusersiortumik inisseereertartut. Tamanna Inghuit oqaasiannut kultur-iannullu ulorianartorsiortitsivoq. Taamaakkaluartoq Inughuit nammineerlutik nunaqqatigiinnertik inerisartuartarpaat. “Taamaammat Inughuit tusaaneqartariaqarput; akisussaaffiit aaliagiisinnaatitaanerlu utertinneqartariaqarput,” Martin oqaaseqarpoq.

Nittartagarput takuuk: Avanersuarmi nunasiaataasimaneq ullukkumullu

Saammaateqatigiinnissamut isumalioqatigiissitaq pillugu Rachael Kalaallit apersorpai. Tusarusuppaa suliap ingerlanneqarnera nunasiaataajunnaarnissamullu periusissat kalaallinit qanoq isummerfigineqarnersut. Paasilertorpaalu amerlanernit isumaq iluaringaluarlugu sunniutissaali killeqarsorineqartoq. Isumalioqatigiissitap innersuutai inuit akornanni oqallisigineqarpallaanngillat – politikkikkut, ilinniarnertuunngorniarfinni, aatsitassarsiornermi aaliagiisussanit, inatsisitigulluunniit. Naamittaaq Siunnersuisoqatigiinnit imaluunnit Tunngaviusumik Inatsisissaq pillugu Isumalioqatigiissitaq aqqutingalungu. Saammaateqatigiinnissamut isumalioqatigiissitaq aningaasakilliorneq peqqutaalluni suliassat tamakkiisumik naammassisinnaanngilai, sumiiffiillu tamakkerlungit tikissinnaanangit. Qallunaat Nunaat aamma suleqatigineqanngilaq, naak nunani allani isumalioqatigiissitat suleqatigiittaraluartut, malitsigisaanik Kalaallinut siunertaa nalornissutigineqalerluni. Isumalioqatigiissitami ilaasortat assigiinngitsunik siunniussaqarput ukiullu ingerlanerani ilaasortat nikerarlutik. Isumalioqatigiissitap piunerani naalakkersuisut allanngorput, taakkuninngalu suliaq taperserneqarani annerusumillu qisuariarfigineqarani. Rachael isumaqarpoq Isumalioqatigiissitaq tassaasoq “Periarfissatsialak arajutsisaq” kisiannili alloriarneq pingaarutilik. “Tassaavoq Saammaateqatigiinnissamut nalunaarusiaq. Saammaateqatigiinnissaq ukiorpassuarni kinguaariinnilu tulliuttuni anguniangassaavoq. Imaalluarsinnaasoq siunissami isumasioqatigiissiamik nutaamik pilersitsisoqariataannaasoq, tamatumuuna Qallunaat toqqaannartumik peqataatillugit,” Rachael oqaaseqarpoq. Rachael paasisassarsiornera Truth and Reconciliation in the Nordic countries attuumassuteqarpoq Norge, Sverige aamma Finland namminneq isumalioqatigiissitamik pilersitsinikuummata, Saamit allallu ikinnerussuteqartut nunasiaataanerat paasiniaaffigissallungu.

Nittartagarput takuuk: Saammaateqatigiinnissamut isumalioqatigiissitaq: namminersulivinnissammut siuariaatissaq?

Jonathan Nuummiiginnarpoq paasisassarsiornera inatsisiliornermut politikkumullu tunngammata. Jonathan Kalaallit oqaloqatigisami ammasuunerat nuannaarutigivaa. Ajornartorsiutit naliginnaanerusut tusarpai, soorlu suliffeqarfinni siunnersuisumik sinniisussaqannginneq. Kisiannittaaq naalakkersuisut siunnersueriaatsit arlallit atuutilersimagaat Kalaallillu Nunaanni ingerlanniaraluarsimallugit. Covid aningaasaqarnermullu missingersuutit killeqarneri aporfiullutik siunniussat piviusunngortikkuminaapput. Tupaallaatigivaa Kalaallit nunat akornginni inatsisit kiisalu nunani kippasinnerusuni periutsit killilersuutiginangit periuseqarmata. Akerlianilli nunat kippasinnerusut isumassarsiaat ingerlatseriaasiallu sumiiffimminnut, najungaqartunut, kultur taavalu ileqquminnut naleqqussarsinnaammassik.

Nittartagarput takuuk: Kalaallit Nunaanni isumalluutinit ineriartortitsinissamut inuiaqatigiinni akuersaartunik ujaasineq

“Atuakkaniit paasissutissat killeqarsinnaasarmata,” Rachael oqarpoq. “Kalaallit tusaasariaqarpagut nunasiaataaneq, qanga ullumikkutulli, inuiaqatigiinnut qanoq sunniuteqarnersoq paasissagutsingut.” Ilanngullugu oqaatigivaa ilisimasat ilisimasorisallu Kalaallit Nunaannut tunngasut atuinnassagutsingit, “nammineerluta nunasiaatilittut pissusilersussagatta, nipangersaanginnarluta namminerlu oqaluttuarisaanerat aqullugu.”
2009 kingorna Namminersorneq atuutilermat Kalaallit Nunaat akisussaaffinnik ingerlatsilernikuuvoq. Naalagaaffiup inatsisitigut aqunneqarneranut ataatsimiitsitaliamik allaqqitassiamik pilersitsisoqarnikuuvoq. Nunasiaataajunnaarnissamut iliuusissat periusissallu amerlapput. Pingaarnerpaajuvorli Kalaallit siunissartik nammineq aaliagissammassuk.

Martin aamma Jonathan’s najuullutik suliaqarnerat University of Akureyri Research Fund taperserneqarpoq. Rachael’s najuulluni suliaqarnera University of Greenland taperserneqarpoq.

Nutserisoq: René Sivertsen

About the researchers

Rachael is a professor of law at the University of runs the Polar law masters programme. She also holds a 25% professorship at Ilisimatusarfik (the University of Greenland). She presented her preliminary findings from the fieldwork at the 14 Polar Law Symposium. Her publications regarding Greenland include:


Martin and Jonathan are both masters students in Polar law. Martin defended his masters thesis, “Perspectives on Colonialism in Northwest Greenland”, in Spring 2021. He showed that the legal and political history in Avanersuaq is marked by colonial behaviours and attitudes that defined and excluded the Inughuit. Greenlandic and Danish authorities reproduce these colonial patterns today, leading to contemporary problems for the Inughuit. Martin also published an article on this subject in the Arctic Yearbook, and presented his findings at the 14 Polar Law Symposium. He is currently working as an intern at NAMMCO to find ways the organisation could include user knowledge in its management advice framework.

Jonathan decided to wait for the fieldwork before submitting his thesis, entitled “Free, Prior Informed Consent in Greenlandic Extractive Industries: Is it Really Free?” In his thesis, he explores the colonial legacy on international law on the Indigenous peoples of Greenland and the effects it has had on recent projects. His fieldwork in Nuuk consisted of dispelling the notion that Greenland was dependent on external standards. Jonathan found that Greenlanders have been very adaptable in tailoring international standards to fit the unique geography and society in Greenland. Jonathan will give a lecture at the 15th Polar Law Symposium in October of 2022 on his topic at the University of Iceland campus, where he is a PhD Candidate in Political Science as of August 2021.

Contact information:
Rachael Lorna Johnstone,
Martin Binachon,
Jonathan Wood,

Read more about the whole research project here