Seeking Community Consent for Resource Development in Greenland

One of the major topics in Greenland’s politics in recent years has been the decision to develop, or not, some of the most abundant deposits of rare earth elements (REEs) on the planet. The upsides are plenty: less dependence on the Danish block grant, increased independence for Greenland, strategic alliances with Western nations and more. However, there are also downsides, such as destroying some of the little arable land Greenland has, disrupting ways of life, threatening food security, and putting more pressure on the healthcare system with new workers and maybe even unexpected illnesses from mining pollution. But how do Greenlanders feel about these changes? And do the consultation processes listen to their opinions?

During my fieldwork, I learned more about how Greenlandic voices are heard in the decision-making processes. I wanted to find out how the consultation processes work in practice. What are the rules? Are they followed? Do they work effectively? In short: do Greenlanders believe their opinions matter?

Having not left Iceland for over 2 years due to the pandemic, I did not know what type of situation I would find in Greenland. Would I be welcomed? Or would I be feared as another researcher who might bring yet another pandemic to Inuit Nunaat? However, I was pleasantly surprised at the openness and warm reception I received at every turn. I was lucky to arrive in time for the Nuuk Nordic Festival where I learned many aspects of culture, including even the way that we display art and other aspects of culture, is a form of colonization. It was an enlightening revelation and one to keep in mind when it comes to presentation during political or legal settings. I was also invited to the Inatsisartut (Greenland Parliament) building. I heard many different Greenlandic voices and perspectives. They explained to me the consent process for major development projects.

The most important thing I learned was the resourcefulness and adaptability of Greenlanders to take international standards and attempt to apply them to the unique culture and geography of Greenland. By mixing international experience with local knowledge, Greenland is preparing the basis for free, prior and informed consent. However, there are different views about the speed of development and the right balance between economic goals and traditional values.

What I learned most from this trip is that communication is key and that many aspects of this are already in place in Greenland. From the outside, it seems that some people want to push ahead with mining without listening to local opinions. However, there are many people in power who try to do the right thing. Often, Greenland is viewed in international media only through the debate about independence. But Greenland has much to teach the rest of the world about responsible resource management.

Read more about the whole research project here

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