As a Danish-American, the past couple of weeks have been rather interesting.
Let’s first agree that Greenland is not for sale unless the premise is that everything in this world is for sale as long as the price is right, which seems like an old-fashioned and cynical way of looking at the world when speaking of countries and people.
Denmark has a dark colonial past that only rarely gets mentioned when we talk about the happy hygge-loving inventors of Lego and modern Nordic cuisine. The U.S. Virgin Islands, formerly the Danish West Indies, represent Denmark’s part of the horrible slave trade triangle.
So too does Denmark have a dark past in its dealings with Greenland and the Inuit, her indigenous people. That past follows the same terrible playbook that we know from the history of the British Empire and here in the United States. It includes attempts to force Danish culture on Greenland’s children by forcibly relocating them thousands of miles to mainland Denmark, teaching them the colonial language, while stripping them of their own costumes, culture and language.
Today, Greenland is a self-ruling, autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark, which also includes the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic between Iceland and Norway. Greenland and her inhabitants achieved home rule in 1979 alongside official representation in the Folketing (the Danish parliament). The capital got its name Nuuk back from the colonial given name by the Danes, Godthåb. They got their own flag in 1985. Danish as an official language was removed in 2009. While it has been a slow process to achieve autonomy from her former colonial power and heal old wounds, there has been steady progress for decades. Greenland’s actual name is Kalaallit Nunaat in Inuit.
Denmark holds many proud traditions like having the monarchy with the oldest unbroken royal line with over a thousand years of history. Most Danes love and are proud of the royal family, who support an array of international and national causes in their position as cultural ambassadors for Denmark. Normally passing on an invitation from Queen Margrethe is unheard of.
Danes have also been proud of their newly elected prime minister and how she handled the Greenland debacle. First in responding to an unexpected proposal and later working to resolve a brewing diplomatic crisis not of her own making — but making it out to be anything more than it has to be.
In school in the 1980s, we were taught a tiny bit about both Greenland and the Faroe Islands, though none of the dark sides of history (I didn’t hear about that until my college years). We were taught about the shared history with neighboring countries Norway and Sweden and how close connected those three languages are. We also learned to sing the Brother John children’s song in Greenlandic:
“Piitaq uumaa, Piitaq uumaa
Danes are rightfully proud of many things about their country. Today, that includes being proud of having Greenland be an equal part of the Kingdom combined with an awareness of the terrible history and shame of the past treatment of Greenland and her people. That is a past no one wants to repeat.
It would be beneficial for everyone to agree that land acquirements with old imperialistic thinking is outdated. That history has been learned and understood.
Siw Heede of Redlands is from Denmark and has dual citizenship.