The following is from a an internal piece of work I undertook to try and understand what the Greenlandic and Danish Governments believe the be the essence of Greenlandic whaling identity. What I was surprised to find was that there is extensive constructive criticism from anthropologists that one may have thought would have been racing to defend the world's first 'Inuit nation'.
I offer this up also because Sweden has said that it is sympathetic to Denmark on this issue because of its own desire to respect Inuit rights. The challenge for Sweden and others is to be respectful of Inuit issues, but also to understand when those 'rights' are being used to pool the wool over our eyes.
Well read for yourself and make up you own mind.
Whilst some observers would suggest that Greenland is an increasingly dynamic country, the Greenland Home Rule Government, noted in the 2008 IWC meeting that ‘in the definition [of aboriginal subsistence whaling], the terms ‘local community’ and ‘predominant portion’ are not defined. In its view, Greenland is a local community and that a ‘predominant portion’ would be something above 50%.Denmark regularly repeats its assertion that the whole of Greenland is ‘a local community’. In doing so, it may be misleading other Parties into thinking that the Greenlandic peoples are a homogenous whole engaged in the ‘whaling complex’.
This argument deserves significant discussion but here are some limited comments that seek to encapsulate some of the anthropological evidence that refutes the Danish position.
Sejersen (2002) argues that the Greenlandic Home Rule Governments’ attempt to centralize control has ridden roughshod over the local differences that can be seen in Greenland. Sejersen quotes Dahl (1998) , ‘this nation building process overshadows and in some cases replaces community control and rights with national control and decision-making. It has furthermore created new administrative categories of resources users (occupational and non-occupational hunters) detached from local communities in order to embrace the Greenlandic population in total.’
Sejersen (2001) further elaborates and defines these divisions between occupational and non-occupational hunters when discussing the Greenlandic Beluga hunt. ‘Beluga hunters come from all groups within the diverse socioeconomic landscape found in Sisimiut. Out of the 5127 inhabitants in Sisimiut… there are 210 occupational hunters and 1079 non-occupational hunters registered (in the year 2000). Of the 210 occupational hunters, about 50 make a living primarily from hunting all year round, according to the local association of hunters. The remaining 160 persons have fishing as their primary occupation, but they still qualify to apply for an occupational hunting licence because they receive more than 50% of their income from hunting and fishing. Hunters who do not qualify for an occupational hunting licence can hold a non-occupational hunting licence, available to anyone who is in the national register. Holders of valid hunting licences are considered hunters and are allowed by the Home Rule government to pursue beluga whaling. Thus, stock-owners, sport hunters, and politicians in expensive motorboats hunt side by side with hunters in small skiffs and fishermen onboard cutters and trawlers.’
Sejersen, in the same paper, goes onto note the impacts of commercialization on the shared experience of the hunt and the method of distribution. Whilst defending the local commercial exchange (within close family and community), Sejersen notes that ‘the market orientation of many hunters has produced mixed responses from community members, as they experience a decrease in the amount of meat and muktuk being shared.’ Elaboration of rules of division of whale meat have ‘served the bigger boats and the capital investments to a further extent. Increasingly, capital investment became and argument to legitimize changes in division rules.’
Sejersen further challenges the impact of the ‘one nation’ concept in arguing that the [application of] national [Home Rule] ‘regulations erode the social control of small communities’, ... ‘Home Rule has based its allocation of rights on the assertion that all inhabitants have equal user rights to the Greenlandic territory and its resources has been turned into one hunting territory.’ ,
In addition, Dahl (1998) argues that ‘local control is evaporating and is being replaced by a weak or non-existent national control system’. Sejersen paints a picture of a geographically, socio-economically, differentiated country. The Home Rule Government ‘places no limitations on hunters’ user rights and few limitation on access rights. Consequently skiff [hunters], who depend economically upon small-scale hunting, are seen whaling together with non-occupational hunters, crew members on shrimp trawlers, and fishermen on cutters.’
Both Dahl and Sejersen paint a picture that in reality not all ‘hunters’ in Greenland are ‘subsistence hunters’ (beyond the occupational and non-occupational divisions) as Denmark and the Greenlandic Home Rule Government would have us believe. Siku News reports that ‘some Greenland hunters appear to disregard sustainability guidelines, say wildlife experts who say they frequently find seals discarded in harbour rubbish bins, reports Sermitsiaq. Christian Isaksen accuses hunters of unnecessarily shooting seals. "I've seen hunters in central and southern Greenland shoot up to 50 seals, but then they only take one home with them for food," Isaksen said. Although seals are not an endangered animal, Isaksen said excess hunting is an image problem for hunters. "There's no longer any pride connected with calling yourself a sealer" ‘.
In May 2008 the Greenlandic conservation group Timmiaq joined with the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in calling for action to stop the dramatic decline in Greenlandic seabirds. In a May 2008 press report it was stated, ‘about 2,000 of Greenland's 10,000 hunters, out of a population of 56,000, depend on sales of seabird meat at town and city markets. The rest hunt for pleasure alone, using powerful speedboats and semi-automatic guns to make their hobby easy.'
Hasse Hedemand, of the Greenland conservation group Timmiaq, said: "Seabird numbers are no-where near the level you could call sustainable and the decision this year to allow more birds to be killed is a tragedy. Greenland is a unique and special place but our international reputation is being tarnished by this unsustainable hunting. Most of the shooting is recreational involving people who do not depend on it for their livelihoods."
Greenland is one of the few populations of Inuit origin to have achieved Home Rule, and it is no longer tenable construct an identity as an oppressed minority in relation to a dominant nation state (Nuttall 1994) .
One could argue that without the historical rallying point of Inuit independence verses colonialism, the Home Rule Government have used the issue of whaling and the IWC as a new focus of ‘nationalism’. In their drive for nation building, the Greenlandic Home Rule Government has sought to create an image of Greenland where the very resources that defined ‘Kalaallit Nunaat’ may soon be denied to those very peoples that may well have a real nutritional and cultural need to access them.
The potential for Danish colonial guilt does nothing to inhibit, and may be expediting these problems. The move to secure larger baleen whale quotas may be a further response to ‘defining a new Home Rule identity’. Commercial whaling may serve the political ambitions of Greenland’s leaders and some private enterprises, but it is also a strategy that may well destroy the very fabric of what made Greenland, 'Greenlandic', in the first place.