Greenland’s Inuit fear for way of life

Community says climate change, overfishing and modernisation upsetting fine balance between the environment and humans.

There’s a real contrast between Nuuk’s old town, with its quaint colourful houses, and the long grey slabbed apartment blocks in the heart of Greenland’s capital.

Built in the 1950s, many Inuits were moved here by the Danish government at the time in what’s known as the infamous G60 policy.

Smaller communities were deemed as not modern enough, and locals were shipped to urban areas and “better jobs” in the booming cod industry.

This modern way of life isn’t what people wanted, adapting was difficult and many turned to alcohol.

That in turn created social problems, including a rise in suicides, something I will be looking at while I am here.

Things turned from bad to worse in the 1980s when, because of climate change, the valuable cod started to swim elsewhere.

That spelled the end of the factories and the jobs that helped sustain the people of Greenland.

Only the fishermen who had saved during the good times were able to buy bigger boats, with halibut and shrimps now Greenland’s biggest exports.

Evidence in 2008 pointed to fewer shrimps too, which experts say is also down to climate change, with higher temperatures leading to shrimp emigrating north.

Hunting on land, which has always been a tradition, using dog sleds in the winter to cover vast swathes of terrain, is now under threat due to melting ice.

The Inuit Circumpolar Council helps promote Inuit rights across the Arctic and beyond.

Aqqaluk Lynge, the council’s chairman, comes from a long line of prominent Greenlandic Inuits, including his grandfather, who was a member of parliament in Denmark.

Lynge is concerned about the changes he is seeing.

“In my home town Aasiaat [it is] no longer possible to go with dog sleds in the winter time because the ice doesn’t form,” he says.

“The way of life for locals here depends on a fine balance between the environment and humans who live in that environment.

“That sense of harmony between the two is shifting as climate change, overfishing and modernisation take over.”

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