Building on the Indigenous Culture in Greenland

An artist rendering of the arctic summer hub to be built in Greenland that was presented as part of an exhibition titled “Possible Greenland” at the 13th edition of the International Venice Biennale of Architecture (Photo: Courtesy Minik Rosing and Nord Architects).

Building on the Indigenous Culture in Greenland

The 13th edition of the International Venice Biennale of Architecture will close its annual conference on November 25. This year’s event fell under the theme Common Ground, featured an exhibition that involved indigenous connections titled “Possible Greenland,” at the Danish Pavilion.

Copenhagen University Professor Minik Rosing, born in Greenland, from an Inuit father, and a Danish mother, is co-curator with Morten Rask Gregersen and Johanes Molander Perdersen of Nord Architects in Copenhagen, Denmark. This was the first time a collaborative project was set up between Greenland and Denmark, as Greenland is entering the global scene.

The exhibition, to the initiative of the Danish Architecture Center, and its Ceo, Kent Martinussen, shows the culture and lifestyle of Greenlanders, emphasizing their future. The Danish Pavilion, a didactic experience of Greenland, presents the new projects (airport, harbor, innovative architecture…) integrating the mix of local cultures sharing this increasingly visible part of the world.

As for head curator Rosing, “Greenland has a long and intricate history of cultural interactions between the Inuit and Europeans, and is the first, and only, autonomous Inuit Nation.” Insisting, “the example of successful decolonization, while maintaining a continued alliance, and friendship, with the former colonial power Denmark, may set standards, and serve as inspiration for Indigenous Peoples worldwide.”

Indian Country Today Media Network recently had the chance to sit down with Rosing to answer a few questions about the project and his beliefs.

Does the Greenland presence among the 55 national pavilions signal the integration of Greenland on the global scene?

Yes. Greenland is not a remote place any more, as the Arctic is going through dramatic warming, and the ice cover on the ocean disappearing. Thus, the sail trade routes through the Arctic, from Asia to Europe, are now possible, and will go through Greenland. And its resources, minerals, oil, fish … are growing, and searched for. That is why, the Danish Center of architecture, realizing that Greenland was becoming more and more important on the world scene, decided that the 2012 Biennale of Architecture should address Greenland. The title, “Possible Greenland,” signals the many possibilities of a developing nation, outlining the future commodities of Greenland. We have to make decisions in a democratic process, Greenland being part of the modern world today – everybody should pay attention to it – as it is moving into the mainstream, becoming more and more visible. The exploitation of minerals, in the Arctic region, will influence the whole world.

How, did you, as a professor of geology, at the University of Copenhagen, get involved in that project?

I was asked to curate the project, as I have been researching on the geology of Greenland for a while, and found there the first signs of life on earth. My research focuses on the origins of life in Greenland, and how human activities, such as fishing… as well as others, influence the planet – the way we spend the energy. As today, humans are the dominant forces. So, together with the architecture curating team, we wanted to create a vision for the future of Greenland, to address the important decisions to come.

You mentioned, in your introductory speech, “successful decolonization;” what does that mean, in relation to the Inuits of Greenland?

We have always been exposed to the modern world; the Inuit population of Greenland has had a good interaction with the outside world, in many ways. So it is not like other places, having to change suddenly to modernity. We publish books in Greenlandic, the schools follow a program in Greenlandic, Greenland has its own newspapers for a hundred years. The political power among the Greenlandic Inuits –an autonomous nation – is unique. It is different from Alaska, where they do not have such a power. Greenland has its own government, though it is still Danish, as a former Danish colony. Inuits Greenlanders share the same culture as the Inuits of Canada and Alaska, but always defined themselves as Greenlanders: nobody lives in an “Inuit” way, as Greenland is part of today’s world. Some hunt, and fish, as before, but we also receive the influence of modernity.

Consequently, do the Greenlanders/Inuits, still have their own culture, or have they been influenced by the Danish?

We are influenced by the Danish culture, but we have made our own version of it; for 200 years, Inuits are Lutherans, and live in a fusion of traditional Inuit, and European-American cultures. In school, we study in Inuit, written for 150 years in Greenland – Inuit books are produced in Greenland, and other Inuits use our books. As for the art, it is mostly immaterial, as we were a nomadic culture, both traditional and modern. But we have carving, poetry… story telling is very important. Also, the attention given to the tools, which are pieces of art in themselves – the artistic expression is greatly developed on working tools.

Is there a specific problematic, or issue, related to identity, for the Inuits of Greenland?

No. The transition has taken place for more than 300 years, and racism is not that pronounced, so most of the people do not wake up in the morning, asking themselves, “how much of myself is Inuit?” You just live your life, and do not think about it. The majority of Greenlanders do not make a problem about the mix of cultures, the second language being Danish, and our study program being close to the Danish. Greenlanders do not have to be confronted all the time with being indigenous, as their lifestyle is a mixture of tradition and modernity. We should not stereotype Native stories, and be careful about fixed ideas about indigenous people. Stereotyping situations can be a danger – most young people are sick and tired to be remembered that they are “Native.” And they do not have to!