Greenland, the largest non-continental island in the world, is culturally and politically unknown to most foreigners, but on June 21, that began to change. Following a vote in which 76% voted in favor of self-rule, Greenlandic citizens, along with diplomatic representatives from 17 countries, met at the harbor in capital city Nuuk to declare Greenland’s first step in gaining its independence from Denmark and achieving world recognition as the new nation of Naalakkersuisut, its Inuit name.
Home to one of the harshest environments in the world–85% of the landmass is covered by glacier–Greenland has a long history as part of Scandinavia, dating back to 982 A.D. when Viking explorer Erik the Red discovered the island and established a settlement on its eastern coast, after having been exiled from Iceland. Erik’s son, Leif, used the eastern settlement as a base for exploration to lands west, and in 1000 A.D. he became the first European to set foot on North America. Before the 12th century, Greenland thrived as a trading post for rare goods like walrus tusk and polar bear fur and was an established Christian nation. In 1261, the settlements became part of the Norwegian Kingdom and forfeited their autonomy to Scandinavia, a subjugation that would last for nearly 800 years. After the Norwegian takeover, people began to leave Greenland to return to Europe, and by the 1400s there is no information about Norse inhabitants on the Island.
Since 1721, Greenland has been under Danish rule. At that time, the people of the island were mostly of Inuit descent, along with some Danish settlers. From this past, modern Greenland was born. Today, eighty percent of Greenland’s 58,000 denizens are of mixed Inuit and Danish heritage (cite). Although a great majority of citizens practice the Lutheran faith as members of Denmark’s People’s Church, they also pass on the history of their Inuit ancestors through their strong oral tradition. As citizens of Denmark, and therefore the European Union, it is not uncommon for young Greenlandic citizens to seek better opportunities abroad and to leave their homeland, which suffers from many of the same problems as other colonized nations. Today, few Greenlandic students (can you find a %?) attend university, and there are many cases of domestic violence, unemployment and alcoholism. The new Greenlandic government hopes to solve these problems internally. At the ceremony establishing independence, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen described the event as “giving [Greenlandic people] the right to decide their own destiny.”