Newsletter 2019

There are still indigenous peoples in Greenland

Elaboration statement, October 21, 2013

In these times, especially after the agreement with Denmark on the right to self-determination in 2009, it is sometimes difficult to identify oneself as Greenlandic and as an indigenous people and as a people under international law, as mentioned in the preamble of the Self-Government Act.

During recent times, the debate on self-determination has increased in connection with the proposed abolishment of the zero-tolerance policy towards uranium mmining, which amongst others affects the Greenland competence on mineral resources.

The following text is a contribution to the clarification of these concepts:

The fact that the Greenlandic people is a people under international law with the right to self-determination, but still part of the Danish Kingdom, does not exclude that the original population of Greenland still can be seen as an indigenous people in relation to international conventions and instruments or in another context. The right to self-determination is a recognition that the Greenlandic people, regardless of ethnic background, may decide if Greenland should become independent and thus have the right to decide over their own development. The Greenlandic people as a single entity, regardless of ethnicity, thus externally in regards to the world community and Denmark has achieved the status as a people, which other countries must respect.

Internationally, there is no firmly established definition of an indigenous people, but only some working definitions or definitions demarkating the usability of a convention. This is because it has been impossible to reach agreement on this. A crucial element is the indigenous people's own self-image.

It should also be noted that Greenland after introduction of the Self-Government, moreover, admits to still be obliged to have to implement ILO C169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, for example in connection with the recent report of the UN UPR (Universal Periodic Review) process in February 2011, when the Greenland Self-Government writes:

"F. Indigenous peoples 108. On 18 January 1996, at the request of Greenland, Denmark ratified ILO Convention No. 169 of 27 June 1989 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. Greenland reports jointly with Denmark to the Convention.

109. The Government strongly endorses the UNDRIP (erklæringen). While the establishment of the Self-Government arrangement is an illustration of Denmark’s de facto implementation of the UNDRIP vis-à-vis Greenland, the Government strives to implement important provisions of the UNDRIP in its day to day work, although the government is categorized as a public rather that an indigenous government."

Nationally Greenland is still part of the Kingdom of Denmark and bound by international conventions etc. according to the Self-Government Act. Therefore, Greenland also reports continuously to the various organs on the status of implementation in relation to indigenous peoples. If there was no longer an indigenous population of Greenland in the conventional sense, then Denmark would be able to step out of for example ILO C169 or to refarin from, through the Greenland Self-Government, to report thereon.

The day that Greenland becomes independent there may still be indigenous peoples in Greenland, if a concrete group considers itself as a people. There is no national politicians that under international law can pre-determine if the Inuit population is an indigenous people of Greenland or not after the Self-Government establishment or in the case of Greenland's exercise of autonomy. This must ultimately be up to the courts or international bodies that monitor the conventions or where representatives of the Greenland Inuit population are represented.