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Aqqaluk Lynge's introductory remarks

Introductory Remarks

Nuuk, Greenland

23 November 2009


Thank you all for coming here today to this seminar on Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples Rights in Greenland.

It is a great honour for me to speak with you today during what is an exciting and important time for our country of Greenland. Only six months ago we gathered here in Nuuk to celebrate the official transition to Self Rule, and only a few weeks earlier we elected the current Greenland government. As such, this is a time of new beginnings and gradually finding our way as a nation. Directions are being set. We are collectively starting to put into practice our vision for this new Greenland. Since this is a new era for us, we are still covering new ground rather than walking along well-worn paths.

It is now our job, as Greenlanders, to determine how the issue of human rights will fit into the new Greenland. I will be speaking on this tomorrow, but I would like to stress here that there are numerous international legal arrangements and conventions that we as Greenlanders must now understand and hold on to even more than before.

Ever since the referendum last year, when Greenlanders decided that the Self Rule Agreement should be implemented, I personally have been very excited about the possibilities for the new Greenland.

Finding ourselves now in the first months of an emerging self-government system, Greenlanders must remember what we have been fighting for all these years and remain true to that. Over the past decades since we began with a Home Rule government and now with this Self Rule government, Greenland has been a beacon of hope for indigenous peoples around the world and for all those around the world who advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples. Led by our elected leaders, Greenland needs to continue to act as a role model by actively implementing international agreements and human rights instruments.

Every person is born with human rights. Everyone here. No one can give them to you, and no one can take them from you. They are often not recognized by states, by industry, by individuals, and so on. But you have them simply by virtue of being human.

Indigenous peoples are often the last among many to have their human rights recognized, however. Around the world, many indigenous peoples still live in hostile and tortuous environments because states and their military systems continue to suppress them, and refuse to recognize that they even possess human rights. Many live in extreme poverty because industries refuse to recognize the lands, territories, and resources as theirs. They do not recognize the human right of indigenous peoples to a clean environment, nor the right to stable weather patterns. They make no effort to preserve indigenous knowledge, and instead attempt to assimilate indigenous peoples into the majority culture.

We will hear of various human rights instruments in this seminar. The one we are most familiar with, perhaps, and on that will be referenced a lot in this seminar is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I won’t spend much time on discussing it now, other than to say that it is just a beginning, kind of like the new Danish-Greenland agreement is just a beginning. The UN Declaration is a first step away from the hundreds of years of colonial rule and colonial oppression that was felt here in Greenland, and around the world.

As we discuss matters in this seminar, let us not forget this deep understanding. That we have been oppressed. That is why there was a need for a UN Declaration. The Declaration gives us hope to make that first step.

Thank you.