Greenland Reconciliation Commission finds colonization did 'a lot of damage'

The Greenland Reconciliation Commission released its final report looking into human rights abuses against Inuit.

'We were treated very, very badly,' says Karla Jessen Williamson

Karla Jessen Williamson grew up in Greenland, but now lives in Canada. She is a member of distinction on the Greenland Reconciliation Commission that released a report in December, 2017. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

The Greenland Reconciliation Commission released its final report last month after three years of research and public outreach.

The commission, launched in 2014 to investigate human rights abuses against Inuit in Greenland, stirred controversy as leaders in the Danish government denounced it and said it wouldn't take part. Denmark was a former colonial ruler of Greenland.

The report released on Dec. 8 is only available in Danish and Kalaalisut, a dialect of the Greenlandic language. It examined the role the Greenland government played in colonialism.

"[It looks at] how do we, as Greenlanders, reconcile with ourselves," says Karla Jessen Williamson, a member with distinction on the commission and an Inuk who grew up in Greenland, but now lives in Canada. 

The commission found that colonization of Inuit in Greenland had "done a lot of damage," says Williamson.

Colonial policies the commission looked at included the widespread practice of paying non-Inuit workers higher wages than local people, the relocation of entire families from their traditional lands into settlements, and separating children from their parents, sending them away to Denmark for schooling.

Greenland is located east of Nunavut. The two jurisdictions share close language and cultural ties. (Google Maps)

"We were treated very, very badly," said Williamson, who says her own family was relocated.

Williamson also said the issue has now become "internalized" for the people. For instance, the commission found the young and old participate in the practice of "mobbing" — where Inuit exert social pressure on each other based on differences in dialects or for being too Inuk or not Inuk enough, says Williamson.

The Commission outlined 11 recommendations for the Government of Greenland, including the building of a knowledge centre to help collect and promote an Inuit-centred history of Greenland.

It also called for Greenland's government to give official apologies to the children who were once sent away to Denmark and to the people that have been relocated.

Applicable to Inuit in Canada, says Williamson

Williamson says much of the commission's work and findings are applicable to Inuit in Canada.

"Inuit all across the Arctic have experienced the same thing: very rapid societal and cultural change, and a lot of it was pushed from the outside," she said.

"And although we can finger point at these governing people, it's also important to look at ourselves."

For Williamson, the commission's final report represents an important and necessary step toward a fully independent Greenlandic state. 

"We are trying to figure out as people, as a nation, how we can come to terms with the problems that we have but at the same time create space for ourselves in history," she said.

With files from Kieran Oudshoorn