While much attention has been lavished on Latin America’s move toward socialism and on the special role played by indigenous peoples in these struggles, similar advances have been taking place at the other end of the American continent where Greenland is on the move to independence with a newly elected left government.

The Arctic territory of Greenland, only a few hundred miles from the north pole, moved one step closer to independence. On June 21st Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II visited the capital Nuuk to officially hand the law of self-rule over to the Greenlandic parliament.

This historic event followed the June 2nd election where the pro-independence and socialist Inuit Ataqatigiit (Inuit Community) party won a decisive victory in parliamentary elections, doubling the number of seats it holds in the ‘Landsting’ and routing the social democratic Siumut party which has governed for the last 30 years.
Last year Greenlanders voted by a 3 to 1 margin to move from a limited status instituted in 1979 to self-rule. Denmark has ruled Greenland since 1721.

Self-rule means that newly elected Prime Minister, Kuupik Kleist, and his government will now control the police and courts. The Greenlandic government now gets to call itself by its Inuit name, Naalakkersuisut, the Inuit language, Kalaallisut, will replace Danish as the official language, and the country will collect a greater share of revenues from its natural resources.

Denmark will remain responsible for defense and foreign policy for the time being. The new government will have to deal with growing unemplyment, alcoholism, and other legacies of colonialism.

Greenland, whose population is over 80% Inuit is an active member of two international organizations: the Arctic Council which includes eight Arctic countries in Asia, Europe and North America; and the Inuit Circumpolar Conference which represents the 150,000 Inuit people in Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and Chukotka in eastern Siberia.

Greenland is the planet’s largest Island at 840 thousand square miles, 80% of which is covered by a massive ice cap up to three miles thick in places. 57,000 inhabitants, mainly Inuit(Eskimo) subsist off fish, skin and hide exports, heavily subsidized by Denmark. It’s believed that rich deposits of oil, natural gas, gold and diamonds lay under the ice cap.

Melting ice brought on by global warming might well be a bonanza for Greenland’s people. The new government will need to deal with the international oil and mining corporations salivating at the profits they hope to derive from these resources.

Greenland, which lies just off the northeast coast Canada was settled by Viking colonists led by Erik the Red between 982 and 985 AD. The ancestors of today’s Inuit population had moved into northern Greenland at about the same time and were slowly moving down the coast.

Two hundred years later the north Atlantic underwent a cooling ‘little ice age’ making contact with Europe difficult. The European settlers were not able to contend with the increasing cold. Crops were harder to grow, their cows and sheep suffered, and depletion of the sparse wood supply meant they were unable to build ships, or make iron. When Europeans reached Greenland three hundred years later the only inhabitants they found were Inuits, whose culture was better adapted to the harsh conditions.