Last month I visited four communities in Greenland as part of a group of Arctic funders with whom I’ve collaborated since 2007. Learning together has made diverse foundations more coordinated and respectful of the specific needs and limited time of busy northerners, and helped us share experiences and avoid historic pitfalls. We’ve begun to form relationships with many Arctic places, people, and institutions – mainly in Canada and Alaska but throughout the circumpolar world – and this first trip to Greenland together was an opportunity to connect with that country’s leaders and grassroots at a profound time in its history. I hadn’t been to Greenland since my honeymoon in 1997, so I was eager to reconnect with the place and see how things had changed.
We met with a spectrum of Greenlanders working very hard to build a self-governing country with rapidly diminishing colonial ties to Denmark. This is no small feat for 57,000 people running the world’s largest island – one seeing rapid changes in its climate, society, culture and economy. We spent candid time with the mayors of Greenland’s two most populous municipalities (one of them roughly the area of Germany and Syria combined). We met visionary and hard-working Parliament ministers, civil society including Inuit Circumpolar Council and hunter-trapper organizations, key researchers and educators, business and labour leaders, musicians and a leading chef in Greenland’s delicious local food scene.
With their Nordic-Inuit design and governance traditions, it was fascinating to contrast larger Greenland communities like Nuuk and Sisimiut – with their reliable public transit systems, performing arts centres, university infrastructure, and community-centred “culture houses” –with the pressing needs identified by people I’ve met in Canada’s regional Arctic centres such as Inuvik, Iqaluit, and Kuujjuaq.
I was particularly interested in Greenland’s status as one of Arctic Canada’s two next-door neighbours. Just as Alaska is beside the Mackenzie Delta region in our western Arctic, communities like Pond Inlet in the Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin) region of Nunavut have strong historical, linguistic and ecological ties to West Greenland. As Tides Canada partners more and more with northern communities and funders to expand Canadian Arctic philanthropy, we’ll heed the advice we heard across the north to keep comparative and transboundary aspects of the circumpolar world in our peripheral vision.
Dave Secord, PhD, is the Director of Strategic Programs at Tides Canada.