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Resumé af Marianne Jensens speciale

Specialetitel: Postkoloniale ofre eller selvforskyldte problemer? – beslutningsprocesser i anlægsvirksomheden 1950-60.

Research question and explanatory statement for choice of subject

Could the implementation of the G50, with a special focus on the G50 construction programs have contributed to post-colonial tension in contemporary Greenland – if that is the case, how?

The purpose is to generate more knowledge regarding the Danish-Greenlandic political, administrative and social relations during this process, through comparison to studies and analysis carried out on the subject, either to refute or confirm how, and in which ways, the Colonial and Post- colonial period could have contributed to the significant problems which are in existence in contemporary Greenland. Examples on these will be elaborated further in headline form, but are explained in detail in the thesis as a form of a status report regarding the actual situation.

In recent times, the period following the election to the Inatsisartut – Greenland Parliament 2013, has been characterized by political disagreement, both between politicians and citizens. Questions regarding Greenland’s independence, language issues regarding use of Greenlandic, Danish and English, being Greenlandic versus being Danish, as well as attitudes in favor of and against commercial exploitation of the uranium deposits, have given rise to emotional and tough discussions, especially through social media. In addition to this, the Greenlandic society is suffering from the lowest level of education within the Nordic countries, substance abuse, child neglect, one of the highest suicide and homicide rates in the world, violence and sexual assault, which, measured in relation to the population, is among the highest globally.

Hence, what is the explanation for such grave problems to exist in contemporary Greenland? The Naalakkersuisut – Greenland Cabinet substantiated its formation of the Reconciliation Commission on June 11 2014 as follows: “The Greenlandic society has undergone a rapid and intensive development within the span of a few years, and the society is marked by post-colonial tension” (Committee report 2017). Historian Axel Kjær Sørensen writes:”If colonization means to adapt a new foreign territory by transferring production methods and other social constructs from the motherland, then the termination of the colonial period in Greenland ironically became the harshest colonization of the country (Sørensen 1983). Both quotes has a clear reference to the period 1950- 79, when the Greenlandic population within the span of just one generation experienced a shift from living in an isolated, colonized traditional hunting society to a modern society by Western standards. This period is called the modernization or the novation. Another explanation on the social problems in Greenland was expressed by a member of the Copenhagen citizen representation for the Venstre party, Jens-Kristian Lütken, who wrote on his blog on September 11th 2017:”Denmark has a special responsibility towards that part of the Realm. That doesn’t mean that it was Denmark’s fault, and that we should bow our heads down and apologize. The problems experienced by the Greenlandic society today are, for the most part self-inflicted, and stems from abysmal nepotism and incompetence. Therefore it is certainly convenient to blame Denmark and the Colonial past for all of the problems. We should not fall for this. We should however, take care of the Greenlanders who are struggling and who have been left stranded on the bottom of the Danish society.”

Explanatory statement on choice of subject

The decision in choosing this subject has further been motivated by the results of the research conducted in connection to my Bachelor’s Project, as well as the deficient knowledge of the Greenlandic and the Danish-Greenlandic history both within Greenland and in Denmark.

My Bachelor’s Project had the title: To which degree did the Greenlandic members of the Greenland Commission of 1948-50 (G50) have an influence on the final report? The purpose was to examine the degree of responsiveness towards attitudes of the Greenlandic members of the Commission, regarding the plans of development of their own country. In short, the conclusion of my Bachelor’s Project was that the statements nor the concrete suggestions of the Greenlandic members were reflected in any form worthy of mention in the final report. Even if the final report was unanimously agreed upon, the working process has motivated me to make research on how the working relations were between the Greenlandic and Danish authorities during the implementation of the G50. Secondly, the Greenlandic population has very little common understanding of their own history. Since the implementation of the first Schools Act from 1905, it was a typical feature that history lessons were about the outside world, and it was the colonizers who wrote the history (Kleivan 1961). While the current Elementary School’s Act contain provisions regarding Greenlandic children be taught the Danish language and in matters of the Danish society, there are no specific demands in the Danish Elementary School’s Act that Danish children should be taught anything about the languages and matters of the societies within the other areas of the Realm, the Faroese Islands and Greenland. Access to greater knowledge regarding our Danish-Greenlandic history must be assumed to pave the way for greater mutual understanding resulting in greater mutual respect, mutual trust and tolerance between Greenlanders and Danes instead of misunderstanding, distrust, stigmatization and mutual recriminations concerning the reasons for the present political and social problems in Greenland.



The novation/modernization encompassed all areas of the Greenlandic society. Whilst it took a considerable number of years before the results of the implementations on education, preventive social approaches etc. were apparent, the results of physical implementations, such as construction of installations and their immediate impact on the surrounding community could be seen immediately. It should be pointed out however, that the substantive focus of the thesis above all is aimed at the decision making processes and the cooperative relations between the Danish and Greenlandic authorities, rather than focusing on the technical details of the execution of the construction tasks. The delimitation of the temporal scope is 1950-60, of which the research concerning the decision making processes regarding the annual installation programs (chapt. 4) primarily focuses on the years 1955-60. The following questions will form the basis for a response to the research question:

  1. How were the decisions in the G50 regarding the organization of the technical sector implemented?
  2. How were the decision-making processes regarding the development of installations in Greenland? With what type of labor force were the G50 public works programs performed?

On the basis of the results of this research, it will be analyzed,

  • how power structures have been between Danish and Greenlandic decision makers and their associated institutions.
  • which significant factors did the policies enforced have on the self-perception of the Greenlandic population, including whether the assimilating approach from the part of the Danes during the novation caused disruptive effects on the Greenlandic identity in a way that has transmitted into present society. And whether the research can create possibilities for change in future human relations between Danes and Greenlanders.


The thesis is carried out as historical anthropology, and is conducted by using Kjeldstadlis research method (Kjeldstadli 2005). Kjeldstadli calls the following questions as existential statements and describe them as the very foundation of research: What happened? Who did it? Where did it take place? But for Kjeldstadli it is not sufficient to find answers to these questions. For him that research will be more complete if explanations are sought by asking why. And that is precisely the purpose of this thesis, to find a more complete picture of the correlation between what happened during the period of the novation, why it happened, and which consequences this has had for the present.

Every chapter is initiated with a short description of the content and which primary sources have been used. Each of the chapters 3, 4 and 5, containing the three research questions, are concluded with a sub-analysis as well as an interim conclusion.


In my thesis, experiences and theories by authors who have dealt with circumstances in former colonized countries has been applied. Post-colonial studies developed into an independent discipline during the 1980s and the 1990s (Jansen og Osterhammel 2017); but already soon after the 2nd World War, several scholars published material in which they analyzed and conveyed the consequences of colonization for posterity.

It is clarified how key concepts such as colony, colonialism, de-colonization, post-colonization and neo-colonization are to be understood in this thesis. Whether the circumstances which transpired during the novation could have caused disruption in the identity in a way which can contribute in explanatory models concerning the grave tensions in contemporary Greenland is sought to be highlighted through the book Identitet – psykologiske og kulturanalytiske begreber (Jørgensen 2008).

Basis for data

Contrary to assumption, it has been difficult to find coherent material over a period of time relevant to my focus area, the construction programs, including Greenland’s Technical Organization (GTO). The historic source material to the chapters 3, 4 and 5 concerning the process of building up the GTO, the decision making processes concerning the construction programs and the labor force used are almost solely derived from the Report of the Greenland Commission of 1950 and the annual reports concerning Greenland from the Prime Minister’s Office and minutes from the meetings of the Land Council and the Construction Committee of the Ministry of Greenland, the latter for the period 1955-60. According to the local archivist, neither the minutes of the meetings of the Land Council nor the Construction Committee of the Ministry of Greenland have previously been used for research purposes. Hence, there is a possibility for the material to generate new knowledge and contribute to filling the gaps in the Danish-Greenlandic history. An interview with a former employee of the GTO throughout many years has contributed with much valuable information.


Analysis, results and conclusions

By analyzing the three research questions, the Danish decision maker’s role was held against the extent to whether the Land Council had any influence on the decisions that was made. Overall, the conclusion is, that it is now documented that the Greenland Land Council did not have any kind of influence in those three cases. This in itself is new knowledge. Although the Land Council’s role was of a consultative nature, it has been a commonly held notion that the assessment and suggestions of the Land Council was occasionally heard and implemented.

The first study (chapt. 3) includes the implementation of the decision of the Greenland Commission regarding the establishment of a technical organization. How the establishment of the Greenland Technical Organization as an important factor in a functioning development of roads, power supply, hydro-electric plants, schools, hospitals etc. could take whole eight years is analyzed and discussed. The analysis also includes the power struggles among the Danish officials, which delayed the process.

In chapter 4, research is conducted on how the decisions regarding the construction projects to modernize the Greenlandic society were made, including the role of the Land Council. The sub- analysis shows that the newly civilian elected Land Council during their first meeting in 1951 greatly emphasized that the Greenlandic population should be involved in the decisions made about the modernization, and that the Danish officials knew more about the matters they were dealing with. When reading the minutes from the Land Council meeting of 1951, one can’t help but sense the commitment and engagement to partake in the responsibility for the future development of the country. The pride over having successfully overcome the Second World War and the increased self- esteem shone through, and the members expressed wishes and demands on participation and influence. But again, the interim conclusion is about the fact that the Land Council did not have any influence on the construction programs during the first decade of the novation period. The Construction Committee of the Ministry of Greenland was established in 1955. In the 354 pages long minutes of their meetings held between 1955 until the end of 1959, not once was the word ‘Land Council’ mentioned by the Construction Committee.

In chapter 5 it is studied which labor force the vast construction activity was utilizing following the introduction of the novation for the period between 1950 and 1960. The Greenland Commission assumed that the technical building scheme would be finalized in 10 – 15 years (Taagholt 2012). It was therefore recommended that this speedy and temporary restructuring process should be conducted by a Danish labor force, in order to avoid disturbing the Greenlandic population as little as possible in their pursuit of their regular trade of hunting and fishing. Already in 1951, the members of the Land Council made their views known, that one of the most important tasks would be to qualify the resident youth, in order for them to partake in the building up of their country. Ever since that time, the question of educating Greenlandic craftsmen had been on the agenda of every meeting of the Land Council, but was not yet fulfilled in 1960. The interim conclusion is that the Land Council did not have any influence on the used labor force.

The overall conclusion is that the balance of power between Danish and Greenlandic decision makers and the associated institutions involved in terms of the construction sector was completely and wholly in Danish hands. The thesis documents that the Greenlandic population were spectators to the development of their own country. This lack of responsiveness to their wishes lead to frustrations, and in the end lead to mounting social problems. Many youth had a hope in working for the GTO just like the Danes did, rather than being trained into the hunting trade by their fathers. There were no possibilities in doing so, and they ended up with their hands in their pockets and made trouble. Even though alcohol consumption in 1960 was comparable to the level of consumption among the Danes, there was a sharp rise in alcohol consumption, and whilst suicide was a rare occurrence until 1960, it became prevalent in the following years. The Danish authorities were hesitant in stemming the tide regarding the mounting problems, since it was a common presumption that things would return to normal, as soon as this fierce transformation process had ended. Like in other former colonies, many Greenlandic children were sent from home at a young age, to learn to lead their country further based on a Danish life style, often never to be able to return to live with their parents again. Evaluation research shows that many of those benefitted in widening their horizon and became later leading figures in the Greenlandic society. At the same time, others are reported to have suffered from deprivation, leading into a disruption of a sense of identity, especially for the younger ones, who according to Jørgensen’s findings still had not developed their personal identity at the time of being moved into completely strange surroundings.

The thesis also argues the need to view the Danish-Greenlandic colonial history in a more international perspective. In postcolonial studies you can find explanations on many of the tensions, existing among Greenland and Denmark, Greenlanders and Danes and among the “real” and the “not- real” Greenlanders. Better knowledge of postcolonial mechanisms will contribute to better mutual understanding and thus to better co-existence.

The thesis confirms that the Greenlandic politicians and the citizens had a desire to come out of the enforced isolation, and that a modernization process should be implemented, but that it was the way in which G50 was implemented which has contributed to post-colonial tensions which characterize Greenland today.

Parallels in relation to the unity of the Realm

This year it is 300 years ago since Hans Egede colonized Greenland. It must be time to look in retrospect and without prejudice evaluate what has gone bad and what has gone well. Both in Denmark and Greenland we ought to know about our colonial and postcolonial history, and initiate a dialogue on our hopes and wished for our future Greenlandic-Danish relations.

Finally it is recommended,

  • Denmark and Greenland put the colonial history of Greenland in an international perspective
  • that Denmark put Greenland and the Danish-Greenlandic history on the elementary school curriculum
  • that Greenland put a priority on history lessons
  • more Greenlanders write about our own history, and that both Greenland and Denmark raise awareness about what consequences the colonial history has for interpersonal relationships.

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Senest opdateret 02. december 2021