Greenland, the world’s biggest island could become the first independent country of indigenous people in modern times if the current search for oil, gas and minerals bears fruit.
The Prime Minister of the “Naalakkersuisut”, Greenland’s Home Rule, Kuupik Kleist, has declared that his Government will seek independence from Denmark when the economic situation allows. In a self-governing agreement with Denmark in 2009, the Greenlanders were recognized as a distinct people with the right to self-determination and given greater control over potential oil finds.
In practice the agreement can serve as a road map to independence if /when the 57,000 Greenlanders are self-sufficient but for now they are dependent on grants from the state budget of Denmark. Greenland has been part of the Danish Kingdom for three hundred years but was granted limited sovereignty when home rule was established in 1979.
Whether independence becomes a reality or not remains to be seen, but the process has clearly given the Greenlanders self confidence.
At the recent UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, Mr. Kleist said Greenland was “speaking the case of indigenous people,” and would continue to support other indigenous people.
“It is because we have not forgotten the friendship we share with other indigenous peoples around the world,” Mr. Kleist wrote, adding that Greenland had sought inspiration from other indigenous people in establishing its home rule and self-government.
“Greenland is considered by many of the world's indigenous peoples as a pioneering country. Our excellent co-operation with Denmark has meant that we are listened to when we want to help improve the rights and conditions of indigenous peoples.”
If the eyes of other indigenous people are on Greenland, so are the eyes of the world. Within the last few months the Prime Minister of the 57,000 Greenlanders has met with some of the worlds most powerful statesmen, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President José Manuel Barroso of the European Commission and China´s President Hu Jintao during his state visit to Denmark in June 2012.
“Which head of state or government in the world is having such a privilege? Given that Greenland is not a state, it is simply unique,” says Damien Degeorges, author of “The Role of Greenland in the Arctic”. “It also shows how resources can be a key to international recognition.”
Kleist, the Prime Minister of Greenland, is aware of this when he writes:
“It is stated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that indigenous people have the right to control their own lives, their land, the way they live their lives and want to grow.
But in reality there are few places in the world where indigenous people can decide for themselves.”
On the basis of current developments Greenland seems to be the exception to that rule.
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