This blog post was written in collaboration with Ilona Wisniewska, a Polish author, photographer and Arctic reporter.
Quick facts about Greenland:
- Greenland is the world's largest island and an autonomous Danish-dependent territory with limited self-government and its own parliament,
- 80% of Greenland is covered by ice,
- Greenland has the most northerly capital city in the world – Nuuk,
- The majority of the Greenlandic population are Inuits, who are an indigenous group living within Arctic Circle.
Our collection tells the story of Inughuits - a narrow Inuit group that lives in the northern part of Greenland and it is estimated to be only 800 representatives of this group left. Inuits are all the people who live within the Arctic Circle.
When does our story begin and why is it special and so intriguing?
Everything starts with the North Pole exploration at the beginning of the 20th century. Robert Peary an American explorer is considered to be one of the first North Pole capturers. His achievement and research wouldn’t be possible without the help of people who live in the far north and are used to harsh weather conditions. Peary learned from Inughuits how to survive and live in Greenland, which helped him to achieve his goal, in return, he brought tools from his home country, improving hunting and building. For now, the story doesn’t sound that bad, or special, does it?
As you can imagine, back in time, these kind of expeditions were highly dangerous and very costly, requiring funding for all necessary equipment and the travel itself. What caught Peary’s attention were meteorites, which were the only source of iron, needed to make tools. The American explorer decided to bring those cosmic objects back to the US as a sort of payment to his financial supporters, purging locals of precious material. The story continues, sadly, apart from the meteorites, Peary decided to take six Inughuits to the US, claiming that he wants to show them the region where he lived. The truth was far from his promises, the main goal was to conduct studies on those people and see how did they adapt to the polar conditions. Eventually, together with meteorites, the Inughuits were exposed in the museum for all citizens to visit. Due to the contact with local society, five of the Inuits died, and only one child survived being brought up by an American family after the tragedy.
At the time of II World War, the US had control over Greenland in return for protecting Denish territories. During that time multiple military bases were built on the Greenlandic territories causing Inughuits to migrate and leave their homes behind. Chaining the location was nothing new to the people of the North, but leaving their buried ancestors was more difficult and truly upsetting. Currently, the Danish government is trying to help these people survive and have better life. The truth is that nobody wants them to occupy these territories since they have high geostrategic importance as well as they contain precious resources like uranium or other rare earth elements that can be further exploited.
The history of Greenland and its people is not commonly known to the public. In this blog, we want to get familiar with the story of Inughuits but also their customs and what valuable lessons we can learn from them.
Is it true that Inughuits lead a sustainable lifestyle? If yes, how so?
Most definitely. Inughuit people live as sustainably as it gets. The most important aspect of this lifestyle is responsible consumption. Whenever hunters hunt prey like a polar bear, seal, or any other animal, every little part of it is used for various purposes. For example, their skins are used to make boots or jackets that keep them warm. Even though they kill animals to survive they do so with utmost care and respect. They kill how much is necessary at the moment and ensure that the animal does not have to suffer much. In Inughuit households, nothing goes to waste and everything is used to the maximum. All the things they possess are highly appreciated, which is rare these days. We could definitely learn a lot from them in terms of sustainability.
If we were to ask Inughuit what they are most proud of, what would they answer?
Their sense of belonging to the place where they were born and raised. Inughuit people are very much connected to their homeland, their ancestors, and their customs. They derive their sense of identity from the place of their origin and the environment. Inughuits are striving to cultivate their traditions and provide for future generations, that is why the birth of every child feels like a true blessing. In most cases, Inughuit people have grown up knowing only long and wide ice caps and water. That is why they feel closely connected to nature, approach it with love, and understand the importance of maintaining a healthy relationship between themselves and the planet. Often young children are already taught the art of this co-existence.
Ilona's two books "Lud. Z grenlandzkiej wyspy" and "Migot. Z krańca Grenlandii" tell the stories about Greenland and its native ethnic group Inughuits. Available in Polish on her website. https://ilonawisniewska.com/