Greenland

Introduction:

Greenland is the world’s largest island, located between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It is an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe (specifically Norway and Denmark, the colonial powers, as well as the nearby island of Iceland) for more than a millennium. The majority of its residents are Inuit, whose ancestors migrated from Alaska through Northern Canada, gradually settling across the island by the 13th century.

Nowadays the population is largely concentrated on the southwest coast of the island while the rest of the island is sparsely populated. Greenland is divided into five municipalities — Sermersooq, Kujalleq, Qeqertalik, Qeqqata, and Avannaata. It has two unincorporated areas — the Northeast Greenland National Park and the Thule Air Base. The last one, even if under Danish control, is administered by the United States Air Force. Three-quarters of Greenland is covered by the only permanent ice sheet outside Antarctica. With a population of about 56,480 (2013), it is the least densely populated territory in the world. About a third of the population live in Nuuk, the capital and largest city. The Arctic Umiaq Line ferry acts as a lifeline for western Greenland, connecting the various cities and settlements.

Greenland on the Globe

Greenland has been inhabited at intervals over at least the last 4,500 years by Arctic peoples whose forebears migrated there from what is now Canada. Norsemen settled the uninhabited southern part of Greenland beginning in the 10th century, having previously settled Iceland. These Norsemen would later set sail from Greenland and Iceland, with Leif Erikson becoming the first known European to reach North America nearly 500 years before Columbus reached the Caribbean islands. Inuit peoples arrived in the 13th century. Though under continuous influence of Norway and Norwegians, Greenland was not formally under the Norwegian crown until 1261. The Norse colonies disappeared in the late 15th century when Norway was hit by the Black Death and entered a severe decline. Soon after their demise, beginning in 1499, the Portuguese briefly explored and claimed the island, naming it Terra do Lavrador (later applied to Labrador in Canada).

In the early 18th century, Danish explorers reached Greenland again. To strengthen trading and power, Denmark–Norway affirmed sovereignty over the island. Because of Norway’s weak status, it lost sovereignty over Greenland in 1814 when the union was dissolved. Greenland became Danish in 1814, and was fully integrated in the Danish state in 1953 under the Constitution of Denmark. In 1973, Greenland joined the European Economic Community with Denmark. However, in a referendum in 1982, a majority of the population voted for Greenland to withdraw from the EEC, which was effected in 1985. Greenland contains the world’s largest and most northerly national park, Northeast Greenland National Park (Kalaallit Nunaanni nuna eqqissisimatitaq). Established in 1974, and expanded to its present size in 1988, it protects 972,001 square kilometers (375,292 sq mi) of the interior and northeastern coast of Greenland and is bigger than all but twenty-nine countries in the world.

Map of Greenland

In 1979, Denmark granted home rule to Greenland, and in 2008, Greenlanders voted in favor of the Self-Government Act, which transferred more power from the Danish government to the local Greenlandic government. Under the new structure, in effect since 21 June 2009, Greenland can gradually assume responsibility for policing, judicial system, company law, accounting, and auditing; mineral resource activities; aviation; law of legal capacity, family law and succession law; aliens and border controls; the working environment; and financial regulation and supervision, while the Danish government retains control of foreign affairs and defense. It also retains control of monetary policy, providing an initial annual subsidy of DKK 3.4 billion, which is planned to diminish gradually over time. Greenland expects to grow its economy based on increased income from the extraction of natural resources. The capital, Nuuk, held the 2016 Arctic Winter Games. At 70%, Greenland has one of the highest shares of renewable energy in the world, mostly coming from hydropower.

Etymology:

The early Norse settlers named the island as Greenland. In the Icelandic sagas, the Norwegian-born Icelander Erik the Red was said to be exiled from Iceland for manslaughter. Along with his extended family and his thralls (i.e. slaves or serfs), he set out in ships to explore an icy land known to lie to the northwest. After finding a habitable area and settling there, he named it Grœnland (translated as “Greenland”), supposedly in the hope that the pleasant name would attract settlers. The Saga of Erik the Red states: “In the summer, Erik left to settle in the country he had found, which he called Greenland, as he said people would be attracted there if it had a favorable name.”

Growing Hay in Southern Greenland

The name of the country in the indigenous Greenlandic language is Kalaallit Nunaat (“land of the Kalaallit”). The Kalaallit are the indigenous Greenlandic Inuit people who inhabit the country’s western region.

History:

Early Paleo-Eskimo Cultures:

In prehistoric times, Greenland was home to several successive Paleo-Eskimo cultures known today primarily through archaeological finds. The earliest entry of the Paleo-Eskimo into Greenland is thought to have occurred about 2500 BC. From around 2500 BC to 800 BC, southern and western Greenland were inhabited by the Saqqaq culture. Most finds of Saqqaq-period archaeological remains have been around Disko Bay, including the site of Saqqaq, after which the culture is named.

From 2400 BC to 1300 BC, the Independence I culture existed in northern Greenland. It was a part of the Arctic small tool tradition. Towns, including Deltaterrasserne, started to appear.

Different Cultures in the Arctic

Around 800 BC, the Saqqaq culture disappeared and the Early Dorset culture emerged in western Greenland and the Independence II culture in northern Greenland. The Dorset culture was the first culture to extend throughout the Greenlandic coastal areas, both on the west and east coasts. It lasted until the total onset of the Thule culture in 1500 AD. The Dorset culture population lived primarily from hunting of whales and caribou.

Norse Settlement:

From 986, Greenland’s west coast was settled by Icelanders and Norwegians, through a contingent of 14 boats led by Erik the Red. They formed three settlements — known as the Eastern Settlement, the Western Settlement and the Middle Settlement — on fjords near the southwesternmost tip of the island. They shared the island with the late Dorset culture inhabitants who occupied the northern and western parts, and later with the Thule culture that entered from the north. Norse Greenlanders submitted to Norwegian rule in 1261 under the Kingdom of Norway (872–1397). Later the Kingdom of Norway entered into a personal union with Denmark in 1380, and from 1397 was a part of the Kalmar Union.

Kingittorsuaq Runestone

The Norse settlements, such as Brattahlíð, thrived for centuries but disappeared sometime in the 15th century, perhaps at the onset of the Little Ice Age. Apart from some runic inscriptions, no contemporary records or historiography survives from the Norse settlements. Medieval Norwegian sagas and historical works mention Greenland’s economy as well as the bishops of Gardar and the collection of tithes. A chapter in the Konungs skuggsjá (The King’s Mirror) describes Norse Greenland’s exports and imports as well as grain cultivation.

Icelandic saga accounts of life in Greenland were composed in the 13th century and later, and do not constitute primary sources for the history of early Norse Greenland. Modern understanding therefore mostly depends on the physical data from archaeological sites. Interpretation of ice core and clam shell data suggests that between 800 and 1300, the regions around the fjords of southern Greenland experienced a relatively mild climate several degrees Celsius higher than usual in the North Atlantic, with trees and herbaceous plants growing, and livestock being farmed. Barley was grown as a crop up to the 70th parallel. What is verifiable is that the ice cores indicate Greenland has had dramatic temperature shifts many times over the past 100,000 years. Similarly the Icelandic Book of Settlements records famines during the winters, in which “the old and helpless were killed and thrown over cliffs”.

One of the last contemporary written mentions of the Norse Greenlanders records a marriage which took place in 1408 in the church of Hvalsey — today the best-preserved Nordic ruins in Greenland.

These Icelandic settlements vanished during the 14th and early 15th centuries. The demise of the Western Settlement coincides with a decrease in summer and winter temperatures. A study of North Atlantic seasonal temperature variability during the Little Ice Age showed a significant decrease in maximum summer temperatures beginning in the late 13th century to early 14th century — as much as 6 to 8 °C (11 to 14 °F) lower than modern summer temperatures. The study also found that the lowest winter temperatures of the last 2000 years occurred in the late 14th century and early 15th century. The Eastern Settlement was likely abandoned in the early to mid-15th century, during this cold period.

The Church of Hvalsey

Theories drawn from archaeological excavations at Herjolfsnes in the 1920s, suggest that the condition of human bones from this period indicates that the Norse population was malnourished, maybe due to soil erosion resulting from the Norsemen’s destruction of natural vegetation in the course of farming, turf-cutting, and wood-cutting. Malnutrition may also have resulted from widespread deaths due to pandemic plague; the decline in temperatures during the Little Ice Age; and armed conflicts with the Skrælings (Norse word for Inuit, meaning “wretches”). In 1379, the Inuit attacked the Eastern Settlement, killed 18 men and captured two boys and a woman. Recent archaeological studies somewhat challenge the general assumption that the Norse colonization had a dramatic negative environmental effect on the vegetation. Data support traces of a possible Norse soil amendment strategy. More recent evidence suggests that the Norse, who never numbered more than about 2,500, gradually abandoned the Greenland settlements over the 1400s as walrus ivory, the most valuable export from Greenland, decreased in price due to competition with other sources of higher-quality ivory, and that there was actually little evidence of starvation or difficulties.

Other theories about the disappearance of the Norse settlement have been proposed;

  • Lack of support from the homeland.
  • Ship-borne marauders (such as Basque, English, or German pirates) rather than Skraelings, could have plundered and displaced the Greenlanders.
  • They were “the victims of hidebound thinking and of a hierarchical society dominated by the Church and the biggest land owners. In their reluctance to see themselves as anything but Europeans, the Greenlanders failed to adopt the kind of apparel that the Inuit employed as protection against the cold and damp or to borrow any of the Eskimo hunting gear.”
  • “Norse society’s structure created a conflict between the short-term interests of those in power, and the long-term interests of the society as a whole.”

Thule Culture (1300–Present):

The Thule people are the ancestors of the current Greenlandic population. No genes from the Paleo-Eskimos have been found in the present population of Greenland. The Thule Culture migrated eastward from what is now known as Alaska around 1000, reaching Greenland around 1300. The Thule culture was the first to introduce to Greenland such technological innovations as dog sleds and toggling harpoons.

Greenland 1863

1500-1814:

In 1500, King Manuel I of Portugal sent Gaspar Corte-Real to Greenland in search of a Northwest Passage to Asia which, according to the Treaty of Tordesillas, was part of Portugal’s sphere of influence. In 1501, Corte-Real returned with his brother, Miguel Corte-Real. Finding the sea frozen, they headed south and arrived in Labrador and Newfoundland. Upon the brothers’ return to Portugal, the cartographic information supplied by Corte-Real was incorporated into a new map of the world which was presented to Ercole I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, by Alberto Cantino in 1502. The Cantino planisphere, made in Lisbon, accurately depicts the southern coastline of Greenland.

In 1605–1607, King Christian IV of Denmark sent a series of expeditions to Greenland and Arctic waterways to locate the lost eastern Norse settlement and assert Danish sovereignty over Greenland. The expeditions were mostly unsuccessful, partly due to leaders who lacked experience with the difficult arctic ice and weather conditions, and partly because the expedition leaders were given instructions to search for the Eastern Settlement on the east coast of Greenland just north of Cape Farewell, which is almost inaccessible due to southward drifting ice. The pilot on all three trips was English explorer James Hall.

1747 Map of Greenland

After the Norse settlements died off, Greenland came under the de facto control of various Inuit groups, but the Danish government never forgot or relinquished the claims to Greenland that it had inherited from the Norse. When it re-established contact with Greenland in the early 17th century, Denmark asserted its sovereignty over the island. In 1721, a joint mercantile and clerical expedition led by Danish-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede was sent to Greenland, not knowing whether a Norse civilization remained there. This expedition is part of the Dano-Norwegian colonization of the Americas. After 15 years in Greenland, Hans Egede left his son Paul Egede in charge of the mission there and returned to Denmark, where he established a Greenland Seminary. This new colony was centered at Godthåb (“Good Hope”) on the southwest coast. Gradually, Greenland was opened up to Danish merchants, and closed to those from other countries.

Treaty of Kiel to World War II:

When the union between the crowns of Denmark and Norway was dissolved in 1814, the Treaty of Kiel severed Norway’s former colonies and left them under the control of the Danish monarch. Norway occupied then-uninhabited eastern Greenland as Erik the Red’s Land in July 1931, claiming that it constituted terra nullius. Norway and Denmark agreed to submit the matter in 1933 to the Permanent Court of International Justice, which decided against Norway.

Godthåb in 1878

Greenland’s connection to Denmark was severed on 9 April 1940, early in World War II, after Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany. On 8 April 1941, the United States occupied Greenland to defend it against a possible invasion by Germany. The United States occupation of Greenland continued until 1945. Greenland was able to buy goods from the United States and Canada by selling cryolite from the mine at Ivittuut. The major air bases were Bluie West-1 at Narsarsuaq and Bluie West-8 at Søndre Strømfjord (Kangerlussuaq), both of which are still used as Greenland’s major international airports. Bluie was the military code name for Greenland.

During this war, the system of government changed: Governor Eske Brun ruled the island under a law of 1925 that allowed governors to take control under extreme circumstances; Governor Aksel Svane was transferred to the United States to lead the commission to supply Greenland. The Danish Sirius Patrol guarded the northeastern shores of Greenland in 1942 using dogsleds. They detected several German weather stations and alerted American troops, who destroyed the facilities. After the collapse of the Third Reich, Albert Speer briefly considered escaping in a small aeroplane to hide out in Greenland, but changed his mind and decided to surrender to the United States Armed Forces.

Greenland had been a protected and very isolated society until 1940. The Danish government had maintained a strict monopoly of Greenlandic trade, allowing only small scale troaking with Scottish whalers. In wartime Greenland developed a sense of self-reliance through self-government and independent communication with the outside world. Despite this change, in 1946 a commission including the highest Greenlandic council, the Landsrådene, recommended patience and no radical reform of the system. Two years later, the first step towards a change of government was initiated when a grand commission was established. A final report (G-50) was presented in 1950: Greenland was to be a modern welfare state with Denmark as sponsor and example. In 1953, Greenland was made an equal part of the Danish Kingdom. Home rule was granted in 1979.

Home Rule and Self-Rule:

Following World War II, the United States developed a geopolitical interest in Greenland, and in 1946 the United States offered to buy the island from Denmark for $100,000,000. Denmark refused to sell it. Historically this repeated an interest by Secretary of State William H. Seward. In 1867 he worked with former senator Robert J. Walker to explore the possibility of buying Greenland and perhaps Iceland. Opposition in Congress ended this project. In the 21st century, the United States, according to WikiLeaks, remains interested in investing in the resource base of Greenland and in tapping hydrocarbons off the Greenlandic coast. In August 2019, the American president Donald Trump again proposed to buy the territory, prompting premier Kim Kielsen to issue the statement, “Greenland is not for sale and cannot be sold, but Greenland is open for trade and cooperation with other countries — including the United States.”

Thule Air Base

In 1950, Denmark agreed to allow the US to reestablish Thule Air Base in Greenland; it was greatly expanded between 1951 and 1953 as part of a unified NATO Cold War defense strategy. The local population of three nearby villages was moved more than 100 kilometers (62 mi) away in the winter. The United States tried to construct a subterranean network of secret nuclear missile launch sites in the Greenlandic ice cap, named Project Iceworm. It managed this project from Camp Century from 1960 to 1966 before abandoning it as unworkable. The Danish government did not become aware of the program’s mission until 1997, when they discovered it while looking for records related to the crash of a nuclear-equipped B-52 bomber at Thule in 1968.

With the 1953 Danish constitution, Greenland’s colonial status ended as the island was incorporated into the Danish realm as an amt (county). Danish citizenship was extended to Greenlanders. Danish policies toward Greenland consisted of a strategy of cultural assimilation — or de-Greenlandification. During this period, the Danish government promoted the exclusive use of the Danish language in official matters, and required Greenlanders to go to Denmark for their post-secondary education. Many Greenlandic children grew up in boarding schools in southern Denmark, and a number lost their cultural ties to Greenland. While the policies “succeeded” in the sense of shifting Greenlanders from being primarily subsistence hunters into being urbanized wage earners, the Greenlandic elite began to reassert a Greenlandic cultural identity. A movement developed in favor of independence, reaching its peak in the 1970s. As a consequence of political complications in relation to Denmark’s entry into the European Common Market in 1972, Denmark began to seek a different status for Greenland, resulting in the Home Rule Act of 1979.

This gave Greenland limited autonomy with its own legislature taking control of some internal policies, while the Parliament of Denmark maintained full control of external policies, security, and natural resources. The law came into effect on 1 May 1979. The Queen of Denmark, Margrethe II, remains Greenland’s head of state. In 1985, Greenland left the European Economic Community (EEC) upon achieving self-rule, as it did not agree with the EEC’s commercial fishing regulations and an EEC ban on seal skin products. Greenland voters approved a referendum on greater autonomy on 25 November 2008. According to one study, the 2008 vote created what “can be seen as a system between home rule and full independence.”

Sermiligaaq

On 21 June 2009, Greenland gained self-rule with provisions for assuming responsibility for self-government of judicial affairs, policing, and natural resources. Also, Greenlanders were recognized as a separate people under international law. Denmark maintains control of foreign affairs and defense matters. Denmark upholds the annual block grant of 3.2 billion Danish kroner, but as Greenland begins to collect revenues of its natural resources, the grant will gradually be diminished. This is generally considered to be a step toward eventual full independence from Denmark. Greenlandic was declared the sole official language of Greenland at the historic ceremony.

Geography:

Greenland is the world’s largest non-continental island and the third largest area in North America after Canada and the United States. Greenland is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Greenland Sea to the east, the North Atlantic Ocean to the southeast, the Davis Strait to the southwest, Baffin Bay to the west, the Nares Strait and Lincoln Sea to the northwest. The nearest countries are Canada, to the west and southwest across Nares Strait and Baffin Bay; and Iceland, southeast of Greenland in the Atlantic Ocean. Greenland also contains the world’s largest national park, and it is the largest dependent territory by area in the world, as well as the fourth largest country subdivision in the world, after Sakha Republic in Russia, Australia’s state of Western Australia, and Russia’s Krasnoyarsk Krai, and the largest in North America.

The total area of Greenland is 2,166,086 km2 (836,330 sq mi) (including other offshore minor islands), of which the Greenland ice sheet covers 1,755,637 km2 (677,855 sq mi) (81%) and has a volume of approximately 2,850,000 km3 (680,000 cu mi). The highest point on Greenland is Gunnbjørn Fjeld at 3,700 m (12,139 ft) of the Watkins Range (East Greenland mountain range). The majority of Greenland, however, is less than 1,500 m (4,921 ft) in elevation.

Topographic Map of Greenland Bedrock

The weight of the ice sheet has depressed the central land area to form a basin lying more than 300 m (984 ft) below sea level, while elevations rise suddenly and steeply near the coast.

The ice flows generally to the coast from the center of the island. A survey led by French scientist Paul-Emile Victor in 1951 concluded that, under the ice sheet, Greenland is composed of three large islands. This is disputed, but if it is so, they would be separated by narrow straits, reaching the sea at Ilulissat Icefjord, at Greenland’s Grand Canyon and south of Nordostrundingen.

All towns and settlements of Greenland are situated along the ice-free coast, with the population being concentrated along the west coast. The northeastern part of Greenland is not part of any municipality, but it is the site of the world’s largest national park, Northeast Greenland National Park.

The extreme north of Greenland, Peary Land, is not covered by an ice sheet, because the air there is too dry to produce snow, which is essential in the production and maintenance of an ice sheet. If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt away completely, the world’s sea level would rise by more than 7 m (23 ft).

Economy:

The Greenlandic economy is highly dependent on fishing. Fishing accounts for more than 90% of Greenland’s exports. The shrimp and fish industry is by far the largest income earner.

Greenland is abundant in minerals. Mining of ruby deposits began in 2007. Other mineral prospects are improving as prices are increasing. These include iron, uranium, aluminium, nickel, platinum, tungsten, titanium, and copper. Despite resumption of several hydrocarbon and mineral exploration activities, it will take several years before hydrocarbon production can materialize. The state oil company Nunaoil was created to help develop the hydrocarbon industry in Greenland. The state company Nunamineral has been launched on the Copenhagen Stock Exchange to raise more capital to increase the production of gold, started in 2007.

Greenland Export Map

Electricity has traditionally been generated by oil or diesel power plants, even if there is a large surplus of potential hydropower. There is a program to build hydro power plants. The first, and still the largest, is Buksefjord hydroelectric power plant.

There are also plans to build a large aluminium smelter, using hydropower to create an exportable product. It is expected that much of the labor needed will be imported.

The European Union has urged Greenland to restrict People’s Republic of China development of rare-earth projects, as China accounts for 95% of the world’s current supply. In early 2013, the Greenland government said that it had no plans to impose such restrictions.

The public sector, including publicly owned enterprises and the municipalities, plays a dominant role in Greenland’s economy. About half the government revenues come from grants from the Danish government, an important supplement to the gross domestic product (GDP). Gross domestic product per capita is equivalent to that of the average economies of Europe.

Greenland suffered an economic contraction in the early 1990s. But, since 1993, the economy has improved. The Greenland Home Rule Government (GHRG) has pursued a tight fiscal policy since the late 1980s, which has helped create surpluses in the public budget and low inflation. Since 1990, Greenland has registered a foreign-trade deficit following the closure of the last remaining lead and zinc mine that year. In 2017, new sources of ruby in Greenland have been discovered, promising to bring new industry and a new export from the country.

Transportation:

There is air transport both within Greenland and between the island and other nations. There is also scheduled boat traffic, but the long distances lead to long travel times and low frequency. There are virtually no roads between cities because the coast has many fjords that would require ferry service to connect a road network. The only exception is a gravel road of 5 km (3 mi) length between Kangilinnguit and the now abandoned former cryolite mining town of Ivittuut. In addition, the lack of agriculture, forestry and similar countryside activities has meant that very few country roads have been built.

Air Greenland A330

Kangerlussuaq Airport (SFJ) is the largest airport and the main aviation hub for international passenger transport. It serves international and domestic airline operated flight. SFJ is far from the vicinity of the larger metropolitan capital areas, 317 km (197 mi) to the capital Nuuk, and airline passenger services are available. Greenland has no passenger railways.

Nuuk Airport (GOH) is the second-largest airport located just 6.0 km (3.7 mi) from the center of the capital. GOH serves general aviation traffic and has daily- or regular domestic flights within Greenland. GOH also serves international flights to Iceland, business and private airplanes.

Ilulissat Airport (JAV) is a domestic airport that also serves international flights to Iceland. There are a total of 13 registered civil airports and 47 helipads in Greenland; most of them are unpaved and located in rural areas. The second longest runway is at Narsarsuaq, a domestic airport with limited international service in south Greenland.

All civil aviation matters are handled by the Danish Transport Authority. Most airports including Nuuk Airport have short runways and can only be served by special fairly small aircraft on fairly short flights. Kangerlussuaq Airport around 100 kilometers (62 miles) inland from the west coast is the major airport of Greenland and the hub for domestic flights. Intercontinental flights connect mainly to Copenhagen. Travel between international destinations (except Iceland) and any city in Greenland requires a plane change.

Air Iceland operates flights from Reykjavík to a number of airports in Greenland, and the company promotes the service as a day-trip option from Iceland for tourists.

There are no direct flights to the United States or Canada, although there have been flights Kangerlussuaq – Baltimore, and Nuuk – Iqaluit, which were cancelled because of too few passengers and financial losses. An alternative between Greenland and the United States/Canada is Air Iceland/Icelandair with a plane change in Iceland.

Sea passenger transport is served by several coastal ferries. Arctic Umiaq Line makes a single round trip per week, taking 80 hours each direction.

Arctic Umiaq Line Passenger and Freight Services

Cargo freight by sea is handled by the shipping company Royal Arctic Line from, to and across Greenland. It provides trade and transport opportunities between Greenland, Europe and North America.

Flag of Greenland:

The flag of Greenland was designed by Greenland native Thue Christiansen. It features two equal horizontal bands of white (top) and red with a large disk slightly to the hoist side of centre. The top half of the disk is red, the bottom half is white. The top half of the flag bears a slight resemblance to the Flag of Japan as a result. The entire flag measures 18 by 12 parts; each stripe measures 6 parts; the disk is 8 parts in diameter, horizontally offset by 7 parts from the hoist to the centre of the circle, and vertically centered.

Its local name in the Greenlandic language is Erfalasorput, which means “our flag”. The term Aappalaartoq (meaning “the red”) is also used for both the Greenlandic flag and the flag of Denmark (Dannebrog). Today, Greenlanders display both the Erfalasorput and the Dannebrog—often side-by-side. The flag of Greenland is the only national flag of a Nordic country or territory without a Nordic Cross.

Flag of Greenland

 

Greenland first entertained the idea of a flag of its own in 1973 when five Greenlanders proposed a green, white and blue flag. The following year, a newspaper solicited eleven design proposals (all but one of which was a Nordic cross) and polled the people to determine the most popular. The flag of Denmark was preferred to the others. Little came of this effort.

In 1978, Denmark granted home rule to Greenland, making it an equal member of the Danish Realm. The home rule government held an official call for flag proposals, receiving 555 (of which 293 were submitted by Greenlanders).

The deciding committee came to no consensus, so more proposals were solicited. Finally the present red-and-white design by Christiansen narrowly won over a green-and-white Nordic cross by a vote of fourteen to eleven. Christiansen’s red-and-white flag was officially adopted on 21 June 1985.

To honor the tenth anniversary of the Erfalasorput, the Greenland Post Office issued commemorative postage stamps and a leaflet by the flag’s creator. He described the white stripe as representing the glaciers and ice cap, which cover more than 80% of the island; the red stripe, the ocean; the red semicircle, the sun, with its bottom part sunk in the ocean; and the white semicircle, the icebergs and pack ice. The design is also reminiscent of the setting sun half-submerged below the horizon and reflected on the sea. In 1985, the public was made aware that Greenland’s flag had exactly the same motif as the flag of the Danish rowing club HEI Rosport, which was founded before Greenland’s flag was chosen. It is not clear whether this is a case of plagiarism or just a coincidence, but the rowing club has given Greenland permission to use their flag.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top