Land of the Greenlanders

Located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Greenland is, by area, the world’s largest island that is not a continent.

Scoresby Sund in eastern Greenland, the longest fjord in the world

In the native Kalaallisut language it is called “Kalaallit Nunaat” meaning “Land of the Greenlanders”; in Danish it is: Grønland.

The name Greenland is derived from early Scandinavian settlers, specifically Erik the Red, a Norwegian who was exiled from Iceland, who set out to find a new land which had been discovered to the West. After settling there, he named the land “Grœnland”, in the hope that a pleasant name would attract settlers.

Greenland has been inhabited, though not continuously, by indigenous peoples since 2500 BC. The Norse settlements in the southwestern coastal area were established in AD 986 and abandoned in the middle of the 15 century. At that time the climate had become significantly colder, which prevented them from raising cattle and practicing their traditional grass farming.

As the settlements became depopulated, Contact between Greenland and Scandinavia became sporadic and finally stopped altogether during the middle of the 15 Century. However, since the Icelandic descendants in Greenland had accepted the rule of the Norwegian king in 1261, the almost forgotten land was still considered a possession of the realm.

Almost 300 years passed before the Danish-Norwegian King Frederik 1V, sent several ships to Greenland in 1721, to reassert control of this possession. Aboard one of the ships was the Lutheran minister Hans Egede, who feared that the Icelandic descendants living in Greenland would never have heard about the reformation. To the minister’s surprise, he found only Inuits, but no remnants of an Icelandic population.

Greenland became a Danish colony in 1814 after being under the rule of Denmark-Norway for centuries. With the Constitution of Denmark of 1953, Greenland became a part of the Kingdom of Denmark in a relationship known in Danish as Rigsfællesskabet (Commonwealth of the Realm).

In 1979 Denmark granted home rule to Greenland, and in 2008 Greenland voted to transfer more power from the Danish royal government to the local Greenlandic government. This became effective the following year, with the Danish royal government in charge of foreign affairs, security (defence-police-justice), and financial policy, and providing a subsidy of DKK 3.4 billion (US$633M), or approximately $11,300 per Greenlander, annually.

With a population of 56,452 (January 2010 estimate) Greenland is one of the least densely populated dependencies or countries in the world. Most of the inhabited areas are found on the southwestern coast of the island. The eastern coast of Greenland is only inhabited in two locations south of the Greenland National Park.


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