A referendum recently took place for the residents of the Greenlandic capital Nuuk on whether to remove a statue of a coloniser in town, Morgunblaðið reports.
The statue in question of Danish-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede was spray-painted in red and marked with the word “decolonise” the day before Greenland’s national day on June 21. This action was part of an international movement of protesters fighting against racism and colonialism in the United States and around the world following the murder of a 46-year-old black man named George Floyd after a policeman pinned him down by the neck with his knee for over eight minutes.
Protesters the world over have arisen similarly by demanding that monuments commemorating racist, colonialist, or otherwise oppressive historical figures be removed, in some cases doing so themselves, already succeeding in removing such statues as that of King Leopold II of Belgium in Antwerp, Christopher Columbus in Miami, and Captain John Hamilton in Hamilton, New Zealand, to name a few.
The most strongly opposed say that the statue of Egede is an oppressive and colonialist symbol which should be removed and put in a museum.
Greenland remained a Danish colony until 1953, at which time it became an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark. The 1979 Home Rule Act and 2009 Act on Greenland Self-Government ensured increasing levels of legal and political self-determination, though Greenland still largely relies on the Danish government for foreign affairs, defense, and economic support.
Egede was a Lutheran missionary of Danish and Norwegian origin who came to Greenland in 1721 do to convert the indigenous Greenlandic Inuit. He additionally ruled Greenland on behalf of the Danish government and founded the current capital Nuuk, then known as Godthåb (Danish for “good hope”).
All in all around 23,000 of Greenland’s 56,000 residents were eligible to take part in this poll, which ran from July 3-21. A total of 923 participants voted for the statue to remain and 600 voted for its removal. Greenlandic lawmaker Aaja Chemnitz Larsen told Reuters, “It does not surprise me that there is a majority for the statue to stay, but that does not mean we should do nothing, because there is still a large majority that wants it removed.” It is likely that lack of publicity and many residents being out of town on vacation greatly decreased potential voter turnout.
The ultimate course of action has yet to be definitively determined, as this will be decided by the local council. Nuuk mayor Charlotte Ludvigsen claims a majority of up to 75% in favour of the statue’s removal would be necessary in order for her to move forward with it.
As reported, organizers of the effort issued a statement shortly thereafter, which read “It’s about time that we stop celebrating colonisers and that we start taking back what is rightfully ours. It’s time to decolonise our minds and our country. No coloniser deserves to be on top of a mountain like that. We need to learn the truth of our history.”
The Grapevine then contacted Greenlandic activist Aqqalu Berthelsen, who had commented on the issue on Facebook. “This is about telling history right,” Aqqalu explained to us. “Hans Egede was a bad man. He cut our women’s hair if they got pregnant outside of a Christian marriage and employed other scare tactics. We learn about this man in school, and when we leave school, we see a statute of this man on top of a hill. This was a man supported by white supremacy, colonisation and racism. He didn’t see my people as people; he saw us as resources.”
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