National Geographic : 2015 Nov
118 national geographic • november 2015 Weary and frustrated after four fruitless days of seal hunting, Knud Jensen (wearing sealskin) and Apollo Mathias- sen go on searching for prey in the broken ice of Uummannaq Fjord. Unlike some of his peers, Jensen, who’s 15, wants to make his living as a hunter and has no desire to leave his community for a job in one of Greenland’s larger towns. settlements for 18 years, gets into a lively discus- sion with a man from Nuuk, Greenland’s capital and largest town, with more than 16,000 people. The subject is the future of places like Niaqornat and Saattut—and whether they even have one. The Nuuk man, who prefers not to be quoted by name, is ambivalent about propping up the settlements with subsidies. “If we don’t move out of isolation, we will al- ways be conservative,” he tells Huctin. “I don’t want to live in a museum. I don’t want to live in the old way. My son, my daughter should be part of the world.” By subsidizing the settlements, he thinks, the government is providing “welfare for hunters” and slotting young people into a life of hunting and fishing rather than encouraging them to look beyond tradition. But job opportunities in Greenland are few, Huctin retorts, and anyway what would happen to older hunters such as the Løvstrøm broth- ers? Should they trade their independence, give up their dogsleds, boats, and rifles for life in one of Nuuk’s grim apartment blocks? The loss of the settlements, Huctin says, would be a loss for all. They’re bastions of Inuit hunting culture. Somehow they should be maintained. “The Inuit hunters have Ph.D.’s in living in nature, appreciating nature,” Huctin tells me lat- er. “This is very important, to keep this knowl- edge. I think these small, remote communities can invent a sustainable future for themselves. This is a people that went from subsistence hunt- ing to Facebook in less than a century. Now they have airlines and mining companies. I’m sure they will succeed in the future.” Yet settlements all over Greenland are losing population. Niaqornat’s has fallen to 50, from 75 a decade ago. It came very close to being abandoned a few years back when the community’s fish-processing plant shut down. Niaqornat’s fishermen had to motor 40 miles to Uummannaq to sell their catch. It wasn’t a tenable situation. But rather than abandon their homes, Niaqornat’s residents pooled their sav- ings and bought the processing plant. For now their community is hanging on.