(CN) — “When the Danish-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede went ashore in Greenland in 1721, it was the beginning of a shared history. But also of a colonial era. Our past contains several difficult and sensitive themes, and we know that some of the decisions made over time have had great costs for many people.”
So says Ane Saalbach, a producer for Denmark's national broadcasting corporation DR. She has worked on the new four-episode documentary “The Story of Denmark and Greenland — For Good and Bad."
Saalbach describes the story as “complex and about the meeting between two cultures, visions, power and loss, and love and hope."
The documentary is part of a big spring theme in which DR puts the relationship and the Danish colonialization's effects on Greenlandic people and society on the agenda.
Around 300 years have passed since Egede first encountered the Inuit people on the shores of Greenland, meeting a people devoted to sealing and whale hunting, who lived with great respect for nature and its spirits.
They're also a people who would see dramatic and involuntary changes to their culture over the coming centuries.
"The relationship between Denmark and Greenland has been heavily debated. But what really happened? We want to put focus on that," Saalbach said.
If you ask Nauja Bianco, CEO for the Greenlandic House and the North Atlantic House in Odense, Denmark, it is about time to put our history up for open debate.
“I have always been surprised by how little we know about each other. Even today, prejudices and misconceptions still exist about how Greenlanders are," Bianco, who was born and raised in Greenland to a Greenlandic father and Danish mother, said. "I am very happy with the new coverage because we get a common platform to discuss from. We need nuances and insights."
As CEO for the Greenlandic House, Bianco oversees cultural events, creates educational programs for schools and helps the around 17.000 Greenlanders living in Denmark to navigate the public system.
The house also performs social work for individuals who Bianco says often have difficulty functioning in society.
“Many people arrive with traumas related to, among others, colonialism,” Bianco said.
One of the major themes in the DR documentary is the systemic Danish overtaking of Greenlandic society from 1721 to the 1960s.
Initially, the process started with Egede´s efforts to convert the Inuit people to Christianity by offering them a new promise of heaven beyond earth. The prospect of being able to meet loved ones after death moved the Inuit, who often lost family to the sea or rough weather.
Christianity was adopted over time, and today is widespread and heartfelt in Greenland.
From 1750 to 1870, Danish traders started traveling to Greenland to trade riffles and commodities like coffee in exchange for pelts and whale oil, which was used to fuel lamps in the Danish cities. The traders commercialized sealing and whaling to such an extent that the Inuit forgot how to hunt with their traditional harpoons.
When war with England dried up weapon supplies, it naturally caused food supply issues in Greenland.
Until then, mutual exchange and joint development were a part of Denmark and Greenland's history. But in 1950, the Danish government launched a new and highly harmful initiative.
“Here begins a series of fast 'modernization' reforms, which ends up having detrimental effects on Greenlandic society," said anthropologist and journalist Anne Kirstine Hermann, author of the book "Children of the Empire: When Denmark Misled the UN and Greenland to Hold on to Its Last Colony." "People were evicted from their small settlements, of which there were 160 at the time, and moved into bigger cities. The Danish plan was to gather the population in the four biggest cities Nuuk, Sisimiut, Maniitsoq and Paamiut”.