Differences in the Details

Weather: -5c

Nuuk, Greenland – It’s just dawned on me that after six days in Nuuk, I still haven’t posted any pictures of the actual town.

The ‘downtown’ area is a bit schizophrenic. There’s the old port area, which is like something out of a storybook, with quaint, brightly coloured houses.

Sun sets in Nuuk's old harbour area. Photo Eilís Quinn
It’s also full of ugly, depressing buildings that wouldn’t be out of place in 1960s-era communist Russia.

Greenlanders from villages all over the island were relocated to buildings like this in Nuuk.

Greenlanders from villages all over the island were relocated to buildings like this in Nuuk. (Closeup)

Buildings like this is where the Danish government sent Greenlanders (often forcibly) to live. The aim was to shut down villages considered ‘non-economically viable’ and also to create a labour force that could work in the cod factories that were being set up in Nuuk at the time.

A lot of locals we’ve spoken to have told us that they consider this time period as the point when traditional Greenlandic social bonds started unravelling.

Before then, many generations of the same Greenlandic family would live together under the same roof. But after they were sent to Nuuk to live in these buildings, big families were invariably split up amongst several small apartments.

Elders, until then respected and relied on for their knowledge, now spent their days completely isolated. Many people are telling me this is when drinking became an increasing problem for many.

These buildings are still considered by many locals to be swarming with social problems and to be avoided at all costs.

But while Greenland isn’t perfect my any means, when I think back to our time in Iqaluit and compare it with what we’re seeing in Nuuk it’s hard not to feel a bit angry.

Canada clearly comes up short.

In some ways, the comparison is unfair.

Northern Canada and Greenland have a very different missionary and colonial history. Greenland has also had home rule government for some 30-odd years now, while Nunavut is only ten years old.

And both Greenland and Canada’s North face the similar problems including high-suicide rates and serious substance abuse problems.

But still, it’s in the little details that you see the difference.

I don’t think I saw one local person with their full set of teeth during the entire time we were travelling in Nunavut. While here in Nuuk, even the illiterate hunters I’ve met that come from villages elsewhere in Greenland all have their full set of original teeth

That may seem like a flippant detail to some of you but it’s clear to me that in Canada, there’s something we should be doing that for some reason we aren’t.

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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