The People and Culture of Greenland

Written By: The Planet D

One of the unique things about travel to Greenland is the opportunity to meet the locals and learn about the culture.

The Inuit culture is fascinating and very few people really know much about it.

We didn’t know a lot ourselves before visiting this polar country, and have now come away with a better understanding and respect for the people who live within the Arctic Circle.

People Living in Greenland

cultural greenland

The West coast of Greenland is the least visited by tourists, and yet it has the highest density of population.

We had the opportunity to visit many villages and settlements and get to meet the people living in Greenland.

There is Illulisat, a town of 4500 souls and even more sled dogs located where Icebergs are born in the heart of Disko Bay.

It’s an extraordinary bay filled with ice and most of the year, Illulisat is impossible to reach by boat.

Traveling down the West Coast of Greenland offered many chances to get on land and explore villages and towns.

Sisimut is a sort of university town with several trade and high schools in the area.

It’s also the northernmost ice-free port in the country making it the fastest growing urban centre in Greenland.

Local Food of Greenland

food of greenland

It is here that we had the opportunity to eat minke whale and seal blubber.

Two important foods that are a part of the Inuit diet supplying them with much needed and sought after vitamin C.

Read all about it and see our video at Would You Eat Whale?

Fishing is an important industry in the country, but the public sector is growing rapidly. In the capital city of Nuuk, we had the opportunity to listen to a lecture and debate by two political parties.

It was interesting to hear how Greenland is dealing with coming in to the modern world.

Palle and Naaja of the Socialist and Democratic parties respectively, have formed a coalition to work together and bring Greenland in to the 21st century.

Their main focus is to educate the youth and give them options to living in the districts.

The districts are the small village communities around the country that are slowly closing.

Life in Greenland

people in greenland how they live

As Naaja said to us, six months of the year are spent hunting in these villages, and while it is a rich life culturally, it is a poor and hard life economically.

Children have the right to stay, but they should have the right to choose, so the government is working hard to fund university and education abroad.

Greenland is officially ruled by Denmark, but Greenland retains home rule, with Denmark taking care of things like foreign affairs and national defense, but more importantly, public aid.

Denmark supplies Greenland with 3.2 billion dollars a year in aid and they need it. Greenland is an expensive country.

The Cost of Living in Greenland

I don’t know how anyone can live there with the prices of things and can understand why villagers choose to remain in their districts. Unemployment is high and subsidies are greatly needed.

An apartment in the capital of Nuuk, Greenland has a 32 year wait list. (yes, you hear me correctly, this is not a typo, it is 32 years).

The minute a child is born, they are put on the waitlist for an apartment they may or may not get 32 years from now, and must pay the yearly fee to keep their place. One missed a payment and they go to the bottom of the list.

Buying a house is even more difficult and expensive.

There is very little useable room in Greenland and space is at a premium.

Most of the land is rocky and in the winter covered in ice.

Most districts have been closed around the country. If Greenland wants to join the 21st century, it is nearly impossible to keep them open.

Closing of Settlements in Greenland

settlements of people of greenland

Naaja told us a story where there was one settlement that had a population of three people.

A father and two brothers. The brothers had a falling out and one killed the other.

After his son went to jail, it was simply the father living alone on the settlement at a cost of 1-million dollars a year for the Greenlandic government.

The people living in the districts aren’t completely self-sufficient and while they hold on to the old ways, they take advantage of the grants.

It is a drain on the economy and the government is doing everything in their power to attract it’s citizens to the South.

It offers them money to help with the move, free education, and free healthcare.

Mining in Greenland

greenland culture

The mining industry is beginning to attract employment with oil exploration, iron, diamonds, gold, rubies, and uranium.

As the polar ice caps melt, the country of Greenland will have more opportunities. But will it come at a price?

When someone asked Palle if the Greenlandic people want to go back to the old ways of living, her response didn’t surprise me.

She said that people have the Internet in Greenland, they have satellite TV and they see a better way of life.

They want to travel and have the things that the rest of the world has.

And we say, why shouldn’t they? Why do tourists always say that people should live as they always have?

Disappearing Culture of Greenland

Some people say it is a shame that there isn’t more culture left as they fly home to their heated and air-conditioned homes and catch up on their favourite TV shows that they PVR’d while they were away.

While it is wonderful to be able to see an ancient culture in action, it doesn’t make sense for anyone to be left behind in the 21st century.

Itelliq, Greenland

culture of greenland people playing soccer

One of our stops on our expedition took us to the town of Itelliq.

It has a population of 250 people and is an isolated village on the West Coast.

They invited us into their homes and gave us a glimpse of their life. When we entered their homes, we were surprised with how spacious, cozy and comfortable it was.

There was a big screen TV, a fully stocked kitchen and plenty of room. The Inuit people may seem foreign and different to us, but they are more similar than you could ever imagine.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, travel breaks down all stereotypes and the more people one meets, the more we realize that we are all united in this world.

We are all similar.

We all laugh, cry, have friends and family and simply want to make the best of our lives.

Like other European countries, Greenlanders love their football (soccer for our North American friends) and challenged the crew of The Sea Spirit to a friendly game.

Nothing brings nations together more than sport and nothing makes people understand the world better than travel.

Travel to Greenland was a privilege and something we’ll never forget. As tourism grows, their lives will change drastically.

Politics in Greenland

While listening to the politicians speak, we were inspired and filled with hope that they will learn from the mistakes our nations made and possibly lead the way into the next century.

Greenland has a long way to go before it’s independence, but in the meantime they are working hard to create an economy that works while holding on to the culture that makes it so special and unique to visit.

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

30 thoughts on “The People and Culture of Greenland”

  1. Palle has a point. They shouldn’t have to live a certain way purely for other people’s entertainment value.

  2. Stunning scenery! Greenland reminds me of Iceland so much with its colorful houses and raw nature. Breathtaking land, but life must be hard there..Greenland has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, if I remember correctly. I think poverty and subsequent problems with alcohol are the reason behind these numbers, and maybe children being molested at home. Easy access to guns and rifles – used for hunting – doesn´t help either, I guess.

  3. The people there has a very simple life and I like how children play outdoor sports nowadays and not just killing time on PSP, android phones or infront of a computer.

  4. What a beautiful place! It seems a lot like life in the remote Alaskan villages I work in, but more extreme – life is difficult and expensive, but at least there isn’t a 30 year waiting list for anything.

  5. What an amazing post, thank you! I have always been fascinated about Greenland and I adored the pictures you had! I love those colourful houses. But what was the most interesting part of this article was really the in-depth analysis of the situation in Greenland. I love the serious approach you took. Really impressed. I will subscribe to your newsletter now. All the best and if you ever come to Finland, feel free to drop a line!

  6. Great post! I love how much you learn and the degree of depth and intimacy you explore and share in your articles. Greenland sounds fascinating! Thank you!

  7. Wonderful post..!! The photos are so stunning like the explanation itself that they are taking me to the world of Greenland and I would like to explore it soon..!!

  8. Judging by the picture, I have to say that they are a bunch of happy people. I love how they colored their houses. Its like toy houses that I used to play when I was younger. I would really love to see it first hand.

    • Thanks Raymond. I can’t believe we haven’t been to Newfoundland yet. While in Greenland, we actually took note of the fact that we had to go all the way to Greenland to learn about the Inuit community. Something we have in Canada and yet we are so far removed from it. We plan on changing that soon.And visiting more of our own country.

  9. Wow Great Way to explore Greenland. 🙂 Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe. B-)

  10. Absolutely incredible photos, guys. Unlike France, for example, Greenland is one of those places where you actually need to want to go to. It’s not as easy to get there, but so much more rewarding for it.

  11. It looks like a very peaceful area. The kind I would like to explore more. What strikes me most on this article is the 32 years wait list to have a home. This is very unfortunate, the people in the area needs some kind of help.

  12. Greenland sounds like a fascinating destination, and your photos are stunning as always. I’ve never heard of anything like the districts before, or even of anything similar to the concept. I think it’s great that Greenlanders are moving into the 21st Century, although it sounds like they’ve got a lot of work to do. One Couchsurfer I stayed with in Montreal, who visits Greenland regularly, talked about cannabis abuse and alcoholism being rife there due to lack of employment and opportunities, which I guess could hinder progress, sadly.

    • They touched on that in our presentation and yes, we saw groups of high or drunk youth in the streets during our hike to the glacier in Illulisat at 5:00 am, but then I have also heard that it is already getting better and that alcohol abuse is going down. It’s a real problem here in Northern Canada. I think they are handling it better in Greenland and working on fixing the problems. But I’m certainly not an expert.

  13. I really love reading about a person’s experiences on their travels. As you so rightly say, despite such different environments we all have so many things in common the world over. The photos are fabulous and have really opened my eyes and changed my perception of Greenland.

    • Hi Fran, thanks for the comment and so glad we could change your perception. Ours was certainly changed as well. We came away with a real love for the country. A country that we weren’t sure of visiting originally. But it was fascinating and beautiful.

  14. Great write-up- I definitely learned a lot too. It would definitely be nice to see Greenland lead us into the future being able to apply the mistakes that world leaders have made to get us where we are now. We may be looking to make a trip out there ourselves soon to see it in person after the way you have illuminated it here. Awesome read!

    • Wow, thanks so much. I often get great photos from Dave (and rightfully so) so I’m always really happy when someone says great read. I’m so glad that we could spark your interest in Greenland. Tourism is definitely going to play a large part in their future economy.