Greenlandic Inuit

Greenlandic Inuit

Greenlandic Inuit man hunting seals in a kayak, Kulusuk, Greenland, 2006
Total population
c. 75,000[1][2][3]
Q1 2016 census
Regions with significant populations
 Greenland ≈50,000[4]
 Denmark ≈20,000[5]
 United States 352[6]
 Norway 293[7]
 Faroe Islands 163[3]
 Iceland 65[8]

Greenlandic and Danish[9][10]

Related languages include the Eskimo–Aleut languages: Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inupiatun, Inuvialuktun.
Predominantly Lutheran[9]
Historically Inuit paganism
See Religion in Greenland
Related ethnic groups
other Inuit people

Greenlanders or Greenlandic Inuit (Greenlandic: kalaallit) are the indigenous peoples of Greenland and citizens of Denmark, most of whom speak Greenlandic and consider themselves to be of Greenlandic ethnicity.

Approximately 89% of Greenland's population of 57,695 is Inuit, or 51,349 people as of 2012.[9] Ethnographically, they consist of three major groups:

Historically, Kalaallit referred specifically to the people of Western Greenland. Northern and Eastern Greenlanders call themselves Avanersuarmiut and Tunumiit, respectively.[11]

Today, most Greenlanders speak Kalaallisut and most are still descended from the original founding ancestors of Greenland. The other Greenlanders are mostly European migrants. There are few Greenlanders who are multiracial, mostly due to Danish colonists and other Europeans marrying into indigenous families. About 90% live in the Kitaa, the southwestern corner of the country. Several thousand Greenlanders reside in Denmark proper.


The Greenlandic people are considered to be descended from Dorset and Thule people, who settled Greenland in ancient times. As 84% of Greenland's land mass is covered by the Greenland ice sheet, Inuit people live in three regions: Polar, Eastern, and Western. In the 1850s, additional Canadian Inuit joined the Polar Inuit communities.[12]

The Eastern Inuit, or Tunumiit, live in the area with the mildest climate, a territory called Tunu or Tasiilaq. Hunters can hunt marine mammals from kayaks throughout the year.[12]


Bishop Sofie Petersen, first Inuit Lutheran Bishop, 2006

Kalaallisut is the standard language of Greenland.[9] It is the western variety of the Greenlandic language, which is one of the Inuit languages within the Eskimo-Aleut family.[10] Kalaallisut is taught in schools and used widely in Greenlandic media.


Humans are thought to have arrived in Greenland, possibly from Ellesmere Island, around 3000–2500 BCE. Other researchers believe the first humans in Greenland were members of the Saqqaq culture who migrated to western Greenland from Northern Canada around 2500 BCE. Saqqaq people are unrelated to contemporary Greenlandic Inuit people. They survived until 800 BCE.[13]

Around 1000 BCE, people from the Dorset culture settled in Greenland. The Dorset flourished in Greenland from 600 BCE to 200 CE.

The Thule people began colonizing Greenland from the northwest about 900. Norse colonization began shortly thereafter in 982 and lasted a few centuries; sagas refer to the locals as skrælings and the Greenlandic ethnonym Kalaalleq may be based on the word skræling, but the origin of the word is uncertain. William Thalbitzer (1932: 14) speculates that skræling might have been derived from the Norse verb skråla, meaning "bawl, shout, or yell".[14] An etymology by Michael Fortescue et al. (1994) proposes that the Icelandic word skrælingi may be related to the word "skrá", meaning "dried skin", in reference to the animal pelts worn by the Inuit.[14] The term is moderately pejorative in the Saga of Erik the Red as it is first used after a negative description of Native Newfoundlanders encountered in Vinland. First Nations people in Canada consider it offensive.

European visitors to Northeast Greenland before the early 19th century reported evidence of extensive Inuit settlement in the region although they encountered no humans. In 1823, Douglas Charles Clavering met a group of twelve Inuit in Clavering Island.[15] Later expeditions, starting with the Second German North Polar Expedition in 1869, found the remains of many former settlements, but the population had apparently died out during the intervening years.[16]

Denmark–Norway passively maintained a claim to Greenland until 1721, when it resumed possession of the territory. In 1814, possession was awarded to Denmark by the Treaty of Kiel. In 1979, the Greenlanders voted to become autonomous. There is an active independence movement.


Gender roles among Greenlandic Inuit are flexible; however, traditionally men hunt and women prepare the meat and skins. Most marriages are by choice, as opposed to arranged, and monogamy is commonplace. Extended families are extremely important to Inuit society.[17]


The Greenlandic Inuit have a strong artistic tradition based on sewing animal skins and making masks. They are also known for an art form of figures called tupilaq or "evil spirit objects". Traditional art-making practices thrive in the Ammassalik.[18] Sperm whale ivory remains a valued medium for carving.[19]

Ammassalik wooden maps are carved maps of the Greenlandic coastline, used in the late 19th century.

See also


  1. "Inuit amerlassusaat". Naatsorsueqqissaartarfik -Statistics Greenland. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  2. "People born in Greenland and living in Denmark 1. January by sex, age and parents place of birth". Statistikbanken -Statistics Denmark. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  3. 1 2 "IB01040 Population by birth country, sex and age, 1th January (1985-2016)". Hagstova Føroya - Statistics Faroe Islands. Retrieved 2016-07-03.
  4. "Grønlands Statistik". Retrieved 2015-10-25.
  5. "Inuit Greenlanders face chilly life in Denmark". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2013-01-31.
  6. "Table 1. First, Second, and Total Responses to the Ancestry Question by Detailed Ancestry Code: 2000". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2013-05-05.
  7. "Foreign born, by sex and country background". Statistisk centralbyrå - Statistics Norway. Retrieved 2016-07-03.
  8. "Population by country of birth, sex and age 1 January 1998-2015". Hagstofa Íslands - Statistics Iceland. Retrieved 2016-07-03.
  9. 1 2 3 4 "Greenland." CIA World Factbook. Retrieved 6 Aug 2012.
  10. 1 2 "Inuktitut, Greenlandic." Ethnologue. Retrieved 6 Aug 2012.
  11. Baldacchino, Geoffery. "Extreme tourism: lessons from the world's cold water islands", Elsevier Science, 2006: 101. (retrieved through Google Books) ISBN 978-0-08-044656-1.
  12. 1 2 Hessel 11
  13. "Arctic Pioneers and Materiality: Studies of Long Term Trends in Saqqaq Material Culture, 2.500 BC — 800 BC." Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. 26 Oct 2012. Retrieved 14 Feb 2013.
  14. 1 2 Ernst Hakon Jahr; Ingvild Broch (1 January 1996). Language Contact in the Arctic: Northern Pidgins and Contact Languages. Walter de Gruyter. p. 233. ISBN 978-3-11-081330-2.
  15. Clavering, Douglas Charles (1830). "Journal of a voyage to Spitzbergen and the east coast of Greenland, in His Majesty's ship Griper". Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal. 9: 21–24.
  16. Sandell, Hanne Tuborg; Sandell, Birger (1991). "Archaeology and Environment in the Scoresby Sund Fjord". Meddelelser om Grønland Man & Society. Museum Tusculanum Press. 15: 23. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  17. "Greenland." Countries and Their Cultures. Retrieved 6 Aug 2012.
  18. Ingo 20
  19. Hessel, 21


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