Greenland, China, and Colonialism

A few years ago, my wife and I were vacationing in Iceland.  In a Reykjavik corner store selling tourist trips and activities, a large poster screaming Greenland! caught my eye.  It pictured a few colorful houses on a rocky shore, but little else.  We asked the clerk if she recommended the advertised boat ride.  She glanced around to make sure nobody was in earshot, then bluntly said, “No, not unless you like hanging around fishing villages with nothing to do”.

We don’t, so we passed on that trip, opting instead to snowmobile across a nearby glacier.  I haven’t thought about Greenland since, until President Trump recently expressed interest in buying it from Denmark. Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide-by-Clinton took the back burner as pundits filled the airwaves with commentary regarding the utility of such an endeavor.

But leave it to The New Republic to publish this gem by staff writer and I'm-gonna-remind-you-in-every-waking-moment-that-I'm-Native-American Nick Martin. Martin is in a tizzy over the prospect of “colonizing” powers extending their tentacles over Greenland to expedite the “erasure of Indigenous people and the land they steward.”  The indigenous people are the local Inuit, who settled the island 700 years ago and who “understand the land they live on not as an opportunity to stuff their pockets, but as a place to protect and preserve.” 

Before anyone taps Kevin Costner to pen the script for Prances with Polar Bears, let’s calm down and think about this rationally.  America is not going to colonize Greenland.  America is not going to invade Greenland.  Certainly, America is not out to “erase” the Inuit from Greenland.  Without a doubt, any land deal would require approval by its residents through a referendum.  And any action on Greenland taken by the United States government would be scrutinized thrice over by every piddling swarm of milksops calling themselves a human rights organization. 

Over 80% of Greenland’s 2.2 million square kilometers is covered in ice.  Of the remaining habitable land, a majority of the tiny population straddles the southwest coast in sixteen small towns (including the capital city of Nuuk) and isolated settlements.  Theoretically, the evil white man could “colonize” over 99% of the place without the indigenous ever knowing he was even there. 

To read Martin’s articles, one would think that avenging the wrongs committed against indigenous people is the only mechanism by which we can kickstart our planet back into rotation.  Martin claims descent from the Saponi Tribe of North Carolina, so it’s understandable that past maltreatment of Native Americans is the cow he’s chosen to milk.  The annals of his own tribe, however, betray the natural complexity of history that zealotry prefers to ignore.

Martin states that in the 17th Century, the Saponi “had come to find themselves living in and around the Dan River in Virginia, close to what would become the North Carolina border.”  You don’t say.  They just “came to find themselves” living in Virginia?  They just woke up one morning and scratched their heads upon seeing an ocean in their front yards?  

A more honest way to chronicle their history would be to say that the Saponi originally lived in the Ohio River Valley, were forced out by Iroquois invaders, and fled east.  But they weren’t alone.  During their heyday, the Iroquois also forced the Huron, Shawnee, Tionontate, Erie, Conestoga, and Susquehannock tribes off their lands.  Oh, and they also systematically tortured, enslaved, and ate them.  All this happened before Paleface came tearing up the fruited plain on his Iron Horse.

The Iroquois were far from the only indigenous tribe to engage in such malignant behavior.  Intertribal warfare was commonplace in pre-Columbian America, with all the accompanying mass atrocities.  The Aztecs were particularly brutal, murdering up to 250,000 slaves annually in ritual sacrifices to their gods. But to admit that how indigenous people treated each other was far worse than anything the European colonizers ever did would invalidate the myths needed to keep the racial grievance identity politics canoe from sinking. 

Which brings us back to Greenland.  It turns out Norsemen had settled Greenland over 300 years before the Inuit, and were still living there when they arrived.  Per leftist parlance, this would make the Norse the “indigenous” and the Inuit the “colonizer.” For unknown reasons, the indigenous Nordic population went extinct a couple centuries thereafter.  Could the colonizing Inuit have possibly had a hand in “erasing” the indigenous peoples?  Martin would probably melt like Major Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark at the mere suggestion of blond, blue-eyed Scandinavians as “indigenous” anywhere beyond the Oslo city limits.  But when the unstoppable force of history meets the immovable object of fanatical dogma, bet on the former to smash its way through without so much as a flinch. 

Having said that, Martin’s concerns about the potential exploitation of Greenland are not misplaced.  Those who would extract its resources with no regard for the land or water are indeed chomping at the bit for the starting gates to swing open.  But that threat comes not from America or Europe, but from China.

China is showing increasing interest in (and applying increasing pressure on) Greenland for the purpose of securing long-term mining deals.  The most visible of these is the Kvanefjeld Project, near the town of Narsaq, where the Chinese plan to mine uranium.  The Chinese anticipate using surface (open pit) mining, a technique which leaves the surrounding land toxic and radioactive.  Studies regarding uranium quarries in the American southwest revealed skyrocketing lung cancer rates for the Navajo workers who mined them.

So who greenlighted the reversal of Greenland’s “zero tolerance” policy towards uranium mining?  Was it an American cavalry officer?  A congregation of Massachusetts Puritans?  Nope, its democratically elected parliament did in 2013, over the objections of its former “colonizer” Denmark.  It’s hard to demonize corporations when the indigenous people invite them in with full awareness of the risks involved.  And lest Martin worry that Greenland’s economy will make or break on a single commodity, he needn’t do so.  By 2021, China is planning to open the land for oil and gas drilling as well. 

Greenland’s populace seems genuinely divided as to whether this is the best course.  But one cannot hear their rationales without concluding that they sound like, well, every other group of human beings who have faced a similar choice. BBC interviews with Greenlanders revealed that, in a surprise to nobody except Martin, they are motivated by the same desire as the rest of us for better schools, hospitals, roads, and better jobs (or just jobs to begin with).

In other words, they are not the museum-relic “indigenous” stereotypes in which Martin needs them forever frozen so as to feed his ego and buttress his political agenda.  

People like Martin can pass judgment from an advantageous position.  In our world, the hills have already been mined, the workers have been buried, and the ghost towns have been romanticized.  We enjoy what the Greenlanders do not, which is the standard of living that results from the “exploitation” that Martin denounces.  Personally, I think it’s counterproductive for Greenlanders to allow Chinese intrusion.  But had I grown up in Greenland, I might very well come to different conclusions.

Regardless, an American “invasion” of Greenland to “erase” the indigenous people is as implausible as it is melodramatic.  The threat to Greenland comes not from American capitalists, but from Chinese communists.  The Tibetans, Kazakhs, and Uighurs can testify to China’s abhorrent treatment of indigenous people, if Martin is interested in listening.  He probably isn’t.  

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