During a debate in the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen, a Greenlandic MP has refused to speak Danish, instead speaking entirely in her native Inuit language. The move caused frustration among Danish-speaking lawmakers in the room and drew attention to unstable ties between Denmark and Greenland.
MP Aki-Matilda Høegh-Dam, was one of two members of the Danish parliament representing Greenland during a debate last Friday, and gave a almost seven-minute speech in Greenlandic about relations between the two countries.
Høegh-Dam, of half Danish and half ethnically Greenlandic heritage, refused to repeat the speech in Danish, when asked by the Speaker of the Parliament.
Greenland, an island country that lies between the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans, was a Danish colony until 1953, when it became a formal part of the Kingdom of Denmark. In 2009, Greenland was granted self-governing autonomy which includes the right to declare independence from Denmark.
It has its own official, Indigenous Inuit language called Kalaallisut, and Danish is taught as a second language from the first year of elementary school. Kalaallisut is Eskimo-Aleut language spoken by approximately 50,000 Greenlanders and bears no resemblance to Danish. It is however closely related to the Inuit languages in Canada such as Inuvialuktun, Inuinnaqtun and the three dialects of Inuktitut.
Tunumiit and Inuktun are the two other native languages of Greenland and are spoken in minority.
Relations between Denmark and Greenland have recently become strained, after last year’s revelations of misconduct by Danish authorities in Greenland during the 20th century. This included the mistreatment of Greenlandic women.
Høegh-Dam explained after the debate that her speech had focused on the recent revelations. “I don’t understand why it is so odious to be allowed to speak what is categorised as the official language of Greenland, which is my constituency” she said, adding –
“We are no longer afraid to speak out. We are not afraid to use our voice and our language. The spirit of change is here, and the next step in the right direction would be state formation,”.
Her speech marked a significant week for Greenland, in which a draft constitution was presented to the Danish parliament.
During the debate Danish MP Karsten Hønge said “This is a difficult dialogue. I know that the speaker was born in Denmark and speaks fluent Danish”.