West Greenland Inuit - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Traditionally, the West Greenland Eskimos were hunters. The principal prey were various kinds of seals hunted from the kayak or from the ice with highly specialized weapons. Small whales were also hunted from the kayak, and bigger whales were hunted from the umiaq, which was otherwise used for Transportation. Catching sea birds and fishing also played a role. During the summer, caribou were hunted inland. Much of the West Greenland population shifted from seal hunting to fishing for cash during the first part of the twentieth century. The fishing industry, which is mostly based on cod, shrimp, and Greenland halibut, is now modernized. It is Greenland's principal industry, but it is highly vulnerable to climatic shifts. Subsistence hunting and fishing are still important, and the sale of sealskins plays a role in northern West Greenland. Greenlandic hunters have been economically affected by the international actions against the killing of "baby" seals, even if these are not killed by Greenlandic hunters. Sheep keeping was introduced in South Greenland at the beginning of the twentieth century, and some families have since had their main income from sheep. In addition to wage labor in the fishing industry, many Greenlanders are employees in trade, restaurants, hotels, transport, building, construction, and public service. The public authorities play a dominating role as employers; about two-thirds of all wage earners are employed by the Greenland Home Rule Government, the municipalities, or the Danish government. Dogs used for sledging were the only domestic animals in aboriginal times. Dog sledges are not found south of Sisimiut (Holsteinsborg). Sheep holders have imported small Icelandic horses. Reindeer breeding was introduced in the Godthabfjord in 1952.

During the colonial period a number of Greenlandic men were trained as catechists for the church and the schools or as artisans, and some women were trained as midwives. The modernization of Greenlandic society after World War II increased the variety of jobs. A growing number of Greenlanders are now completing some sort of vocational training, half of them women.

Industrial Arts. Aboriginal crafts included making stone blades for knives and harpoonheads, soapstone carving for lamps and pots, preparing needles and other items from bone, and making sledges and so on from driftwood. Clothes were primarily made from sealskins, and caribou, dog, and bird skins were also used for winter clothing. Bead collars on Women's coats were made from colored glass obtained from Europeans. Dresses combining Greenlandic and European materials and styles are used by both sexes on festive occasions, thereby stressing their Greenlandic national identity.

Trade. Barter took place on a limited scale between people from different localities when they met at summer camps. In South Greenland, West Greenlanders met with East Greenland Eskimos who wanted to obtain European goods. Before the colonial period, West Greenlanders had access to items of metal and so on through contact with European whalers. For nearly two hundred years the Royal Greenland Trade Company had a monopoly both on buying Greenlandic products like skins, blubber, and fish and selling European goods. In the 1980s, the various sectors were taken over by the Greenland Home Rule Government.

Division of Labor. Men were responsible for hunting, both sexes did some fishing, and women flensed the seals and prepared the food and clothing. Men made both their own implements and those used by the women of their family. At present, many women, especially in the towns, have jobs outside the home and at the same time play a central role in the household.

Land Tenure. All inhabitants of a settlement shared the hunting grounds, even if a regular return to a summer camp with limited resources seems to have granted a certain priority right. Even today, all land in Greenland is public property. Free building land is placed at everyone's disposal. The Home Rule Act states that the resident population of Greenland has fundamental rights to the natural resources of Greenland, but prospecting and exploitation of nonliving resources are regulated by an agreement between the Danish government and the Greenlandic government.

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