Do we need to decolonize Greenlandic research?

It is time to rethink the way we do research and education in Greenland, says Professor Rachael Lorna Johnstone.


By Phillippa Mangalika Maigaard Filtenborg


Greenlandic research and education are based on foreign practices and structures. So argued Rachael Lorna Johnstone, Professor of Law at Ilisimatusarfik in Greenland and at the University of Akureyri in Iceland. Rachael lives in Iceland but has been teaching law and researching in Greenland for ten years. She argues that the educational system is not tailored to fit Greenlandic needs.


At this year’s Greenland Science Week, Rachael Lorna Johnstone asked the participants:


“Should Ilisimatusarfik decolonize?”


During a time when Greenland is moving away from being a colony toward becoming an independent nation, she finds the lack of Greenlandic influence in the educational system problematic. But it is worth noting that Greenlanders are taking more control of their own affairs in many fields such as mining, trade and transport.


“However, the university still follows European – and especially Nordic – models when it comes to designing academic programs and courses, hiring and promoting staff and examining students’ work. That system doesn’t necessarily fit the Greenlandic way,” says Rachael Lorna Johnstone.


According to Rachael, foreign academics are paid to check the quality of education at Ilisimatusarfik. But they may not know much about Greenland or the different ways in which Greenlanders think about law, education, social work or other fields.

Rachael calls for more Inuit control of research in Greenland and that indigenous people who holds vast knowledge receive equal pay to that of academics.


“It’s important to include Greenlanders at all levels of scientific research so they can help decide not only what should be studied, but also how to study it, interpret and communicate the results. Experts that bring indigenous and traditional knowledge to projects should be paid at the same rate as the academics.”


Rachael asked researchers who attended her talk at Greenland Science Week to read and re-read the ICC Ethical and Equitable Engagement Synthesis Report before starting any new project in Greenland. She also admitted that she was not qualified to lead this work but that there are many Greenlanders who are.


“My role as someone who is not Greenlandic but loves Greenland is to support the Greenlanders who are trying to decolonize research and education. I need to remember that I’m not the expert here and that many experts do not necessarily have degrees. People like me need to talk less and listen more.”