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The ethics of ice-sheet research: The relationships between ice-sheet scientists and Indigenous Greenlanders as an opportunity for change

January 31, 2019


Anna Boyar

In a world ever threatened by climate change, it is increasingly important to be aware of how oppression and colonial histories may affect our actions and institutions. These oppressions divide us and make it difficult to unite in order to address the challenges of climate change. My paper discusses climate research in the Arctic, specifically in Greenland, and roadblocks that western scientists may run into conducting scientific research in an ethical manner. Greenland is a country made up of mostly Indigenous Inuit people. Greenland has a history of being colonized by Europeans, and currently is a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Colonization is the taking over of a place by extracting resources or living on land without regard for the people living there and their culture and customs ( Leaders such as Aqqaluk Lynge, the former president of the Greenland Inuit Circumpolar Council, are calling on scientists to practice science in the Arctic that does not repeat the history of people coming to Greenland in the Arctic to extract resources (in this case data) while disregarding the customs and culture of people living there, and instead to build relationships and collaboration between non-Indigenous scientists and Inuit Greenlanders. I discuss ways that scientists can work toward more inclusive research. These include making their research more accessible to Indigenous Greenlanders and working as partners with and supporters of Inuit people and activists.

The voices and input of both Indigenous people and scientists are vital in creating climate policy for a just future. Climate scientists want their work to be relevant and to be taken into account by policy makers and activists. Indigenous people and groups are currently leading many movements that are pushing governments and companies to take action on climate change. For example, the Wet’suwet’en, a Canadian First Nation, are currently resisting the construction of fossil-fuel infrastructure on their unceded territory ( It is important that non-Indigenous scientists are able to build relationships with Indigenous communities and activists and use the resources of the scientific community to support Indigenous activism and policy.

In Greenland, a country made up of mostly Indigenous Inuit people, there can be a lack of communication between Indigenous Greenlanders and the climate scientists who come to the ice sheet for research. Most scientists fly into Kangerlussuaq, the village of about 500 people and the main international airport. Then, the scientists often fly directly onto the ice sheet without interacting with many Greenlanders. The results of this research are often incorporated into policy documents that are written in Danish and English, but not the Inuit language of Greenlandic. This means that the people in the Arctic whose lives are being greatly affected by climate change are not necessarily able to get important and updated information about how climate change has affected their country. The challenge of connecting scientists arriving in Greenland with those living there is difficult, and made even harder by a long history of colonialism. However, scientists express a desire to build these relationships but do not seem to know where to start. New policy could form the basis of this starting point. Several anthropologists, scientists, and activists have suggested forming a praxis for research in Greenland (Holm et al., 2011). These requirements could include translating their work into Danish and Greenlandic and synthesizing the information in a way that would make sense to non-scientists. They could also guest lecture at the University of Greenland in Nuuk, or find other ways to communicate their research in person. Ultimately, what is needed is a partnership between scientists and Inuit people. This document could include Inuit groups in the decision-making and scientific process by asking them what kind of science they would like to have happen, and what would be useful to them. Such a policy will require scientists to be creative and try new things, but is possible to put in place now.

Holm, Lene Kielsen, Lenore A. Grenoble, and Ross A. Virginia. “A Praxis for Ethical Research and Scientific Conduct in Greenland.” Études/Inuit/Studies 35.1–2 (2011): 187. Web.

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