Stopping a huge mine: how an Inuit party won Greenland’s elections

The immense rare earth and uranium mine on Mount Kuannersuit won’t go ahead. This is the promise that helped the Inuit community win Greenland’s elections.

It’s largely deserted due to its extreme climate conditions and primarily inhabited only along its coastlines. Its population of just 56,000 lives on a territory extending for over 2 million square kilometres; it’s as if the population of Durham were dispersed across a territory four times the size of Spain. Despite all this, Greenland – an autonomous territory formally part of the Kingdom of Denmark – has a very delicate role in international affairs due to its sizeable deposits of natural resources. Hence, the great attention received by the country’s snap election, which took place on Tuesday, 6th April 2021. In a surprise outcome, the Inuit community emerged as the victor.

Snap elections in Greenland

Following the collapse of the leading coalition, led by Kim Kielsen, Greenland’s citizens were called to the polls on 6th April to decide who would occupy the Parliament’s 31 seats. Since 1979, elections in the country had only ever resulted in victories for the social-democratic Siumut party. This time, however, this party only won 29 per cent of the vote. It was unseated by Inuit Ataqatigiit (which translates to “the Inuit community”), which received a 37 per cent share of the vote. This left-wing independentist group will now have to try to form a new executive.

inuit, arctic
Inuit communities are found in Greenland, Canada, and Alaska. Melting ice caps and the subsequent rise in sea levels are threatening their settlements and way of life © Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Halting the Kuannersuit mining project

This might seem like a local political issue, but there’s a lot more at play. The melting of the ice caps is making immense mineral deposits on Greenland’s territory progressively easier to access. Many have their eyes on Mount Kuannersuit, which, according to geological surveys, is home to a deposit of rare earths – key materials in the production of computers and smartphones – that’s larger than any other in the Western hemisphere. The site also has the fifth-largest uranium deposit in the world.

So far, the ruling party had proven willing to give the green light for Greenland Minerals Ltd to be granted mining rights on Kuannersuit, tempted by the prospect of hundreds of new jobs and a multimillion-dollar business opportunity. The Inuit community, however, is opposed to such a project and made stopping it a key promise of its electoral campaign. The fear for local indigenous communities is that a colossal opencast mine would contaminate the surrounding land and seas with its toxic, radioactive waste. “The people have spoken,” commented Inuit leader Múte Bourup Egede, interviewed on Danish state broadcaster DR after the victory was announced, going on to reiterate that the party would follow through on their electoral promise and stop the mining project once and for all.

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