Greenland's new government tackles land and oil rights issue
Nuuk (Godthaab), Greenland
A political stalemate in Greenland ended Tuesday when a seven-member coalition government took office. The June 6 election was called following a vote of no-confidence against the Siumut (Forward) Party government in March. The election ended five years of exclusive Siumut rule.
The new coalition government consists of the Siumut Party, with 11 of the 25 seats in parliament, and the Inuit Atagatigiit (Eskimo for ''people who work together''), which has three seats.
The Siumut Party has ruled Greenland since 1979, when the island achieved semi-independence from Denmark in the form of home rule. The Inuit Atagatigiit is a leftist party wanting increased self-determination for their giant, strategically important, and resource-rich island.
One of the most important issues facing the new government is land and resource ownership. Deep under the rocky and wind-swept surface of Jameson Land on Greenland's east coast, more than 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, geologists believe there may be large quantities of oil.
In a set of policy goals for the next four years, the two parties confirmed the appointment of a four-member committee which is to prepare negotiations with Denmark about the ownership of Greenland's 840,000 square miles. Greenland is mainly covered by glaciers and snow-covered mountains.
A concession for oil exploration may be signed with Atlantic Richfield Company of Los Angeles this year. Oil could start flowing in 11 years, reducing Greenland's dependence on Danish subsidies of $200 million a year and opening up the possibility of increased autonomy for Greenland.
''The Danish subsidies serve as our straitjacket,'' a prominent Greenlandic politician says.
The question of native Greenlanders' aboriginal title to the land has never been resolved. The native Greenlanders who make up more than 80 percent of the island's 51,000 inhabitants are of mainly Inuit (Eskimo) origin.
The Danish and Greenlandic members of the commission which prepared the introduction of home rule finished their work in 1978 without being able to agree on the matter. They left it to be settled in the future, simply stating that ''the permanent residents of Greenland have fundamental rights'' to the land and its resources.
Denmark's conservative prime minister, Poul Schluter, has said that he sees no need to discuss further the ownership of Greenland's subsurface.
Elsewhere in the Arctic, land claims by native Alaskans were settled in 1971 with the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The act granted the aboriginal population almost $1 billion and 40 million acres of land.
In Canada, land-claims negotiations have been going on for several years, but have been settled only in northern Quebec.