Indigenous Connection to the Land
Indigenous Peoples comprise less than five percent of the world’s population, yet their traditions, learned through generations, protect 80 percent of global biodiversity. At SPACE10, we want to learn from this intergenerational wisdom and amplify these voices in imagining a collective future for people and the planet. With Ancestral Futures, we pass the mic to Inuk filmmaker and activist Aka Hansen, who curated a series of conversations with Indigenous changemakers from the Arctic region.
Inuk artist Paninnguaq Lind joins Aka in conversation to discuss the history of Indigenous Greenland, the Inuit connection to land and food, and how ancestral ways of knowing influence consumption and waste. Her ancestors were Inuit sheep farmers in South Greenland before relocating to Narsaq, where Paninnguaq was born. Since 2016, she has been researching Inuit culture through the art of kakiniit — traditional Inuit markings. She practices and carries cultural preservation through writing, films, and storytelling.
Aka: Today, we are talking about the relationship we have with the land. I would like to hear what was our relation to the land, the pre-colonial way of living.
Paninnguaq: Our culture is born by the surroundings. The Arctic shaped us. There was a change in the weather that made the climate colder, so we adapted. Our material heritage is fully adapted to surviving in the Arctic. We have a natural, humble connection to the land, especially with the animals we hunt. A way for us to be humble and respectful is to make good use of everything. We leave our surroundings in better shape than when we came.
Even our ways of hunting, we made sure there was enough food for future generations to come. We only take what is necessary for us, because we knew we were part of a bigger system. While hunting, we would sometimes make small gifts to Sila by leaving some meat for whoever needed that food — a fox, a bear, a raven. They are a part of a bigger system, too. One animal can have a big impact on this system we are all a part of.
How do Kalaallit live in Greenland today?
There are many Inuit experiences here in Greenland, depending on where you are. Here in Nuuk, our way of connecting with the land has been capitalised, so it is a privilege to hunt because boats are super expensive. When you travel up to northern towns, they have a traditional way of hunting with dogs. The more north you go, the more traditional it becomes.
Talking about food and the connection to the land, how do you see it today? Do you ever go hunting?
I grew up hunting and fishing with my dad. We would catch everything we needed by ourselves. It’s not an option for me right now, but I hope I can buy a boat in the near future. I have incorporated more local food into my everyday diet and tried to eat more sustainably. When I have the opportunity, I buy meat from local hunters. We also gather mushrooms, herbs and berries in summer. We leave the town and go far enough so it’s still fresh and not contaminated by the city. Town and village settlements are spread across the coast of Greenland. You either have to travel by helicopter or boat if you want to travel to each place. Or by walking. There are no roads connecting cities.
This worldview of having a sustainable way of living — how do you incorporate this in your field of work?
I’m making jewellery from the skin of the Arctic hare and fox. Lately, with fish skin too. It feels right to have fish leather in my hands. But because fish skin is so delicious too, I buy a fish with beautiful skin and have the debate with myself: Am I going to eat this, or will I make earrings out of it? When we eat the fish, and the backbone of the fish is completely cleaned of meat, we can break it apart, pull, rinse, and dry it, and we have equipment to make jewellery. It’s such a waste to throw it away when we can make use of it as our ancestors did.
What beliefs can we take from the past and bring into the future?
We have responsibility for the waste we’re creating. Just because you throw something in the trash and never see it again, doesn’t mean it won’t affect your environment. We are already seeing plastic in fish and metal in sea animals. This is the consequence of waste. There is a great teaching here. We throw so much out in the modern world.
We are using more resources than the earth produces, but we are also wasting more than the earth can decompose.
That’s against my understanding of what we want to leave for our future generations. I don’t want my grandkids to deal with my waste.
How do you imagine the best possible future for Indigenous Peoples, and in general?
All around the world, Indigenous Peoples know what’s best for each area where they are. Colonial settlers can learn from Indigenous Peoples to be more thoughtful and respectful to the environment.
It’s really essential for Inuit to leave the future in a better place than the present. We all have that collective responsibility and we can’t wait for anyone to take that responsibility.
How should we transmit wisdom to future generations?
I’m focusing on kids by writing children’s books — the first, ‘Talloqut’, is about our chin markings. I grew up thinking Inuit were people who lived in Greenland a long time ago, and don’t live here anymore. So I promised myself that my children will read books written by our people.
What and how would you communicate a main value of Indigenous Peoples, to those who are still stuck in the capitalistic system?
What do you actually need? Because want and need are two completely different things. For every phone, every car, every television, there has been a mine. There has been earth dug up somewhere, and it probably affected people. When you are done with your phone or television or car, it will stay somewhere. It won’t rot. It will be there for many generations. Do you really need this, or do you just want it?
Can you share any advice around community engagement with Indigenous Peoples?
When you are moving to a place where Indigenous Peoples live, or when you are living on Indigenous land, you should be thoughtful and respectful of the ways they are living. They are all experts on their surroundings. You have to be humble when you are approaching, and you can’t ask for something from them at the start. You can’t expect they can just give away their time. Teaching is something you pass on to someone you feel comfortable with. Normalise listening to Indigenous Peoples and reflecting on our ways. If you’re not, you’re maintaining the colonisation of the community.
A warm thank you to Aka Hansen for this generous, seed-planting journey. Listen to the full conversation. Read abridged versions of Aka Hansen’s introduction to the series and conversations with Alice Qannik Glenn, Brianna Olson-Pitawanakwat, and Sunná Nousuniemi. We’ve woven these stories together in Ancestral Futures.
Aka Hansen is an activist, mother, and Inuk filmmaker from Greenland. After gaining recognition in Greenland’s film and television industry, she founded Uilu, a production company on a mission to tell more Indigenous stories with Inuit voices. She has been active in recent debates on the decolonisation of Greenland.
Paninnguaq Lind is a Kalaaleq Inuk artist and creator from Narsaq, South Greenland. Her first steps in the art world were in the western tattoo industry, but in 2016, she began a professional and personal journey of decolonisation by embracing traditional markings in her tattoo art. She co-directed and produced White Paper, a documentary about mining in Greenland and its effect on the health of the ancient land and community.