Introduction To Our Inuit Community Partners In Attu And Aasiaat , Greenland

by Pikkoritta Consult v/Halfdan Pedersen | Published: 22-Jun-22 | Last updated: 22-Jun-22 | Tags : indigenous partners | category: NEWS

We would like to introduce our indigenous community partners in Greenland first by giving a historic background from a local Attu, Greenland perspective; then giving an impression of work during the first decade of the existence of the PISUNA organisation during the period October 2009 – October 2019, and finally from the perspective of local hunters and fisherman, the environmental pioneers. 

1.   A brief history of the Attu

Attu is situated on the west coast of Greenland at the position 67’56’26.33’’ North and 53’37’15.26’’ West, and is thus north of the Arctic circle. The sun does not show during the period from the beginning of December until January 9th. We have a word for it designating the winter darkness period.

Attu was established by the Danes as a commercial post in 1818 and today has about 202 inhabitants. When Greenland was a colony of Denmark from 1721 till 1953 Attu was a part of it. Greenland introduced a home rule government in 1979 and later in 2009 self-governance but is still part of the Kingdom of Denmark and answers to the Danish Government.

People have lived in the Attu area a really long time prior to colonization at a time when people only lived from hunting and fishing due to an abundance of up to this very day among other things seals, walruses, belugas and narwhales, Arctic char, birds and halibut for winter provisions.

Looking back in history a commercial post was established in 1759 to the south of Attu later called "Illuerunnerit", Gamle Egedesminde, which was moved to Aasiaat north of Attu in 1763. The reason back then was that there were two consecutive winters with no summer in between.

When Gamle Egedesminde was established the aim was to trade the above-mentioned various prey but it is told that unfortunately due to the much colder climate than today and the terrible winters the inhabitants who were Danes of the said commercial post had died of hunger and disease as no supply ships were coming through from Denmark.

The elderly people of Attu recollect stories from our ancestors handed down from one generation to the next – before we had an orthography – saying that since the dawn of time every 50 summers and winters or so our country became warmer and colder but they had noticed that the inland ice cap kept a steady position until the beginning of the 1500s. From this time on they had noticed a quickened melting of the ice cap, among other things they had noticed during their summer reindeer harvesting that mountain peaks protruding through the ice cap and lakes near the ice cap had begun to grow bigger and in some instances, lakes had become part of the sea and turned into a cove, as for example the cove today called Tasiusarsuaq in the Naternaq area.


When you look back on the more recent relatively steady way of the variations of the years and look at what those still living today have encountered the more elderly among us clearly remember the terrible winter of 1954-55. At that time there were no boats as good as the ones we have today. There was not much ice on the sea, much like now in 2020, and the ice was so thin you could hardly go on it and you couldn’t sail through it with a boat.

Since the establishment of the commercial post in Attu the hunters living in the surrounding area in their habitations were the suppliers of goods for the only commercial post in the entire area of Attu and the post was primarily inhabited by employees. However, it had of course a few other inhabitants. Then as a consequence of the termination of the colonial status and the work of reforming Greenland, when the masterplans known as G-50 and G-60 were implemented there was a policy of making people abandon the many habitations in the Attu area and many of them moved to Attu.

The about 50 people living in Attu then increased to about 400 and remained stable until 1990. The people who were thus gathered in one place incrementally made some demands for their village and significant development of Attu took place.

When the population rose to such numbers and the relatively warm oceanic stream reached our latitude at the beginning of the 1960s bringing among other things lots of cod this was taken advantage of the west of Attu where fishing vessels from EU member states were fishing lots of cod and halibut. People from Attu joined them and fished alongside them and making a living from hunting almost became a historic relic from the past.

However, it is remembered that 1967 was really cold and in the winter the ice had formed all over and was solid and the following winters until 1985 were really cold except 1972, and after 1985 the sea temperature and the climate got colder, a period with no cod, but from about the year 2000 the relatively stable climatic conditions in the sea and on land began to change quickly due to a climate change for the warmer, and as the warm oceanic stream reached us again here north of the Arctic circle the conditions began to change rapidly where cod fishing turned into a lucrative business for a fisherman. However, due to the rapid melting of the Greenland ice cap, there was a change in the tidal pattern as can be observed from the marine charts. When you look at the marine chart over the vast surrounding archipelago area of Attu it is easy to see that there is no deep water and particularly some of the small sounds and straits through which you have always been able to navigate safely are not viable now at low tide without the utmost care because they have become too shallow.

Some of the other things we have noticed are the changes in migration routes of whales, seals and birds as a result of the slowly lifting bedrock on which our land is sitting, and it would be desirable if these changes could be studied scientifically in a working relationship with local fishermen and hunters.

Since the beginning of the 1990s and up till now our Greenlandic Government has carried out comprehensive information campaigns on the importance of education and training for the future of our country.

In the wake of this, the population in our settlement has fallen from an approximate stable population of 400 to an approximate 200 because regrettably there are no jobs available in our settlement for those who have finished a relatively higher training or education and they have to seek jobs in other towns or even abroad. This in turn has affected the number of full-time providers within fisheries and hunting where there used to be quite a proportionate number and now there are about 30 left.


This was a short account of a small part of the history of Attu.


2.   PISUNA during the period October 2009 – October 2019

This is a very short presentation of the 10-year history of PISUNA, which is an abbreviation of the Greenlandic “Piniakkanik sumiiffinni nalunaarsuineq” (documentation and management of living resources).

The idea behind PISUNA materialized in October of 2009 when the Ministry of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture under the Greenland Self-Government lead the pioneering process, aiming to strengthen the involvement of local hunters, fishermen and other environmental stakeholders in the monitoring and management of living resources. Based on this the Qaasuitsup Municipality was asked in writing if it would be interested in being a municipality in which the project was put to the test. When the municipality accepted this the project started up with consultants from NORDECO in Denmark. Background: The project seeks to optimise the management and monitoring of living resources through strengthened cooperation between hunters and fishermen, stewards and scientists and through increased involvement of locals in monitoring. The project will develop and establish local monitoring and management of resources in two villages based on hunters and fishermen over three years.

Three outcomes are expected from the project: A better dialogue between hunters and fishermen, stewards and scientists; a strengthened local involvement in monitoring resources and managing these resources within sustainable limits; and better adaptation of resource utilisation concerning changes in the stocks and populations, e.g. as a result of climate change.

  • 2009 PISUNA “Opening Doors to Native Knowledge” was developed during the 2009 Ilulissat meeting where the working group held a meeting about the purpose of the project. The core of the work was presented. With people from NORDECO as consultants. The small villages of Akunnaaq near Aasiaat and Qaarsut near Uummannaq and the town of Ilulissat were chosen as places where the project was to be carried out

Johannes Mathaeussen practising filling out forms at a course in Ilulissat. Photo courtesy of Per Ole Frederiksen/Nuunoq 

  • 2010: April 27 – 28 a course on methodology was held in the village of Akunnaaq. Participants were from Akunnaaq, the municipality, the Ministry, the fishermen’s and hunters’ association in Greenland KNAPK and from NORDECO. The NORDECO representatives gave a course on how to do work on the project. That year registration started in Akunnaaq, Ilulissat and Qaarsut. Species that eventually were chosen to focus on were: senior harp seals, junior harp seals, trawlers, Canada goose, arctic tern, Greenland halibut, eider, reindeer, humpback whale, beluga and narwhale, polar cod, cod, thick-billed murre and seagull. The website was established.

PISUNA in Akunnaaq, from left: Augustinus – Gerth – Abel. Photo courtesy of Per Ole Frederiksen/Nuunoq

People from Akunnaaq harvesting cod. From left Jan – Lars Hans – Mathias. Photo taken by Gerth Nielsen

  • 2012: The only natural resource council running is Akunnaaq. The filled-out forms that were piling up began to be processed
  • 2013: The villages Akunnaaq and Kitsissuarsuit are running. A seminar about PISUNA was held in Nuuk.
  • 2011: Registration running in Akunnaaq and Qaarsut

Photo courtesy of Per Ole Frederiksen/Nuunoq

  • 2014: The villages Akunnaaq and Kitsissuarsuit are running. Other villages that were visited were: Niaqornaarsuk – Attu – Saattut – Qaarsut – Akunnaaq - Kitsissuarsuit.
  •            Attu joined
  •       Niaqornaarsuk had joined but was not running
  •       Brazil was visited. NORDECO – PâviâraK Jakobsen

Photo courtesy of Per Ole Frederiksen/Nuunoq

  • 2015: The high arctic small town of Qaanaaq joined
  • The small village of Kangersuatsiaq south of Upernavik was visited. Michael – Adam Hansen
  • Adam Hansen participated in Upssala, Sweden

Photo courtesy of Per Ole Frederiksen/Nuunoq

  • 2016: The small village of Kangersuatsiaq south of Upernavik joined. A conference was held in Nuuk

Photo courtesy of Per Ole Frederiksen/Nuunoq

  • 2017: The small village of Attu is running. Guests from Finland (Snowchange) visited Aasiaat.
  • The Qaasuitsoq municipality was divided. PISUNA’s attachment to Qaasuitsoq municipality was terminated by the end of the year 2017.
  • Qeqertalik municipality was initiated on January 1, 2018. The municipality runs PISUNA.
  • 2018: Attu is the only place running. Akunnaaq is not running well, in Kitsissuarsuit only one person is running the methodology.

In mid-May, the natural resource council PISUNA Attu was nominated for the Nordic Council Environment Prize. Attu and Akunnaaq were visited¸ Finland, Norway and Sweden were visited.

From left: Gerth – PâviâraK – Suteji Hugu from Taiwan – Per Ole (Nuunoq) – Ababsi. Photo courtesy of Per Ole Frederiksen/Nuunoq

Attu was one of the nominees for the 2018 Nordic Council Environment Prize. October Oslo. On November 30th, 2018 Attu was awarded the Nordic Council Environment Prize. A sum of DKK 350,000 follows the prize.

Crown Prince Håkon and Crown Princess Mette Marit attended the celebration. Oslo 2018. Photo courtesy of Per Ole Frederiksen/Nuunoq

PISUNA Attu 2018 celebrating the prize. Photo courtesy of Per Ole Frederiksen/Nuunoq

  • 2019 is the 10th anniversary year
  • PISUNA Attu held its first quarter meeting

3. Local hunters and fishermen, the environmental pioneers

The Nordic Council Environment Prize 2018 was awarded to the local fishermen and hunters of the Natural Resource Council of Attu in western Greenland for their observations of the natural environment and the state of living resources in the area. Their knowledge, which has been handed down through generations, is invaluable in ensuring sustainable management and utilization of these biological resources. The people of Greenland have relied on fishing and hunting for their livelihoods for more than 4,000 years.

Observations based on a proud hunting culture

“All our members are local fishermen and hunters, and we live our lives in close contact with nature every day,” says Per Ole Frederiksen, a member of the Natural Resource Council of Attu. “On our daily fishing and hunting trips, we observe the status of the area’s living resources, such as variations in fish stocks and changes in the population of for instance walruses and Greenlandic seals, reindeer, musk ox, coastal birds and narwhals.”

Attu is a settlement of around 200 inhabitants, located on a small island off the western coast of Greenland, which relies heavily on fishing and hunting. The Natural Resource Council of Attu was created in 2009 as part of the Pisuna project, an initiative aiming to strengthen the involvement of local hunters and fishermen in the monitoring and management of living resources.

“In the beginning, we noted our observations in paper notebooks, which is somewhat difficult when you’re on an open boat in the Arctic,” says Frederiksen. “Therefore, we now do what our forefathers have done for more than 4,000 years, which is to meet and discuss our observations of the living resources and compare them with previous years. We also observe any changes in the climate and environment which might affect the availability of our living resources.”

The Natural Resource Council of Attu meets once every quarter to discuss their observations together with PâviâraK Jakobsen of Qeqertalik Municipality, who documents the observations and passes them on to those involved in natural resource management in Greenland. Jakobsen describes the input as vital for the sustainable management of Arctic ecosystems.

“The research studies specific areas at specific times, often years apart, whereas the local hunters are there every day, all year round. They live off the nature that surrounds them. They know better than anyone that it’s in our own interest to utilize the living resources with the utmost respect.”

Direct influence on national resource management

Nette Levermann has been involved in the Pisuna project from the very beginning. She is a biologist and Head of Section at the Ministry of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture in Greenland.

“The observations from the Natural Resource Councils are a great addition to the scientific advice for sustainable resource management,” she explains. “The local hunters know exactly when the different species arrive at their local area and when they leave again. They see the changes happen before anybody else and can pinpoint the species that we need to focus upon. Their knowledge is indispensable for our resource management.”

What’s special about the Pisuna project, Levermann says, is that the local hunters’ interpretations play a key role in the overall resource management in Greenland. Their suggestions initially go through the local committees for living resources or the municipal board of their community. If the issue needs to be addressed nationally, the proposals are sent to the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Pinngortitaleriffik, and the Ministry of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture.

“This ensures that the process is democratic and that the data is validated,” says Levermann. “It’s a way of quantifying the local, traditional knowledge. While it has always played a role in our natural resource management, the systematic documentation gives it even more weight and value.”

Climate change is affecting the ecosystem

According to Pâviâra K Jakobsen, the observations of the Natural Resource Council of Attu clearly show that changes in the Arctic climate have significantly impacted the ecosystem. One of the more visible differences concerns the ice conditions along the west coast.

“The ice is changing,” Jakobsen says. “Previously, we had solid ice on which we could travel for hunting for five-six months a year. Now, this period might only be three-four weeks, and the ice is becoming thinner and more unstable. It’s clear that climate change is affecting our ecosystems.”

Warmer ocean temperatures are also causing new fish species to move into the Arctic waters.

“Previously, the warm Gulf Stream only reached the Disco Bay area every few years, but now it’s a yearly occurrence. As a result, cod, which was an important fishery source between the 1930s and 1960s, has returned to Greenland. Our living resources are slowly moving north. That’s the trend we’re observing.”

Political commitment to sustainable resource management

According to Jakobsen and Levermann, receiving the Nordic Council Environment Prize in 2018 has strengthened the political focus on sustainable resource management, both nationally and locally. The Prize has also resulted in larger interest in the Natural Resource Councils and the Pisuna method, also internationally.

“The Nordic Council Environment Prize is a huge acknowledgement of the work that’s being done along the entire west coast of Greenland,” says Jakobsen.”It’s also an acknowledgement of the value of using traditional knowledge and hunting traditions to ensure the sustainable utilisation of natural resources. Our next step is to expand the project into more communities along the west coast.”