University of Cambridge > > Scott Polar Research Institute - Polar Physical Sciences Seminar > Inuit pastoralism in South Greenland: Navigating the spectrum from wild to domestic herds in an era of rapid Arctic change

Inuit pastoralism in South Greenland: Navigating the spectrum from wild to domestic herds in an era of rapid Arctic change

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Greenlandic Inuit are better known culturally for their hunting of marine and terrestrial mammals, fishing and dog-breeding. However, a century ago in South Greenland they initiated what is today a vibrant livestock-based form of agriculture, supplemented by fishing and hunting on sea and land. This followed some 500 years after the Vikings (Norse) had abandoned farming and hunting in the same area. This study presents a linked social-ecological and economic overview of pastoralism and hunting as seen from the perspective of local practitioners in South Greenland. Contemporary pastoralism in South Greenland has been characterized by small farms raising mainly sheep and cattle, with horses and dogs as support animals when needed for herding and corralling. For the past 50 years, semi-domesticated reindeer have been added to the mix. Hunting of wild ungulates (muskoxen, wild reindeer and feral sheep) has been a constant and highly prized source of supplemental of meat, hides, wool/qiviut, as well as significant income from trophy hunting in recent decades, alongside fishing and sea-mammal hunting. Since WWII , “pastoralist” practices have spanned a wide spectrum from feral/wild to domestic herds in an era of rapid Arctic change. South Greenland thus contrasts both historically and at present with the predominantly hunting-based cultures of North and East Greenland. Our research is based on the co-creation of knowledge through participant observation and interviews across the region. The findings reveal an extremely high level of innovation ranging across household, local and regional scales, including linkages to Denmark and the EU. Despite the recent closure of a shrimp processing factory in the region, with its commensurate loss of secure employment, informants were primarily focused on their own individual and collective agency. We conclude that for its 100th anniversary in 2024, South Greenlandic Inuit have clearly established pastoralism as their “signature livelihood”, via multiple animal species combined with hunting, herding and fishing, which is among the most innovative and least studied subsistence livelihoods in the Arctic.

This talk is part of the Scott Polar Research Institute - Polar Physical Sciences Seminar series.

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