Truth and Reconciliation in the Arctic

17-18 September 2019, Copenhagen (Denmark)

In December 2015, the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission handed in its final report documenting the history and lingering impact of the Canadian Indian residential school system. Two years later, in December 2017, the Reconciliation Commission of Greenland handed over its final report dealing with internal reconciliation in Greenland considering the modernization and Danification policies after 1953. A few months later, in the summer of 2018, the Norwegian Parliament nominated a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to document the history of the Norwegianization policies directed towards the Sámi people, the Kven people and Norwegian Finns, the long-term effects and possible initiatives to foster reconciliation. Moreover, The National Association of Swedish Tornedalians and Sámediggi – the Sámi Parliament in Sweden – have officially demanded the government to mandate Truth Commissions in order to deal with questions of similar policies and injustices. So far, the Church of Sweden has carried out a White Book project in 2012–2017.

The TRCs in the Nordic countries, Greenland and Canada share more than a conjunction of mandate periods. They all deal with historical injustices committed against indigenous peoples in the Arctic taking place in roughly the same period, namely the 20th century. Common to the Nordic countries and Greenland is also the fact that the injustices were committed by Scandinavian welfare states in their making. Characteristic to all cases is the role assimilation policies played: in Canada through the Residential Schools, in Norway through Norwegianization policies (fornorskningspolitik) and in Greenland, the Danification or Modernization policies carried out after 1950. The extinction of language and/or indigenous cultures and an attempt to replace these with modern Western lifestyles and the language of the state, is thus a common feature.

The types of slow and often indirect violence involved in these historical policies, and the consequences and after-effects, set the focus and working method of these TRCs apart from previous TRCs that have often been set up in the immediate aftermath of civil wars. Whereas securing stability and introducing rule of law have often been of central issue to previous TRCs, the Norwegian, Greenlandic and Canadian TRCs have been set up in a period characterized by democracy, stability and a peace that it is not particularly fragile. These TRCs have and are thus arguably in the process of finding new working methods and approaches to historical injustices.

This 2-day conference, gathering experts and practitioners from all five countries, will explore commonalities and differences between the above-mentioned TRCs. Researchers from Greenland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark will present and discuss the TRCs and invited members of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, The Greenlandic Reconciliation Commission and the Norwegian Truth and Reconciliation will tell about their work and experiences with the processes, findings and outcomes.

The last afternoon session will focus on the aftermath of the Greenlandic Reconciliation Commission by opening the floor to a political debate amongst politicians from Greenland and Denmark. This debate will address the question of what could be learned from the Greenlandic process and how to pick up on the recommendations presented by the Greenlandic Reconciliation Commission.

The seminar is held in collaboration with Ilisimatusarfik – The University of Greenland and Aarhus University.

For a full list of speakers, programme and other details please visit this event page.

The seminar will be in English and live streamed on