19 MAY 1978
When Knud Rasmussen, famed Inuit Arctic explorer, pulled into Barrow in the spring of 1924 on his famous dog sled trek from Greenland to Siberia, he bore living witness to the ancient Inuit tradition of the oneness and unity of the circumpolar Inuit community of the North American Arctic. His message to the people of Barrow, and to all Inuit villages he visited during his historic three-year trek, confirmed what they had always known: they were but part of a circumpolar Arctic Inuit homeland bound by common language, culture, and kinship. Rasmussen became a national folk hero in Greenland, and a symbol for the idea of the circumpolar Inuit homeland.
When the North Slope borough hosted the first Inuit Circumpolar Conference in Barrow last summer, Greenland’s delegation provided the leadership to establish the Inuit Circumpolar Conference as a permanent organization. Thus it was that Lars Chemnitz, chairman of Greenland’s Provincial Land Council, and leader of government in Greenland at a time when home rule was negotiated with Denmark, responded to the invitation of North Slope borough Mayor Eben Hopson to visit Alaska’s Arctic Slope to discuss cooperation between Greenland and Alaska, and build new strength for North America’s Inuit community of some 100,000 people. Forty thousand of these Inuit are in Greenland, where a new home rule government is being formed, an important political development for the other 60,000 Inuit of Canada and Alaska.
Lars Chemnitz, 52, an educator before becoming leader of government in Greenland, arrived in Anchorage last Tuesday where he was met by Willie Hensley, who briefed him about the history of relations between the United States and her Native American people in general, and with Alaska’s Inuit community specifically. Hensley, a prominent Inuit Land Claims leader and businessman, was one of the principal architects of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. He provided Chemnitz with a thorough briefing on Land Claims developments in Alaska.
Chemnitz and his party met with General Boswell, Commander of the Alaska Air Command. The general showed the party around Elmendorf Air Force Base which supplies U.S. Air Force facilities in Greenland, strategically important in the North American Air Defense Network.
On Wednesday, Chemnitz flew to Prudhoe Bay where he was given an intensive technical tour of all oil production facilities maintained by ARCO and SOHIO-BP. Northern Greenland and the Davis Strait between Greenland and Canada are regarded to be high in oil and gas potential, and Chemnitz will figure prominently in decisions relating to the exploration and development of these resources.
On Thursday, Chemnitz flew to Nuiqsut where he met with village leaders to get a sample of small village life along side Arctic coastal oil and gas development. He was briefed about Nuiqsut’s land selections and village development program following the settlement of the Alaska Native Land Claims in 1971. Unlike Greenland, where economics have required the closure of small coastal villages, in the North Slope Borough small villages like Nuiqsut have been reestablished and developed with new homes and community facilities, thanks to North Slope Borough tax revenue from Prudhoe Bay.
From Nuiqsut, Chemnitz flew across the National Petroleum Reserve under exploration by the Department of Interior to Barrow where he met Mayor Eben Hopson for the first time. He toured the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory. That night he was hosted by Thomas Brower, patriarch of Barrow’s Brower family, founded by Charles Brower, who hosted Knud Rasmussen when he stopped over in Barrow in 1924. Chemnitz stayed where Rasmussen stayed, and poured over Tom Brower’s scrapbooks containing photographs and mementos of Rasmussen’s visit. Brower was a teenager when Rasmussen passed through, and Rasmussen left dogs in his care when he passed through on his return to Greenland.
On Friday, Hopson and Chemnitz, spent the day in conference on the forthcoming meeting of the International Whaling Commission, the development and operation of the North Slope borough as the first Arctic regional home rule government in North America, and Greenland’s participation in the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. Chemnitz invited Hopson to Greenland to address his Land Council during the week of October 10, 1978.
Friday evening, the North Slope Borough hosted a dinner reception for Chemnitz in the building in which Knud Rasmussen and his party were housed, now housing Brower’s Cafe, where Chemnitz spoke of Knud Rasmussen as a symbol of the unity of North America’s Inuit community, and answered questions about Greenland’s new home rule charter and government now under development.
Chemnitz was accompanied to Alaska by his aide, Alibak Steenholdt, and by Peter Frederik Rosing, director of Greenland Radio’s News Services, and by Jens Lyberth, president of the Inuit Development Corporation of Canada, but native of Greenland, who served as Chemnitz’ English translator. Chemnitz’ tour of the Arctic Slope was covered by Alaska Advocate reporter-photographer Ken Roberts. Also on the Arctic Slope to cover Chemnitz’ visit as well as the bowhead whaling story was Danish television’s Jorn Mathiesen and Arqaluk Lynge.
As if to emphasize Greenland’s role in seeking circumpolar unity and cooperation among North America’s Inuit community, while Chemnitz was in Barrow meeting with Hopson, Gunnar P. Rosendahl and Hans Ollgaard, from the Greenland technical organization, visited Kotzebue to attend a housing conference, and sixteen Greenlandic coastal village mayors met in Yellowknife with their counterparts from Canadian Inuit villages along the Arctic coast of the Northwest Territories.
Lars Chemnitz will fly from Anchorage to Seattle to meet with the Danish Consul before flying back to Greenland where he will stay but a few days before setting out again, this time to the Soviet Union where he will visit Murmansk and Moscow with Denmark’s Greenland minister, Jorgen Peder Hansen.