NEWS !! Why Denmark took Inuit children from their families
Category: Ning News
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Seven-year-old Helene Thiesen peered out from aboard the passenger ship MS Disko, knowing she was setting sail from Greenland to a place called Denmark. What she could not understand is why her mother had chosen to send her away on that unhappy day in 1951.

“I was so sad,” Thiesen, now 77 years old, recalled to CNN. Rigid with sorrow, Thiesen was unable to wave back to her mother and two siblings, who were watching from the harbor off the coast of the Greenland capital, Nuuk. “I looked into (my mother’s) eyes and thought, why was she letting me go?”

Thiesen was one of 22 Inuit children who were taken from their homes not knowing that they would end up being part of a failed social experiment. Aged between 5 and 9 years old, many of them would never see or live with their families again, becoming forgotten about and marginalized in their native land.

At the time, Greenland was a Danish colony, and Greenlanders were suffering from high levels of poverty, low quality of life and high rates of mortality, said Einar Lund Jensen, a project researcher at the National Museum of Denmark.

Denmark’s aim was “to create little Danes who would become the intelligentsia; role models for Greenland,” said Jensen, who co-authored a recent government-commissioned report investigating the experiment.

The Danish government felt compelled to modernize the arctic colony, hoping to hold onto their interests as post-war decolonization movements swept through the globe. They took up an idea from human rights organization Save the Children Denmark of bringing Inuit children to the country in order to recover from what were perceived as their bad living conditions, he said.

The assumption at that time was “Danish society is superior to Greenlandic society,” he added.

After a year and a half in Denmark, most of the children were returned to Greenland to live in an orphanage run by another charity, the Danish Red Cross, in Nuuk — separated from Greenlanders and their families and banned from speaking their mother tongue. CNN has reached out to the Danish Red Cross for comment.

Seen as strangers by Greenlanders, many of the children returned to Denmark when they became adults. Up to half of the group developed mental illness or substance abuse problems in later life, Jensen said. Many were unemployed and led hard lives, Thiesen said.

The Danish government “took our identity and family from us,” Kristine Heinesen, 76, who, along with Thiesen, is one of the six Greenlandic social experiment survivors alive today. Walking in a cemetery in Copenhagen where some of her friends from the experiment are now buried, Heinesen admits her life has been decent since her days in the orphanage. “But I know many of the other children suffered more growing up, and I think because we’re only six left of 22 — that tells the story very well,” she said, wrapped in a Greenlandic fur-lined coat.

Save the Children apologized in 2015 for the part they played in the social experiment. The Danish government issued an apology five years later, after pressure from campaign groups, but has refused to compensate those who are still alive, said the lawyer of the victims, Mads Krøger Pramming. He filed a compensation claim of 250,000 kroner ($38,000) each in Copenhagen’s district court in late December 2021.

The six accuse the Danish state of acting “in violation of current Danish law and human rights, including the plaintiffs' right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR),” reads their claim.

In a statement to CNN, Denmark’s Minister of Social Affairs and the Elderly said the government was looking into the compensation claim.

“The most important aspect for the Danish Government has been an official apology to the now adult children and their families for the betrayal they endured. This was a major step towards redressing the Government’s failure; a responsibility no previous government had taken on,” Astrid Krag said.

“The government and I believe that recognizing the mistakes of the past is in itself crucial, and we must learn from these so that history is never permitted to repeat itself.”

The hearing is likely to happen in the next 10 months and “it is still our hope, that the government will settle the case and pay compensation before the hearing,” Pramming said.

After all the six victims have been through, “they don't think an apology is enough,” he added.



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