Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The Danish experiment

"In the 1950s, a group of Inuit children were taken from their families in Greenland to be re-educated as model Danish citizens. More than 60 years later, they want the Danish government to apologise for an experiment that did enormous damage."

"It was a lovely summery day, when two grand Danish gentlemen showed up at our house," says Helene Thiesen. It was 1951 and she lived with her family in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland."

"They had an interpreter with them and my older sister and I thought: What are they doing here? We were very curious. We were told to go outside while mum spoke to them."

"They asked my mum if she would be willing to send me to Denmark. I would learn to speak Danish and get a good education - they said it was a great chance for me."

"My mum said, 'No,' to them twice. But they kept pushing her and said we think you should send Helene to Denmark, it's only for six months. And she'll get the chance of a bright future - so we think you should let her go."

"Denmark had resolved to improve living conditions in its Arctic colony. Many people still made a living by hunting seal, only a small percentage spoke Danish, and tuberculosis was widespread."

"The best way to modernise the island was to create a new type of Greenlander, the Danish authorities decided, so they sent out telegrams to priests and headteachers asking them to identify intelligent children between the ages of six and 10. The plan - formed with the help of the charity Save the Children Denmark - was to send them to foster families in Denmark so they could be re-educated as "little Danes".

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