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Background: Beyond repatriation

Repatriation - and beyond

When Greenland Home Rule was ensured in 1979 "Nunatta Katersugaasivia Allagateqarfialu" – "Greenland National Museum and Archives" – was established in Nuuk. At about the same time Denmark and Greenland signed a contract on the repatriation of selected archaeological and ethnographical material. The comprehensive collections at the National Museum of Denmark were divided so that each museum after the process would possess representative collections suited for research as well as exhibition activities. The bi-lateral Greenland Secretariat, located at the National Museum of Denmark, has been instrumental in this long process.

Every item in the extensive Arctic collections has been through the hands of a curator, re-preserved and electronically registered with all information from the old hand-written records. Fifteen hundred ethnographical and 30.000 archaeological objects were repatriated during an 18 year long process in accordance with the extension of storage and exhibition facilities at the Greenland National Museum and Archives. During the same period a database containing records on protected archaeological sites and monuments was made by the Greenland Secretariat. The database (and the obligation to update it) is now the responsibility of Greenland. The Secretariat – and thus the direct administrative collaboration between the two national museums – closed down in 2001. It was a successful, although long-term, process seen from a political as well as a museological perspective (Grønnow 1994; Haagen 1995; Schultz-Lorentzen 1988, 1997; Grønnow and Jensen 2008).

On this background 'SILA- the Greenland Research Centre at the National Museum' was founded in 2000. It marked the transition from a period where collaboration was dominated by repatriation and museum management to a new epoch. SILA's aim was to unfold the potentials of research, exhibition and education of the collections and databases in Copenhagen and in Nuuk.

The centre’s name for short, "SILA", has various meanings. Among these are 'the wide world', 'intelligence' and 'spirit'.

In 2008 SILA changed organizational and economical status. The centre was renamed: 'SILA – The Arctic Research Centre at the Ethnographic Collections' and it was integrated into this unit at the National Museum. The dynamic research environment consisting of a research professor, a senior researcher holding permanent positions and a variable number of project researchers, Ph.D. students, and international guest researchers is still going strong, and many research projects as well as public outreach activities are carried out in this interdisciplinary frame. New tasks, including curation of the National Museum's comprehensive ethnographic and archaeological collections from the Arctic, have been added to SILA's activities.  


Grønnow, Bjarne (1994) Archaeology, Museums, and Education in Greenland. In: Bennett, J. (ed.): Report of the Ittarnisalirijiit Conference on Inuit. Archaeology. Igloolik, February 7th-9th. 1994: 19-21.

Grønnow, Bjarne; Jensen, Einar Lund:  Utimut: Repatriation and Collaboration Between Danmark and Greenland. - In: Gabriel, Mille; Dahl, Jens (red.). Utimut. Past Heritage – Future Partnerships – Discussions on Repatriation in the 21st Century. IWGIA/NKA Document No. 122. Copenhagen, p. 180 – 191, 2008.

Gulløv, Hans Christian (1986) Introduction. Arctic Anthropology, Vol 23, No. 1&2: 1-18. University of Wisconsin Press.

Haagen, Birthe (1995) Repatriation of Cultural Objects in Greenland. Yumtzilob, Tijdschrift over de Americas 7(3): 225-243.

Mathiassen, Therkel (1936) The Eskimo Archaeology of Julianehaab District. With a Brief Summary of the Prehistory of the Greenlanders. Meddelelser om Grønland, Vol. 118, No. 1. Copenhagen.

Schultz-Lorentzen, Helge (1988) Return of Cultural Property by Denmark to Greenland - From Dream to Reality. Museum International, 160, 46(2): 200-205. Paris: UNESCO Quarterly Review.

Schultz-Lorentzen, Helge (1997) Greenland and the Nationalmuseum of Denmark – The National Museum of Denmark and Greenland. Fragments of a piece of Museum History. In: Gilberg, R. & Gulløv, H.C. (eds.): Fifty Years of Artic Research. Anthropological Studies from Greenland to Siberia. Publications of The National Museum no. 18, Etnographical Series 1997: 227-286.