Now is the time when we should be speaking about our responsibilities rather than out rights, particularly to the environment. Not just for ourselves, but for generations to come, because as we see now, there has been a dramatic impact because of human activity on Earth. I think in people’s hearts we know that something needs to be done, but are unsure of what to do. All the various philosophies, that we’ve been involved in; the greed based philosophies, the profit based philosophies of consumerism has given no breathing space for the world.
In this interview, we talk with Angaangaq (affectionately known as Uncle) from the land of the Big Ice in Greenland. From a young age it’s been his mission to tell the world of the diminishment of that Big Ice due to the effect of climate change. His work has taken him to more than 70 countries around the world as a key-note speaker on international conferences on environmental issues, indigenous affairs. He has represented the arctic peoples at the UN and has met with personalities like Nelson Mandela, Mkhail Gorbachev, Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis and even the Dalai Lama and participated in many documentary films. He now passes on his knowledge and teachings at schools, universities and companies and it’s these teachings that have enabled people to survive in one of the harshest climates on Earth. This stems from one of the most peaceful cultures on Earth: the Eskimo. He is a true Elder, not just for his land, but for the world and he says it’s easy to melt ice on the ground, the hardest thing is to melt the ice in the heart of man. Only then will man have a chance to change and use his knowledge wisely.
Greenland is quite a mythological place, ‘The Land of the Big Ice’. Would you share a bit about what you think Greenland is contributing to the world and the philosophy that it’s bringing forward?
Angaangaq: Greenland is really, really big. If we put it into North America on the boarder of Canada, she goes down to South America or if you put into European terms, when you put into Oslo and Norway it goes to the middle of Tunisia in Africa. She is the biggest island on Earth and her significance today is that the Big Ice is melting, because you and I have not honored our responsibilities on Earth as humans. Every being has a responsibility. The elders tell us when we are young that the Earth did not start as it is today; it was a big molten ball and the centre of the Earth is still molten, as it was born long ago. Nowadays speak of volcanic eruptions. In the old days we used to say it’s the big mountain speaking; they roar and spew out ash and fire. We say that when the Big Mountain speaks; many will die, many will barely survive; few will have a life. The mineral world was born out of that and of course after that the water came and life began. The plant world grew and then the animals grew and then we came. When you and I came, our responsibility was to be caretakers and custodians of what is on and within Mother Earth. How long we’ve been here all depends on which scientist or historian we talk to, we have not yet come to an agreement. The last Big Ice retreated from North America and Europe and the Far East 6400 years ago. 6400 years is not that long ago. The ice was uninhabitable. People lived on the outskirts of the ice and as the ice retreated, people moved and as my grandmother said, we came back home. Now we know that my family came back when the ice retreated more than 500 years ago and settled. Now we know that my family has lived there for that long, in the same village and now it has been named a sacred, historical site by UNESCO. Recognizing the teachings of my grandmother; accepting them as valid historically.
You are recognized in the world as a shaman; a great elder and well respected spiritual leader. What has been your philosophy for your life?
Angaangaq: I wasn’t born to do what I do. I only became aware when I grew up. When I walked into the presence of my grandmother, she would always exclaim, ‘The young one who looks like his uncle, has got it.’ Whatever it is that I’ve got, but I never wanted to be different from you or anyone else. I’m going to be 73 in 10 days and I remember things from when I was a few months old. To my recollection I have never heard anyone laugh at my grandmother, for what she says, they always just accepted what she says. When I was young, because my father was government agent, we moved to very southernmost tip of west Greenland. I think I was 13 years and we were strangers in that village and very quickly, the kids would just follow me. Whatever they saw in me; that made them follow me.
When I grew up, I was instructed by my parents to become a runner for the elders. A runner is someone who goes from the village to the next village, to tell that someone was born into your family, or someone has left this Earth from your family, or someone is sick and they need some help. A runner would travel constantly in whatever direction he or she was sent. I moved to Canada in 1974 because I didn’t want to live under the oppressive structure of the Danish government. Only to realize that instead of the Danes, in Greenland; the English and French people were also oppressing the native people. I was one of the 1st young people from Greenland to travel so far and my mum and dad were so proud that I had travelled and asked me to become a runner. My instruction was that when I go to India, I should come back home. I should tell them whom I met, what I saw, what I experienced and what I heard. Then they sent me to the world with a message and the message, in the beginning, was that the big ice was melting. It was in 1978 that I 1st spoke at the United Nations about the melting of the Big Ice. That’s pretty important, because my people, who are the only people on Earth who live with the Big Ice, realised that the ice is melting and that would have a significant impact on the Earth.
The world needs a government which is different from the way we do it now. Remember, we are not living in a very good way with ourselves. Do you know the teaching of the 4 colours? If you look at the Earth, the sun will always rise in the east and the sun will become an orangey colour as the light is being born and the moment she leaves the contour of the Earth, she becomes yellow. Now we realize that there are actually yellow people on this earth. Isn’t that amazing? At noon time, when the sun shines brightest upon us, she is always white. Now we realize that there are actually white people on this earth and I have visited some of these people, they’re really beautiful people, these white people. In the west when the sun sets, she is always red. My grandmother would tell us, ‘You are as red as the setting of the sun.’ We would look at our skin and at each other and think; we really are red. Night is always black. Now we know that there are black people on this earth. So, we have 4 tribes on this Earth, but because we have not understood each other’s responsibility, we are at war with each other constantly.
When I link this back to things like money, power, acquisition, possessions, more…. We’ve lost the understanding of what we could potentially be. How do you think we can bring that understanding to the world so that we can actually feel it and experience it, rather than the mad rush for the temporary glories and things of life?
Angaangaq: It’s an interesting question about money. I’ve been travelling professionally for more than 51 years. I come from a small village with 3 houses. There was no electricity and no running water except for the river. I was born wearing skin clothes of the animals and in 1960 I got my first real boots, real shoes. I felt so modern, it had heels and there was one other boy who also had shoes and we would walk and all the kids would follow us. They all had skin boots and I would show my boots and people would try them on. They were too big for, but who cares? I felt modern. 10 years ago, after our children left the house we moved to an apartment because we had a break in, in the house. They stole the computers, all of my wife’s jewellery. We had a huge glass ball, at least 20kg or more of coins from around the world which I collected in my travels. I always told my wife that we would retire on these coins, because they were worth money, but the thieves stole the whole thing. For every exchange of money that I would make, the exchange agency took money from me, to pay for the ‘fee’. Every time I went from Denmark to Sweden, I took a Swedish Krona and every time I went back to Denmark, I had to exchange them again. For every 5 Krona’s worth, they took 2 when I entered Sweden and when I went back to Denmark, they took 2, so for every 5, I could only spend 1. That’s how the monetary system was arranged in the old days, and then the Euro was created which became much easier. The American Dollar was really important. Now the world can actually think of creating a currency for the world, because along with the exchanges, we make somebody extremely wealthy. We had to do something about it. The idea is not to rob each other, or steal from each other. The idea is to lift the economy for all of us.
Can you imagine that when you come to India, you would not change the money? That the money you have will be good in India as the money is good in England, or in Canada, or in Australia, or in China, or in Japan, in South America. The way we do things is not good for mankind. Before the pandemic of Corona, we really advanced ourselves to lessen the poverty of the world, we were almost there at the rate of success then the pandemic made everything fall apart. Tonight when you go to sleep, how many do you think will have starved to death? Look at the lowlands of India, Thailand and Vietnam, who are now above the sea level with people trying to make a living to feed their families; many will die.
Somehow you and I are going to have to grow and become adults within ourselves. Not just physically, but spiritually, to understand that we cannot carry on the way we do. We cannot. We are not of service to mankind if we do not change it. The service is to make sure that everyone’s spirit is lifted. That’s your work, that’s my work; to lift the spirit above depression. I grew up with the concept that the elders lift my spirit up, above depression. What is lifting my spirit above depression? It’s so that I can feel good about myself. I can believe in myself. I can trust myself, I can accept myself the way I am, but most importantly, I can love myself.
In the world we all do the opposite. We all fall in love. That’s the English expression. With anything falling, that means that somehow, we’ll hit the bottom. We’ll get hurt, but love should never hurt. The most beautiful thing in one’s life is to become in love, where both parties will never get hurt. The equality of man and woman becomes really important. I grew up with the sea eagle, the biggest eagle in the northern hemisphere, with a 3m wingspan and as our grandmother would always explain, the left wing is always the female. I would ask her, ‘Why so?’ It’s because that’s the closest to the heart. The woman is always closest to the heart, because she will become a mother and the mother is the one who will raise the child. She will be the 1st one feed the child, the 1st one cloth her. The man is far away from the heart, but when I had to lift my family, my wings had to be equally strong; my wife on the left, and me on the right. If the wings are not equally strong, the bird can never lift. It’s like Indian or British airways, the plain can never lift if the wings are not equally strong, no matter how many engines you put on. When you and I lift our families up, when airborne, 1 day you will be much stronger than your woman, so you guide your family. Another day your woman will be much stronger and she will guide you, but when you have to land, if you are not equally strong, you will crash. I learned that in the modern language, we call it divorce.
We need growing up and lifting the spirit of the world and taking care of each other. Not to fight each other, but supporting each other and that time will come. I am confident. How will that happen? In my limited belief of the world, when you and I recognize each other as equals. Not more educated or less educated, which makes a big difference to us. We do this because, ‘I went to college and this one didn’t.’ No, my job should be, ‘Yes, I went to school and thus I need to lift the others.’ Not looking down on them, but saying, ‘Hey. Come.’ I have met many religious leaders of the world and many of them bigger than others. I noticed that so much in the Vatican, but when you take of the clothes, it’s just a man. In India you see the spiritual leaders put up on a higher chair than others, but when you take off their clothes, it’s just like everyone else. In our effort to unite ourselves together and get out of the pain we have created, we truly have to become equals and learn to lift each other’s spirit above depression. That’s the philosophy that I grew up with. There is no name for them except, as the Eskimo tradition.
Scientists come, politicians come, religious leaders come, spiritual leaders come and just ordinary people from the streets of Argentina, New Zealand, Australia or China or Italy. They ask me, ‘What does it all mean; the climate change?’ I tell them that the ocean will rise, the wind will become stronger and it will be extremely destructive.
In the spring time in the North, everything freezes. Lakes freeze, the rivers freeze, the ocean freezes, but yesterday on the 69th latitudinal parallel, which is more than 500km north of the Arctic Circle. It was plus 7 Celsius, no inkling of ice in the lakes, rivers or the ocean, so things have really changed. In the springtime, when the lake and river water becomes warm, it will begin to expand and the ice will explode and break up. I had many chances to watch these things.
There are only 2 countries right now that haven’t had Corona, Greenland and Nunavut, in Arctic Canada. Hopefully they will adhere to the rules of wearing a mask and physical distancing, because we need their expertise, to rebuild the world in the way we need to. But, we cannot do it unless you and I stop behaving like a late teenager: Me me me me, not you, me me me. You can see that in politics and in religions: ‘Oh my religion is better than yours. You have to remember that. We have better prayers and hymns than yours.’ I believe that we will have 1 monetary system for the world, but it’s not the financial people who should do it because they are the most corrupt people. How are they corrupt? ‘Me, me, me, me and my profit.’ Big corporations while everyone else is starving. It’s disturbing to realize that, now when we do shopping through the internet and when we return things they just discard into the garbage. All the clothes we buy goes to the garbage and in the meantime, people on the other side of the world don’t have clothes to put on them. The iniquities you and I are experiencing are becoming more and more visible as the pandemic is growing. There is a hope for the Corona. Yes, many more will die, but as it comes down, my prayer is that we will have learned to take better care of each other.
If I really want to become a worthy elder, I have to understand myself better. When I was asked to become an elder, I went back home to my mother and said, ‘This is the gift they have given me and they want me to be an elder. What should I do?’ She took the gift and smelled it, shook it, looked at it and she said, ‘My son, you’re just going to have to learn to grow up and become worthy of being an elder.’ I said, ‘How?’ She said ‘My son, you’re just going to have to learn to grow up and become worthy of being an elder.’ And that’s it, that’s my education.
For you and your people, your philosophy is very much connected to whales.
Angaangaq: The spiritual significance of it is really enormous. You and I think that we are me, we are strong, we can do anything, but when you compare yourself to the whale, you become nothing, really nothing. The blue whale travels from the North Pole to the Antarctic and back. She swims a very big distance and in between she gives birth. They say that the whale is enormous and she can go deep. They have now measured that she can go more than 3km down, that’s enormous pressure. The old people say that you and I, inside ourselves; are deeper than the deepest ocean. If you learn to travel inside yourself, there is so much to learn about you, it’s really interesting how much we have to learn about each other. The idea is to bring that depth and live that depth. That’s the significance of the whale. When you can learn to do that you will leave footsteps on this Earth. Some call it marks on this world. My prayer is that I can leave behind me something worthy of living, for my grandchildren and great grandchildren, because my responsibility as a shaman is to lift the spirit so that you can learn to see the depth you carry. When you look at the big sky you realize that it’s really enormous, but what you have inside is bigger and you are far more complex. It’s very easy to get to know where you are on Earth when you look at the sky at night. Listen to grandmother who says, ‘Look up to the sky and you can see where the stars are, what time of night it is and then bring it down and you will know where you are.’ That’s how simple the big sky is. Inside yourself, you are far more complex than the big sky. You and I have more to learn about ourselves, the depth we carry and the enormity of our spirit. How can we live those 2 things? You and I can never change the world, it is simply too big, but we can change the world in which we live.
The old people say that only by melting the ice in the heart of man, will man have a chance to change and begin using his knowledge wisely. So, my prayer is that we will grow and truly melt the ice in our heart. Everyone, everyone, who lives on Earth is worth recognizing and accepting. There’s only one Earth, there’s no division and if we can do that, we can truly lift the spirit of everyone.
Interview by Christopher Greenwood, member of the World Consciousness Alliance