by Manaal Asif ’25
Published Apr. 8th, 2022
During the 1950s, 22 children were treated as disposable lab rats until they had been forgotten. It’s taken 70 years to be recognized with a compensation that cannot fill the void of trauma the “subjects” faced. The social experiment, which is known as the Little Danes Experiment, had a desired outcome to unify Denmark and Greenland. They thought this would happen by taking Inuit children to be re-educated as Danish children. In theory, this would bring a new Danish elite group of people to Greenland which would lead to the modernization of the Greenlandic Inuit population.
The effect of being separated from their culture at such a young age led to the children living a life of uncertainty; they lost their mother tongue and struggled with being confused about their identity. To shed light on one experience, Kristine Heinesen an Inuit survivor of the experiment, was taken at five years old on a ship to a Danish foster family. The experiment lasted about one and a half years before Heinessen was taken to a Greenlandic orphanage and attended a Danish-language school. Even though they were back in Greenland, the “little Danes” were not allowed to speak Greenlandic or play with other Greenlandic children, let alone see their families.
Today, only six out of the twenty-two children are alive. The Danish government has finally recognized this atrocity as something that cannot be taken lightly. In response, the Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, gave an official apology to the six survivors. After being subjected to legal action, the Danish government is paying the equivalent of $38,000 to each of the six.
Payment is one way to give back to the people, but it is inadmissible that it has taken so long, not to mention, lawsuits and rejection from past Danish government officials. It is time the survivors can share their stories and their cruel mistreatment is recognized.