In Greenland, an Inuit cleansing ceremony creates political mess

A decision by Greenland's top civil servant to use an Inuit healer to chase away evil spirits in local government offices brought him some bad vibes from the Danish territory's political leaders.

"When you move into new premises, it's normal to air the room and give the walls some fresh paint," said Jens Lyberth, the Home Rule government's newly appointed manager.

Lyberth hired Maannguaq Berthelsen, a healer, to "drive away the negative energy" from the government's offices in downtown Nuuk, Greenland's capital.

Berthelsen told Greenland Radio that she "contributed to restoring the respect for the special Greenland spirit that has been suppressed for too long."

Greenland has a local parliament and government that runs most of its affairs, but Denmark, which is five hours away by plane, handles its foreign and defense policies, as well as law and currency issues.

Lyberth's decision appalled several Greenland officials, including Finance Minister Josef Motzfeldt, who called for his dismissal. Opposition leader Per Berthelsen, who is not related to the healer, compared it to "witch-doctoring and other mumbo-jumbo."

Premier Hans Enoksen, who appointed Lyberth after the Dec. 3 general election kept "a placid attitude" about the affair.

Shortly after taking the job, Lyberth also urged the nearly 600 civil servants to use similar spiritual healing methods in an attempt to promote better harmony between Greenlanders and Danes.

Most Greenlanders belong to Denmark's Lutheran church but some ancient Inuit traditions — like folk-oriented drum dances — are practiced during community gatherings and parties where dancers use masks and face painting to focus on contemporary problems.

Many Inuits, are resentful of what they perceive as Danish intrusion into their affairs. Most of the home rule government's top administrative jobs are held by Danes, chiefly because many Greenlanders lack sufficient education.

That has sometimes led to tensions, including calls for Greenlandic-only school classes. About 12 percent of the island's 56,000 residents are born outside Greenland, chiefly in Denmark. Few Danes speak Greenlandic, an Inuit language.