Greenland is an autonomous constituent country within the Kingdom of Denmark between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe (specifically Norway and Denmark, the colonial powers, as well as the nearby island of Iceland) for more than a millennium. The majority of its residents are Inuit, whose ancestors began migrating from the Canadian mainland in the 13th century, gradually settling across the island.
Greenland is the world’s largest island (Australia, although larger, is generally considered to be a continental landmass rather than an island). Three-quarters of Greenland is covered by the only permanent ice sheet outside Antarctica. With a population of about 56,480 (2013), it is the least densely populated country in the world. About a third of the population live in Nuuk, the capital and largest city. The Arctic Umiaq Line ferry acts as a lifeline for western Greenland, connecting the various cities and settlements.
Greenland has been inhabited off and on for at least the last 4,500 years by Arctic peoples whose forebears migrated there from what is now Canada. Norsemen settled the uninhabited southern part of Greenland beginning in the 10th century, and Inuit peoples arrived in the 13th century. The Norse colonies disappeared in the late 15th century. Soon after their demise, beginning in 1499, the Portuguese briefly explored and claimed the island, naming it Terra do Lavrador (later applied to Labrador in Canada). In the early 18th century, Scandinavian explorers reached Greenland again. To strengthen trading and power, Denmark-Norway affirmed sovereignty over the island.
Denmark–Norway claimed Greenland for centuries. Greenland was settled more than a thousand years ago by Vikings (of Norwegian origin), who had previously settled Iceland to escape persecution from the King of Norway and his central government. Vikings set sail from Greenland and Iceland, with Leif Erikson becoming the first known European to reach North America nearly 500 years before Columbus reached the Caribbean islands. They attempted to colonize land. Though under continuous influence of Norway and Norwegians, Greenland was not formally under the Norwegian crown until 1262. The Kingdom of Norway was extensive and a military power until the mid-14th century. Norway was dramatically hit with a larger death toll than Denmark by the Black Death, forcing Norway to accept a union in which the central government, university and other fundamental institutions were located in Copenhagen. Thus, the two kingdoms’ resources were directed at creating Copenhagen. Norway became the weaker part and lost sovereignty over Greenland in 1814 when the union was dissolved. Greenland became a Danish colony in 1814, and was made a part of the Danish Realm in 1953 under the Constitution of Denmark.
In 1973, Greenland joined the European Economic Community with Denmark. However, in a referendum in 1982, a majority of the population voted for Greenland to withdraw from the EEC, which was effected in 1985. Greenland contains the world’s largest and most northernly national park, Northeast Greenland National Park (Kalaallit Nunaanni nuna eqqissisimatitaq). Established in 1974 and expanded to its present size in 1988, it protects 972,001 square kilometres (375,292 sq mi) of the interior and northeastern coast of Greenland and is bigger than all but twenty-nine countries in the world. Greenland is divided into four municipalities – Sermersooq, Kujalleq, Qaasuitsup, and Qeqqata.
In 1979, Denmark had granted home rule to Greenland, and in 2008, Greenlanders voted in favour of the Self-Government Act, which transferred more power from the Danish government to the local Greenlandic government. Under the new structure, in effect since 21 June 2009, Greenland can gradually assume responsibility for policing, judicial system, company law, accounting, and auditing; mineral resource activities; aviation; law of legal capacity, family law and succession law; aliens and border controls; the working environment; and financial regulation and supervision, while the Danish government retains control of foreign affairs and defence. It also retains control of monetary policy, providing an initial annual subsidy of DKK 3.4 billion, which is planned to diminish gradually over time. Greenland expects to grow its economy based on increased income from the extraction of natural resources. The capital, Nuuk, held the 2016 Arctic Winter Games. At 70%, Greenland has one of the highest shares of renewable energy in the world, mostly coming from hydropower.