An American Ethnographer in Nuuk


The American Hunter Snyder is an anthropologist of fisheries. He moved to Nuuk in October 2014 and plans to pursue a career in the social science and technology of fisheries by way of a PhD.

Text: greenland today, Photos: Hunter Snyder and Malou Media

– I enjoy being here a lot, and the study I am doing is tremendously exciting, he says.

– I began my fieldwork with an interest in indigenous livelihoods (i.e. fishing) amid the development of Greenland’s nascent mining industry. Following the iron ore surplus of 2014, the prospects of the ISUA project moving forward seemed immediately unlikely, and my fieldwork grew to consider a more intensive study of fishing in and around the Nuuk Fjord.

– My fieldwork in Greenland has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Fulbright, the National Geographic Society and the American-Scandinavian Foundation, which are funding bodies that support young scholars’ research.

– It covers travel, residence, accommodation, food and some supporting materials so I can dedicate the time to write, carry out my fieldwork, edit the media that is part of my research and ultimately share my findings with the scientific community and the public.


Initial Fieldwork in Buksefjorden
– One of the ways I have been able to think critically about what indigenous livelihoods might be in contemoprary Greenland was to spend time among the men who work for NUKISSIORFIIT, Greenland’s energy utility. Nukissiorfiit has built a remarkable hydroelectric power facility south of Nuuk that powers the entire city, and the men who work there as electricians and machinists also engage in a common mixture of full-time work and parttime hunting and fishing. This was a great introduction to hunting and fishing from a recreational perspective, which remains especially important in Greenland.

– As a result, one of the outputs from my Fulbright year in Greenland is a feature film called Sarfarniat, about these special hydropower operators and their mixed livelihoods.

– The University of Greenland invited me to make a film screening there, and judging by the feedback afterwards, it was well received.


Projects and Directions
-S ince my time among the men who work in this remote location, I have learned the very most about small scale fishing livelihoods and development among the small open boats and inshore commercial vessels that fish in and around the Nuuk Fjord.

– Through the proces of filmmaking, I became interested in traditional knowledge about fishing and fisheries management, Hunter explains.

– Sailing with full-time small scale fishers is an eyeopening experience. The amount of knowledge shared about living marine resources, their technological adaptation and their interest in speaking about their livelihoods give me great interest in continuing to work among them. Many of the several directions I have taken have emerged from intimate and often freezing conversations aboard small boats, but also in fishers’ homes with their families, among them as they bait longlines in the municipal workshop and in the harbor.

– Greenland is an inspiring place where genuine curiosity seems to be taken seriously. I feel extremely lucky to be able to work in Greenland and I very much hope to stay here.

– After my initial fieldwork shifted toward fishing, I have begun writing a paper on the highly adaptive scallop knife, which is constantly reshaped to reduce aches and pains in the body and as a result of the changing sizes of the scallops dredged south of Nuuk.

– I am also writing a paper about the science, technology and regulation of food sharing and security with Natuk Olsen at the University of Greenland.

– Toward the end of this summer, my research partner Ulunnguaq Markussen and I plan to live and work in the settlement of Qeqertarsuatsiaat/Fiskenæsset where we plan to introduce a living conditions survey with a special emphasis on how small scale fishing operatons have developed as a result of the nearby Aappaluttoq ruby mine operated by True North Gems Greenland.

– There are several other projects I am also working on, from the prospective sea urchin fishery in Greenland, to how Greenland may derive value from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s Small Scale Fisheries Guidelines.


– I love spending time in Greenland’s nature, which is never far from us.

– One of the most remarkable things that I realized about people in Greenland, are that if you show a genuine interest in people, they not only try to answer your questions, but they often want to help you anyway they can, says Hunter.

– I really enjoyed that Greenland allowed me to be curious. In generel, people share their knowledge and are open to cooperation, he adds.

– I am especially thankful for how common food sharing is in Greenland, and for the many illuminating conversations I have had with people over kaffemiks and dinners.

– There is so much to do in Nuuk and I am rarely alone. People are very open, and if you want to meet somebody, you just call and arrange a time to meet up.

– People are incredibly friendly and helpful, ends Hunter Snyder, who, after making his PhD in Greenland, hopes to live and work in Greenland.

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