Let us now Praise Aaju Peter
By Marc Glassman
(Denmark & Canada, 92 min.)
Dir: Lin Alluna
Aaju Peter is an extraordinary person, worthy of our respect and fascination. Already one of the main subjects of one award-winning documentary, Angry Inuk in 2016, Peter is now the sole focus of Twice Colonized, another extraordinary film about the Inuit fighting for their dignity and economic independence in the modern world. The Inuit form a circumpolar network of Indigenous people who live in Canada, Greenland, Russia and Alaska, and Peter is a rare example of someone who has dwelled in two of those regions, giving her a unique perspective on the many issues plaguing her society. Danish director Lin Alluna has done a sensitive job, exploring Peter’s life in Greenland, where she was born, and Canada, her home since the early ‘80s.
Peter is a rarity, an Inuit human rights lawyer and activist, who has successfully defended her people and those of the “southern” First Nations in courts across Canada. She’s a proponent for the seal hunt, a controversial position, which is totally explicable from the Inuit perspective as it’s the major source for their economy. During the beginning of Twice Colonized, Peter’s extraordinary career is evoked, and it’s no surprise to find that she’s a recipient of the Order of Canada.
The story of the Inuit is filled with tragedy and loss so it’s understandable that Aaju Peter’s life has played out in a dark vein. Though she’s had many successes, Peter has been coping with immense difficulties since her youth as a supposedly privileged Greenlandic girl, who was moved to Denmark for schooling because she was clearly very gifted intellectually. By the time she had finished high school, Peter couldn’t speak Greenlandic, a language quite similar to Nunavut’s Inuktitut; instead, she spoke Danish, which left her alienated from her own culture and family but still an outsider in Denmark. Angry at her situation, she left for Canada, where she found a new life in Nunavut.
But, as Alluna’s film shows, Peter’s life in Canada, which included marriage and the birth of five children, has hardly proven to be all that happy. Eventually, she found herself in a relationship with a man who was intensely jealous and physically abused her. Far worse, her beloved son committed suicide, which absolutely devasted Peter. Though she has found comfort in taking care of granddaughters and meeting with friends in Denmark, Greenland and Nunavut, Peter has had to confront grief and anger while deciding what she should do with the rest of her life.
Twice Colonized follows Peter as she travels with her brother, exploring their haunted past in Greenland, and Denmark, where she meets with activists—mainly women—who are fighting for the rights of the Indigenous in Europe. Energized through working with them, Peter is able to galvanize a group to advocate for an Indigenous presence in the European Parliament. She also finds time to start working on a book about her life, one she has been spent living in Denmark and Canada, appropriately titled “Twice Colonized.”
Lin Alluna’s film is an effective, emotional view of the intense life and career of Aaju Peter. As for the film’s protagonist, since she is finally free of abusive males and effectively coping with grief over her son, Aaju Peter might consider a slightly revised title for her book: “Twice Colonized, Once Liberated.”
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