At the Copenhagen premiere of the new documentary “Twice Colonized” in March, a young Greenlandic woman stood up in the audience and offered Aaju Peter “a beautiful moment of realization.”
“She said that it was the first time she had seen an image of herself being portrayed on a big screen,” Peter, a renowned Inuk activist, lawyer and the film’s main subject, said in a video interview.
“That meant so much to me because we need to tell our story, not only the good side but also show that you can go through hardships and learn to deal with it.”
The experience further underlined why the 63-year-old born in Arkisserniaq, a village in the north of Kalaallit Nunaat — also known as Greenland — agreed to be in front of Danish filmmaker Lin Alluna’s lens. Peter is also one of the film’s executive producers and writers.
“Twice Colonized,” which opened Toronto’s 2023 Hot Docs film festival, centres on Peter, who has been an ardent defender of the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Denmark, Greenland and Canada.
Alluna shadowed Peter over the course of seven years, capturing her liberation from personal traumas and anger — including her forced assimilation and the unexpected death of her youngest son — and her pursuits to establish an Indigenous forum at the European Union.
“It’s scary to just have somebody film you for all those years because they capture everything,” said Peter. “It’s a scary process to be so vulnerable and trusting, but I think Inuit are very trusting people and we believe the best in people — they took that trust to portray both sides of my story.”
After her parents sent her to Denmark to attend high school and live alone, as was the custom at the time, Peter said she was ultimately surrounded by those who didn’t care about or understand her culture as she moved from one place to the next.
“When you try to whiten-ize little Inuit, you separate them from their parents…you separate them from their peers,” she says in “Twice Colonized.”
It’s a documentary that covers the highs and lows of her journey as a campaigner, activist, and lawyer who often worked as an adviser for both the United Nations and the European Union — a task motivated by a familiar feeling of having one’s identity stripped away.
“When I would go to the European Parliament to protest their anti-sealing legislation and how wrong they were, I was all by myself and felt so alone…so tiny and minuscule,” said Peter, who currently resides in Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut.
“I felt like a fly on the wall to them…they are legislating our culture, our economy, and our society through the backdoor and they are all the way in Europe, so I know how important it has been to have Indigenous Peoples represented in the European Union so we can have a collective voice.”
Peter said she prefers to marry the issues she tackles before courts or legislative bodies with her own life trials to illustrate that she isn’t a “100-year-old romanticized vision of an Inuit survivor.”
—By Noel Ransome, The Canadian Press