As Aaju Peter walked through Utah’s Park City last month, the surrounding mountains blanketed in powdery snow, she felt something of a revelation.
The Inuit lawyer, 63, was visiting the ski resort for the Sundance Film Festival, where Twice Colonized—a documentary about Peter directed by Lin Alluna, shot over the course of seven years—was premiering. On seeing the film’s posters around town, her portrait staring out regally and dressed in a traditional collar made of sungaujait (beads), her chin and forehead adorned with tunniit (facial tattoos denoting the passage into womanhood), she says, “I realized that I had been colonized twice, and that is done. Now I am in the process of decolonizing twice. So the next journey is about how I go back to my values, beliefs, and way of being in this world. I’m in the process of that right now, which is very exciting.”
Since Peter was called to the bar in 2007, she has defended the human rights of Indigenous peoples of the Arctic and campaigned to bring her colonizers in both Canada and Denmark to justice. Born in Arkisserniaq, a village in the north of Kalaallit Nunaat—otherwise known as Greenland—she has lived in Nunangat (or the Canadian Arctic) for more than four decades and is a formidable guardian of her ancestral homelands. “I grew up like we were born into straight jackets,” Peter says in Twice Colonized. The film follows her as she creates a path to liberation—both for herself and her people—launching an ongoing effort to establish an Indigenous forum at the European Union along the way. Simultaneously, Peter has to find ways of healing fresh wounds after the sudden death of her youngest son and as she extricates herself from an abusive relationship with a white man—a personification of the atrocities of colonialism.
The filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril—one of three Indigenous producers behind Twice Colonized—hopes that, through witnessing Peter’s strength, audiences will finally recognize what it takes for an Indigenous person to fight for their fundamental human rights. “There have been times during the making of this film that all the Inuit involved have struggled with or found triggering, and that is a trickle-down effect of colonialism,” says Arnaquq-Baril. “If people with generational wealth that’s been built on Indigenous land, which is all of North America, put some of those resources towards Indigenous protected areas and Aaju’s Indigenous forum at the European Union, it would be a powerful move.”
As Peter concludes at the end of the film: “Our lives and language became controlled by others. But we are still here. And today is the day to make a difference.”
To support and learn more about Aaju Peter’s fight for Indigenous rights, visit www.twicecolonized.com.