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Inuit Woman Addresses Trauma of Being Colonized Twice: 'How Do We Heal?'

Inuit Woman Addresses Trauma of Being Colonized Twice: ‘How Do We Heal?’
‘I haven’t been able to leave the trauma and learned behavior behind.’ Photograph: Angela Gzowski

As a child, Inuk human rights lawyer Aaju Peter was sent far from her native Greenland to Denmark. This was seen as a privilege for gifted children, but for Peter, it felt like a tragedy. She was forced to lose touch with her culture so profoundly that she had to re-learn her native language upon returning to Greenland as a young adult.

Peter’s childhood ordeal is central to Danish director Lin Alluna’s documentary, Twice Colonized. The film highlights how Peter was colonized by the European countries that governed her homeland and how she undertook the journey of decolonizing herself. Peter’s work as a lawyer and advocate for her culture’s autonomy serves as a backdrop to this film. With its poetic and political undertones, the film intricately weaves Peter’s personal and professional life into an emotionally rich and complex narrative.

Despite its complex themes, Twice Colonized remains engaging, thanks largely to Peter’s compelling screen presence. From the very first moments, her contemplative, measured gaze draws viewers in. Whether she’s advocating for Indigenous rights at the European Union, ending a relationship with her abusive boyfriend, or playing bingo at home, Peter is a complex and fascinating figure.

Filmed over seven years, Twice Colonized doesn’t follow a single narrative. Instead, it moves according to themes and rhythms emerging from Peter’s life. Her story is one of loss in various forms. Although she often bears the pain of these losses, her resilience shines through in her boundless energy for life and her tireless efforts to forge new connections.

Early on, Peter is seen sitting on the floor of a classroom talking to students about the crises facing her people. She speaks about moving from asking “why” to asking “how” as she shares a personal story about her boyfriend cutting her hair to humiliate her. Her response to this incident propelled her to focus on what she needed to do, earning the admiration of her audience.

One of the most significant connections Peter makes is with documentarian Alluna. Filming Twice Colonized was a learning experience for both. Though Peter had participated in other documentaries, she found this one the most personal. “It was really hard at times to have someone filming me,” she admitted. Despite her discomfort, she appreciated the personal nature of the film, even if it frightened her.

In order to accurately portray Peter’s story, Alluna had to let go of myths and misinformation about Greenland’s Indigenous inhabitants. This documentary allowed her to deeply understand a culture previously known through the voices of other Danes. Alluna gave Peter broad agency over telling her story, involving her in decisions about shooting and editing.

The film juxtaposes scenes of Peter jumping on the bed and dancing to Tina Turner’s Proud Mary with shots of her walking the streets of Copenhagen as a lawyer and archival footage of her with the Danish family she stayed with during her adolescence. In a voiceover, Peter narrates how her world changed instantly when she was sent to Denmark. “I had to learn to sit at a table and use a knife and fork to eat my food,” she recalls.

Now, Peter resides in Iqaluit, the capital of Canada’s Nunavut province, which is governed by the Inuit people similarly to how Greenland is governed. She has found a common cause between the people of Nunavut and those in her native Greenland.

Midway through the film, Peter returns to Greenland with her brother to revisit their childhood home and process their life experiences. Standing there, she reflects on past traumas and expresses her difficulty in leaving them behind. When her brother suggests discussing the bright side of their story, Peter firmly states that the film deals with the personal consequences of being governed by foreign countries.

By participating in Twice Colonized, Peter seems to acknowledge that her past and its ongoing challenges make her more relatable. “A lot of people only want to show the good side,” she remarks. “But what we all have in common is that we’re all experts in fuck-ups. We should be brave enough to show that. For me, a true hero is someone who goes through hardship and still fights for what they believe in.”

Towards the end of the film, Peter works on a book about her life, posing a profound question: “Is it possible to change the world and mend your own wounds at the same time?” This question captures the journey she is making and the one Alluna portrays with great care. It’s both cultural history and personal narrative, a story that needs to be told. “I’m glad we recorded this,” Peter concludes, “it’s for the Inuit, for my future generations.”

Source: The Guardian