Lido Pimienta writes a love letter to the filmmaker she calls Canadian art's 'present and future'
The Polaris Prize-winning musician reflects on how inspired she was by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril's 'Angry Inuk'
This is part of a series of personal essays in which CBC Arts asked Canadian artists to reflect back on the year that was. This essay is by musician and visual artist Lido Pimienta.
One of the main events of the past year that spoke to me and inspired me greatly was the recognition given to artist and filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril for her work titled Angry Inuk.
Angry Inuk is a documentary about Inuit people who are dedicating their life to challenge misconceptions surrounding the seal hunt and seal product trade in the Canadian Arctic and beyond. Arnaquq-Baril follows an Inuit group's daily life and struggles as they confront anti-seal hunting activists, who make zero effort to try to understand the Inuit way of life. Meanwhile, a group of Inuit students take the case before a European Union panel in an effort to have an EU seal product ban overturned. The film highlights the disturbing reality of the unfair treatment of Inuit and other Indigenous people in Canada, who are treated as second-class citizens on their own land.
This documentary is also a window into the quest for Inuit sovereignty and self-sufficiency. Seal meat is a staple food for this group, and the revenue from selling seal meat is key for them to offset the huge costs of hunting. The Inuit are pushing for sustainable ways to take part in Canadian and international economies, but are opposed by misinformed and racist celebrity activists, who are unable and unwilling to understand the importance of the Inuit way of life. The Inuit also face opposition from groups of wealthy activists and animal protection organizations, who fail to recognize how the Canadian government supports mining and looting of Inuit natural resources (the actual reason why seal, polar bears and fish are endangered), destroying the main resource and way of life for this community.
As someone who knows they are a guest on this land, and whose work is inspired by oppressed people and stories of resistance to institutional racism, I am heavily influenced by Arnaquq-Baril. When someone like her is recognized for such work, it gives me hope and the motivation to keep going. In my own life, I experience obstacles and can often feel depressed, unheard and unseen, but I live in Toronto, a huge city that is considered one of "the best cities in the world" by world citizenship standards — so a film like Angry Inuk carries a flag for the disenfranchised and for the Indigenous plight for fairness.
When someone like [Alethea Arnaquq-Baril] is recognized her such work, it gives me hope and the motivation to keep going.- Lido Pimienta
I have only lived in Canada for a little over a decade, and I have never once in my time here experienced rejection, prejudice or racism from the original people of this land, Turtle Island. I have, however, experienced abuse by Europeans called Canadians, and it is extremely hard to be comfortable in my own skin. I feel fear and paranoia in this world, and the fear grows if I have to travel to places that are not "urban". There is a big problem in Canada that we like to cover up, and the problem is called anti-Indigenous racism, and it affects everybody. It especially affects groups in the northern territories and communities living on reservations, who bear the painfully high youth suicide rate, illnesses contracted from contaminated water and post-traumatic stress disorder from multigenerational trauma carried over from victims of the residential school system.
Alethea Arnaquq-Baril represents the present and future of art in Canada. The work she produces matters in the context of reconciliation, apologies and pseudo-inquiries that lack real substance. The recognition that she has received means that maybe we are ready to give more platforms, resources and support to the people of this land who not just need it but truly deserve it. This documentary is hard to watch, but it is also funny. It showcases Inuit in a way that makes the viewer want to visit their territory, befriend them and support their fight. Any kind of prize or recognition that lands in the hands of the oppressed is something to love and feel inspired by.
Angry Inuk will air January 7th at 9pm (9:30pm NT) on CBC TV. Learn more through CBC Docs POV.