New film looks at old Inuit practice of multiple spouses
“I wanted to get people talking about family structures and changes”
A new film by Inuk documentarian Alethea Arnaquq-Baril aims to revive dialogue on the Inuit practice of having multiple spouses — a practice that ended abruptly with colonization, Arnaquq-Baril told Nunatsiaq News Aug. 19.
Aviliaq is a 10-minute romantic drama — Arnaquq-Baril’s first dramatic film — set in the eastern Arctic of the 1950s and shot just outside Iqaluit earlier this month.
“The term aviliaq was used for a partner or spouse, back when there was such a thing as plural marriages in Inuit culture,” she said.
The term refers to two partners of the same sex, Arnaquq-Baril said, sister-wife or brother-husband.
“The root of the word is kind of like saying your other half.”
Arnaquq-Baril said she doesn’t mean to imply these relationships were good or bad, but she’s curious about the cultural knowledge that made them possible.
“In general, I wanted to get people talking about family structures and changes that happened in that transitional period [1950s] that were not the choices of Inuit at the time,” she said.
In doing research for the film, Arnaquq-Baril heard stories of second wives being abused, or treated as slaves, but she also heard stories of loving relationships within plural marriages.
“A lot of my work is based on raising questions around forced changes,” she said.
“Can we maybe discuss how they happened, and agree that they could’ve been handled a little more tactfully?”
The film will premiere at the imagineNATIVE film festival in Toronto, which gets underway Oct. 22.