Ever Deadly (Kino Lorber, NR)

Tanya Tagaq, a native of Iqaluktuuttiaaq, Nunavut (Cambridge Bay, Victoria Island, Canada), is an Inuk throat singer who has performed with the likes of Björk, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and the Kronos Quartet. She’s also a best-selling author and an activist for indigenous people’s rights. In the latter capacity, she’s been an outspoken defender of the First Peoples’ custom of seal hunting and considers consumption of seal meat both a cultural tradition and a necessity for the Inuk people. All three aspects of her life are included in the documentary Ever Deadly, which she co-directed with Chelsea McMullan.

As you can imagine, there are plenty of people, Canadian and otherwise, who are happy to support the traditions of First Peoples when it comes to things like music and dance and literature, but if you bring up a cultural tradition like seal hunting they suddenly feel repulsed and can quickly become censorious. Which Tagaq regards as a ridiculous stance, because every culture evolved in a particular time and place in response to specific material conditions and it makes no sense to judge it by standards that were developed elsewhere for an entirely different sort of life.

In other words, if you think First Peoples culture is great when you’re listening to a performance at a music festival or reading a book of poetry, but think that otherwise they should live like white suburbanites who buy their food at the grocery store, then you don’t really get it at all. Plus, as she points out, what if there are no grocery stores where you live—are you planning to starve or will you do what your ancestors have been doing for generations to survive?

Tagaq views her art, and her identity, as bound up with the land, so it’s not surprising that she feels strongly about maintaining traditions and repelling the attempts of outsiders who want to impose suburban rules on a much older way of life. The film also touches on her family’s painful history: her grandmother and mother were part of the forcible resettlement of the Inuit to Resolute Bay in the 1950s (in fact, her mother was born on the transport ship). Once arrived, they spent the winter in a tent, as the promised building supplies never materialized. Her mother was also sent to a residential school which prohibited the use of Native languages and generally tried to separate the Native students from their culture, a sad story that also played out in the United States.

Throat singing, an art form both fascinating and expressive, permeates Ever Deadly. It’s a very specific sound that can take a bit of getting used to, but you’ll have the chance to do just that while watching this documentary, which opens with a seven minute performance by Tagaq and Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory. The film also regularly cuts back to what appears to be a performance in a night club in which Tagaq, wearing a stunning mirrored dress, sings while backed by a jazz ensemble. Her art is something different, but it works, and that’s the only thing that matters. | Sarah Boslaugh

Ever Deadly is distributed on DVD by Kino Lorber. There are no extras on the disc.

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