Montreal’s First Peoples Festival unveils its programming

·4 min read

A pillar of the city’s summer festival season, the Montreal First Peoples Festival, emerges from the “pandemic torpor” with a vibrant program August 9-18. This year’s lineup was announced on the first day of the Pope’s visit to Canada, a coincidence acknowledged in its defiant press release.

“More important than Rome – its pomp, circumstance and repentance – Aboriginal art rises up and proudly asserts itself,” reads the statement. “Anger, joy and hope are its cardinal virtues. These cultures and languages that we wanted to erase from history are alive and the heart of Montreal will soon vibrate under their harmonic chords.”

Inuit artists from Tupiq Arctic Circus Troupe were present at the festival’s unveiling and will be performing at Place des Festivals during the day, along with drum groups Northern Voice, Buffalo Hat Singers and special guests from French Guyana. Visitors will also be welcomed by traditional dancers, puppeteers, artisans and various film screenings.

“When you arrive on Ste-Catherine [street], you will see a Buffy Sainte-Marie electronic exhibition on big panels that will be backlit by night,” said Land InSights artistic director and festival organizer André Dudemaine. “Of course, our great teepee will be in the middle with the big Quebecor stage there for performances in the night.”

The evening concerts kick off August 10 with critically acclaimed Inuit/Mohawk “Inu Indie” singer/songwriter Beatrice Deer supported by Anishinaabe opening act Leonard Sumner. For Musique Nomade’s annual concert the following night, Nikamotan MTL will bring together emerging Indigenous voices from diverse genres.

Atikamekw band Pinaskin from Manawan opens for Juno award-winners Digging Roots August 12, while the next night features Mack MacKenzie (formerly of Three O’Clock Train) and an album launch for Innu singer Matiu.

The Nuestroamericana Friendship parade is a festival highlight, celebrating unique Indigenous cultures throughout the world with colourful dances and regalia. More than 1,200 dancers take the main stage August 14 doing four-minute performances over three hours.

“Something very special we have is a theatre show, Uteï, récit d’un survivant, on August 15,” Dudemaine told the Nation. “With the help of Montreal’s Menuentakuan theatre troupe, Omer St-Onge from Maliotenam has created an autobiographical piece telling his story of a traditional Innu kidnapped and taken to residential schools and the long journey of healing after that difficult time.”

Beyond the Place des Festivals, the world premiere of Uiesh takes place August 14 at the Grande Bibliothèque. Inuk soprano Deantha Edmunds will present this new composition by Tim Brady based on the poems of Joséphine Bacon along with the orchestral music of the Nouvelle Ensemble Monderne. Wendat poet Andrée-Lévesque-Sioui also performs.

“This is the beginning of a new trend within the festival – the collaboration with classical music and contemporary composers,” said Dudemaine. “Deantha Edmunds is happy to have this connection with another Indigenous cultures. It took work to familiarize herself with the Innu intonations and universe of Joséphine Bacon.”

Visual art created by artists Kiana Cross of Kahnawake and Lydia Mestokosho-Paradis from the Innu community of Mingan will be projected on the library building during the festival.

The nearby Jardins Gamelin will host lunchtime concerts starting August 4 with Corey Thomas and the Backwater Township Band, followed by Mi’kmaq singer/songwriter Esther Pennell August 11 and Mack MacKenzie August 18. On the final evening, Mapuche musician Akawui and Naskapi band Violent Ground share the stage.

The festival hosts a conference called “Revisioning the Americas” August 15-16 in Montreal and Kahnawake, featuring Indigenous cinema scholars looking to build bridges between academia and Indigenous media.

The festival represents a world showcases of Indigenous film. Leo Koziol, a film festival director from Aotearoa (aka New Zealand), and a delegation of emerging Maori filmmakers will screen their short films and meet with the public.

Dudemaine recommends two Bolivian feature films, El gran movimiento and Utame, which have performed well at major international festivals. Alanis Obomsawin presents two new films, including Upstairs with David Amram, which reflects on music and activism during the 1960s.

Adeus, Capitão is a Brazilian film by Video nas Aldeias, which helps remote Indigenous communities produce their own films, Dudemaine shared. The film by Vincent Carelli and Tatiana Almeidais traces the heroic journey of a Gavio Nation Chief, who has fought for their rights since witnessing his culture’s first contact with the white man in his youth. Carelli will receive a lifetime achievement award for his four decades of providing a voice to the Indigenous peoples of Brazil.

In Kahnawake, a Haudenosaunee film program will be offered at Legion Hall August 15 with films by Brooke Rice, Nicolas Renaud, Roxann Whitebean and Courtney Montour. Mohawk filmmakers Montour and Sonia Bonspille-Boileau will give masterclasses at the NFB as part of the festival.

“This is a place where we can meet each other, show our pride, exchange with tourists from all around the world that are now coming back to Montreal,” Dudemaine asserted. “We are centred on young artists and the expression of our own identities. We are now on the verge of a new era to re-establish our sovereignty and the artistic movement is a driving force for that fight.”

Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nation