Montreal’s core will once again pulsate with Indigenous creativity for a week this August when the 29th edition of the Montreal First Peoples Festival presents its wide range of activities and entertainment. A mix of concerts, films, poetry readings and much more will spill out from the Place des Festivals to other meeting places around the city August 6-14.
Land InSights is the driving force behind the multidisciplinary festival, which aims to connect the Indigenous artistic and cultural renaissance with the greater metropolitan scene while promoting inclusivity, diversity of expression and the unique contributions of First Nations peoples.
“As I always say, when you attend the Montreal First Peoples Festival you are not like just any festival-goer,” said co-founder and artistic director André Dudemaine, “you are part of a movement of resistance and rebirth. You are all welcome to share this historic and enthusiastic moment with us.”
On the cinema side, the festival opens August 6 with the world premiere of Santiago Bertolino’s Nin E Tepueian (My Cry), which follows the rise of young Innu artist Natasha Kanapé Fontaine from relative anonymity to becoming a star in the current constellation of Quebec literature.
Other films to watch out for are The Dead and the Others, the story of a young man trying to deny the call to become a shaman in a Brazilian Indigenous language, and The Book of the Sea, which documents the ancestral way of life of the Chukchi people, and their culture’s pursuit of sea mammals on the Arctic Ocean.
The festival presents an impressive array of films at Cinéma du Parc featuring Indigenous cultures from around the world. The closing night will celebrate Wakiponi Mobile, which has helped numerous young Indigenous filmmakers in its 15 years and represents the festival’s philosophy of intercultural collaboration.
“It’s the paradox – a culture grows when you share it,” Dudemaine told the Nation. “We think there’s a lot of collaboration between the Aboriginal artistic movement and many individuals and organizations. All of this together makes our culture alive in the 21st century. This is what the festival represents.”
He recalled the festival’s humble beginnings nearly three decades ago amidst the tensions of the Oka Crisis and gradually earning a spot on the city’s summer festival map. Since moving to the Place des Festivals in 2010, visibility is higher than ever, although Dudemaine notes that other downtown festivals receive 10 to 20 times more funding.
“I think it’s still a situation of discrimination,” Dudemaine asserted. “We have to be recognized for what we are – a great Montreal event that’s worth the same as any other event in its artistic quality and the impact it gives to the city.”
This artistic impact is clearly evident in the grand concerts featuring exciting local and international talent. “Katajjaq and Khoomii” (August 8) will combine throat singers from Nunavik and Mongolia with orchestral musicians from Montreal’s OktoÉcho and Vancouver’s Orchid Ensemble. Later that night, Mama Mihirangi and Mareikura will weave ancient chants with contemporary styles in a fiercely feminist Maori production.
“I wanted to mix Mongolian and Inuit throat singers because both are imitate in nature, but the interpretations are different,” explained co-composer Katia Makdissi-Warren. “It’s very interesting to combine these worlds. On the stage, there are musicians from China, Korea, Turkey and a Japanese flute player so it will be very exotic.”
This first collaboration between the First Peoples Festival and the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) is a natural fit for Makdissi-Warren, whose internationally renowned work often features encounters between artists of diverse backgrounds. A lifelong fascination with Indigenous music eventually led to working with throat singer Nina Segalowitz and the Red Tail Spirit Singers, who introduced her to this festival.
“For me, the most important thing for combining different music is the respect,” said Makdissi-Warren. “I am really grateful to all the Indigenous artists who work with me. We do a lot of workshops to create the music.”
On August 7, the night before “Katajjaq and Khoomii”, Inuit throat singers will perform a Makdissi-Warren composition with an improvised choir, open to everyone. Also leading an inclusive participatory event that evening will be Mama Mihirangi – a workshop demonstrating women’s Haka, the Maori ceremonial dance.
“Mihirangi is a strong Maori woman with a performance that is a statement about the necessity to fight to keep our cultures alive,” explained Dudemaine. “Her performance is similar to the way A Tribe Called Red incorporates traditional music with a modern presentation – it gives you a large sense of renewal of old culture. That’s one of my great coup d’éclat for this year.”
Another musical highlight blending traditional and contemporary world sounds is Nikamotan MTL-Nicto on August 9, which will feature Lido Pimienta, Pierre Kwenders and others. Symphony lovers may prefer to check out “Makusham!” that night, a collaboration between Florent Vollant, Moe Clark, Scott Pien Picard and OSM musicians.
Other promising attractions include concerts by Leela Gilday, Murray Porter and Akawui, and several exhibitions at the city’s museums and galleries. The Guild, which specializes in Inuit art, will present works by young Atikamekw artist Meky Ottawa, who Dudemaine has said represents “the surge of the new Indigenous identity, which is being renewed without burning down all bridges.”
Throughout the festival, Place des Festivals will feature a giant teepee, multimedia projections, traditional arts and Naskapi cultural sharing. The always popular Nuestroamericana Friendship Parade on August 10 will promote diversity and intercultural exchange, bringing together over a thousand costumed dancers representing traditions from 33 countries.
After last year’s controversy surrounding Robert Lepage’s Kanata, a show about Canada’s Indigenous history without any Indigenous actors, Dudemaine is eager to emphasize the inclusivity of this year’s programming.
“Many people reacted when we spoke about cultural appropriation,” Dudemaine said. “Intercultural dialogue is not the same thing as cultural appropriation. This festival is a large statement about what it should be – the collaboration between artists of different backgrounds.”
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