After a hybrid program of pop-up shows and online events last year, Montreal’s International First Peoples Festival is preparing larger shows for its 31st edition August 3-11 while planning for a big comeback in 2022.
This year’s program, titled “Joy Taken From the Night”, was unveiled July 14 and proposes “an exploration of risky areas, where the buried traces of an immemorial past are not yet erased and where the artists boldly highlight, in the fog of the present, the paths of a luminous future.”
After presenting an evolving virtual program over the past year, festival co-founder André Dudemaine is excited to once again stage live performances at the downtown Place des Festivals. As with other events navigating public health guidelines, attendance will be restricted with tickets and reservations available via the Présence Autochtone website.
“We are getting out of the pandemic so this year is a new start, but the big comeback will be in 2022,” Dudemaine told the Nation. “This year, we are testing new stuff. We have a comeback of usual activities like popular concerts, but we also gave ourselves the authorization to go forward with a more experimental form of expression during two nights at Place des Festivals.”
Shows on the main stage include an album launch by Samian, the Algonquin rapper from Pikogan whose most recent video “Ishkodè” features a survivor from the Kamloops residential school. As Samian played the festival early in his career, Dudemaine felt it was meaningful to have him return this year.
“We’re really honoured,” said Dudemaine. “This is something rooted in the history of the festival – 15 years ago, Samian began his career as an Indigenous star in the Quebec scene. We also have young artists. We feel this is our duty, to bring forward young artists as a launching pad for them.”
Among them are Atikamekw musician Laura Niquay, Oji-Cree electro-pop artist Anachnid and Mi’kmaq hip-hop activist Q-052. All three perform August 4, accompanied by contemporary orchestral arrangements from the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne and guitar ensemble Forestare.
Fresh off their multiple awards at this year’s Summer Solstice Indigenous Music Awards, husband-and-wife duo Twin Flames will ignite the main stage the following night. The Ottawa-based couple has played over a thousand shows around the world while topping the Indigenous Music Countdown charts and writing the official UNESCO song to celebrate 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
“They are everywhere on the internet, Juno-awarded several times,” exclaimed Dudemaine. “They are so good, but I don’t think they’ve ever performed on a big stage in Montreal, so this is very exciting to have them be discovered by the Montreal public.”
The festival’s Saturday night will feature Innu folksinger Mike Paul while Gator Beaulieu will play Johnny Cash-flavoured country music with powwow and theatrical elements. A more experimental performance will come from Atikamekw poet and playwright Véronique Hébert’s Notcimik (“where my blood comes from”). She takes the stage August 8 and 9.
“The music and images on the wall will be improvised during the presentation,” said Dudemaine. “The two shows won’t be the same because of the live improvisation. This year we are taking risks and offering something more experimental.”
Innu artist Sonia Robertson’s installation Le sang de la Mère Terre will show at the Guild, a downtown gallery specializing in Indigenous art. Book launches at the fest include one illustrated by Atikamekw artist Eruoma Awashish. It will also be featured in large panels along Ste-Catherine Street, aiming to inform the general public about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
About 60 films will be screened during the First Peoples Festival, which is increasingly recognized for its innovative selection of international Indigenous talent. It announced a collaboration with the Festival du Nouveau Cinema in March, enabling a wide audience to freely access last year’s winning works.
“We have a lot of films not screened in 2020 because there were no venues,” explained Dudemaine. “We kept those films plus several others that have been submitted this year. The awards will be announced August 8. First Nations have to recognize our own talents if we want others to recognize them.”
Films exploring cultural reclamation include a world premiere of ethnologist Lisa Koperqualuk’s Ataatasiak and Roxann Whitebean’s Haudenosaunee Canoe Journey. Viewers can explore Indigenous struggles of resistance and resilience in films like A Última Floresta, where the Yanomami defend the “last forest” of the Amazon, and Anerka, which documents Finland’s Sámi people balancing ancestral traditions with modernity.
The festival area will again feature an immersive experience with familiar giant figures, teepees and other cultural signifiers. The diversity of Indigenous art will help elevate spirits in these troubled times, said Dudemaine.
“We are now living a traumatic moment in Canada,” he asserted. “For us, this is nothing new. We are in a process of reconstruction of our identity, our individuality, and art is an important tool to go forward. We are in a special moment. There is more openness in general society, and we hope that will open better channels of communication.”