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A creative collaboration highlights Indigenous Peoples Day events in Montreal

BY Joshua Janke Jun 21, 2022

National Indigenous Peoples Day is a time to reflect on the past, celebrate the present and inspire hope for the future. In Montreal, a series of performances will lead up to the big event on June 21. 

Portions of a barrier-breaking exploratory work, “Around the Work Uiesh”, will be performed by the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne chamber orchestra at the Salle Claude-Champagne June 16. The verses of renowned Innu poet Joséphine Bacon come to life through the voice of Inuk soprano Deantha Edmunds and the music of Montreal composer Tim Brady.

Anticipating its world premiere at the First Peoples’ Festival in August, the performance will tease audience members with excerpts for an early taste of this multifaceted collaboration. 

Brady spoke with the Nation about the inspiration for his partnership with Bacon, as well as key elements to watch for. The opportunity to incorporate the “beautiful poems and ideas of the very established, articulate” Bacon drew him to the project. 

“The presence of Indigenous culture in Canada should be and is becoming front and centre,” he stated. “We must recognize and appreciate this.” 

The show is based on Bacon’s 2019 collection of poems, Uiesh (Somewhere), written in Innu-aimun and accompanied by a French translation. Brady emphasized the importance of using the original language in the show.  

“I did not use translations and instead set the poems in Innu-aimun. [For me] it was a big challenge to work in a non-European-based language, but also a great experience learning the phonetic differences and subtleties of the language.” 

Bacon’s contributions to preserving and revitalizing her language – through her work as a poet, teacher and translator for over 40 years – are extensive. “Around the Work Uiesh” is a statement on the impact Bacon has on Indigenous art and language. 

Deantha Edmunds, Canada’s first Inuk opera singer, will bring Bacon’s poems and Brady’s compositions to life with the soprano voice that has put her in high demand for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous projects.  

“She’s a highly skilled professional,” expressed Brady. “As an Inuk singer, she possesses a cultural link [to the event] that a settler soprano would not have.” 

Brady underlined the importance of having the voices and stories of his Indigenous co-stars guide the project’s direction and suggested that this should be the case for political dialogue and Indigenous reconciliation in Canada. 

“The main thing I want to do is listen, I want to hear their stories,” Brady stated, when asked about his place in the show. He added that all people – not just politicians and authority figures – play a part in recognizing the injustices that Canada was built on and in creating a better future. 

“[Our] job isn’t to fix everything… it is to establish a dialogue which understands that Indigenous people are the experts on both the problem and the solution.” 

Many other events also highlight Indigenous culture and history.

The Cinémathèque québécoise will screen two films: Mémoire battante (1983) by Arthur Lamothe on June 15; and Six saisons attikameks (1983) by Pierre Dinel on June 18. The former focuses on the Innu, while the latter highlights the Atikamekw and their traditions.

The Grande Bibliothèque hosts a lunchtime concert in the library’s gardens June 17 with Mashteuitash singer-songwriter Mike Paul performing songs focused on the protection of the earth. The following day, poet and performer Natasha Kanapé Fontaine will deliver a reading in Innu-aimun of An Antane Kapesh’s autobiography Eukuan nin matshi-manitu innu-ishkueu / Je suis une maudite sauvagesse

For National Indigenous Peoples Day June 21, a sunrise ceremony will mark the summer solstice in the Botanical Garden’s First Nations Garden, a setting that highlights Indigenous peoples’ traditions in the natural world.

Later, at 11:30 am, a civic ceremony at the Quai de l’Horloge in Montreal’s Old Port will officially salute National Indigenous Peoples Day.

On the musical side, Pop Montreal joins forces with the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and Resilience Montreal to present Indigenous artists of all genres, including Shauit, the Buffalo Hat Singers, Scott Sinquah and Geronimo Inutiq. This free event will shake up Cabot Square from 3 pm to 7 pm.

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Joshua Janke lives in Montreal and is studying English Literature at Mcgill University. He is passionate about writing, social justice, and creating art.