The Montreal First Peoples Festival: welcoming everyone with open arms

July 28, 2015

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When the great teepee rises in Place des Festivals, the 25th annual Montreal First Peoples Festival will be officially underway. As well as honouring First Nations traditions, the festival puts the spotlight on the accomplishments of today’s aboriginal people. For festival director André Dudemaine, the event is an affirmation of identity, a symbol of belonging to the Montreal community, and a multicultural crossroads for artists.

The teepees, longhouses and deers in Place des Festivals are not just decorations: they comes together to create a space inhabited by the good spirits of the land’s oldest traditions.

We spoke with the festival’s director, André Dudemaine.

How are you celebrating the festival’s 25th anniversary?

Above all we wanted to salute the artists who made the festival possible. We started the original First Peoples Festival with a benefit concert. The two headliners, Florent Vollant and Richard Desjardins, are reuniting 25 years later at Place des Festivals for Blues, blanc, rouge remix (July 31, 8:30 p.m.).

Then, Transcestral (August 2, 8:30 p.m., Place des Festivals), features a special appearance by composer Katia Makdissi-Warren and Métis artist Moe Clark. The duo met at the festival and have been working together ever since. Their show celebrates friendship between peoples, with Katia and Moe accompanied by 22  musicians from around the world.

Friendship between peoples is a long-running theme for the festival…

I was born to an Innu mother in Algonquin territory. Today, I see myself as a cultural warrior in Mohawk territory [Montreal]. The festival celebrates a territory of culture and imagination that has become marginalized over the years. The First Peoples Festival is also about affirmation and defence, through an entirely peaceful “war.” We offer an olive branch of reconciliation to all of Canadian society.

The festival presents an interesting mix of traditional and modern forms of expression. How is that reflected in the programming?

You can see it, for example, in our great selection of films. Through cinema, First Nations people have embraced modern techniques, which has led to the emergence of an internationally acclaimed aboriginal filmmaking community. During the festival, 25 years after the Oka crisis, we will present the landmark film Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (August 4, 9 p.m., part of the Cinéma urbain à la belle étoile series in Place de la Paix) and the short film Legend of the Storm (August 1, 8:30 p.m., UQÀM, salle Jean-Claude-Lauzon), the first film by young Mohawk director Roxann Whitebean.

That cultural mix is also found in music. The Électrochoc concert (July 30, 8:30 p.m., Place des Festivals) stars DJ Madeskimo, the latest project from Geronimo Inutiq, who is teaming up with Sylvia Cloutier, a traditional Inuit throat singer. Together, they are creating an electronic version of an ancient tradition.

The First Peoples Festival also builds bridges between tradition and youth.

Yes, for example through street theatre. We are presenting Eskoumina, la création des petits fruits (July 30 and 31, noon and 3:30 p.m., Place des Festivals), in which a traditional tale is revisited in an urban carnival setting by young people from the Atikamekw community of Wemotaci.

Banc d’essai (August 2, 6:30 p.m., Place des Festivals) is also dedicated to aboriginal youth. Organized by Musique nomade – similar to the Wapikoni mobile filmmaking project, only for music – the concert shows how young people express themselves using thoroughly modern techniques while still being firmly grounded in their traditions and community.

Nuestroamericana Friendship Parade

Five years ago, several Latin American groups wanted to show their solidarity with the First Nations, so they organized a parade. Every year since, more and more people have joined the movement and now the Nuestroamericana Friendship Parade is much bigger than anyone dreamed it could be. On August 1 at 4 p.m., 35 bands and 700 costumed participants will march from Dorchester Square to the Place des Festivals in the Quartier des Spectacles. This year the huge multicultural party will celebrate Atahensic, the first woman according to Iroquois legend.

Montreal First Peoples Festival

July 29 to August 5