Once again, a massive, colourfully-lit teepee in the heart of downtown’s Place des Festivals marks the beginning of Montreal’s First Peoples’ Festival, now in its 23rd edition, July 30 to August 5…
The First Peoples’ Festival‘s French name, Présence autochtone, even more clearly defines the festival’s focus: the sustained presence and increased strength and determination of Indigenous people in the Americas. Through publicly sharing cultural traditions, ceremonial rituals and current realities, the First Peoples’ Festival adds a necessary and unique perspective to environmental issues and social equality. Fittingly, in a timely reference to recent widespread North American Indigenous social and political movement Idle No More, the festival’s first major free outdoor concert, on the night of August 1 at Place des Festivals, is called Fiddle No More, featuring the powerful music of CerAmony and Digging Roosts.
Spend the evening of August 2 outdoors at Place des Festivals as the First Peoples’ Festival teams up with Montreal Electronic Groove for the second major outdoor show, the thoroughly unique Électrochoczaps, where traditional music meets electronic music. Composer Katia Makdissi-Warren, who is Artistic Director for the ensemble OktoEcho and has created music for performance and installations such as the multimedia exhibit at the Burj-Dubaï Tower in Dubai, conducts Inuit throat singers, DJs and chamber musicians in a performance of her newest composition. Shauit performs his style of hip hop and reggae in the Innu language. And Montreal electronic musician and DJ Poirier teams up with Martinique-Haiti-Montreal collective Sous le Ground to get crowds dancing to their mix of Afro-beat, electro-funk and dub.
On Saturday, August 3, famed Quebec folk singer, musician, film director and environmental activist Richard Desjardins is joined by six other musicians, playing guitar, violin, cello, saxophone, bass and a variety of other instruments, for his newest and perhaps last show, L’Existoire ultime, a music-and-storytelling event named after his 2011 album – see Desjardins at Club Soda, with Inuit artist Beatrice Deer opening the evening. Also on August 3, watch the Nuestramericana friendship parade at Place des Festivals, a ceremonial parade of Indigenous peoples from across the Americas, dedicated to ideals of peace, justice and sustainable development.
Feature films and documentaries have always played a big role in the festival, and festival organizers continue to maintain an archive of Aboriginal films. This year’s opening film, Paroles Amérikoises by Pierre Bastien, follows Innu poet Rita Mestokosho in the small community of Ekuanitshit in Northern Quebec. André Gladu’s Mitchif makes its world premier at the festival, celebrating the memory of the Métis heroes Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. Blackfoot author James Welch’s novel gets big-screen treatment in Winter in the Blood, making its international premier after screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Brazilian film Xingu looks at the Boas brothers, who created the first officially recognized Indian territory in Brazil. German production Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth, focuses on Mayan traditions and lands facing industrial threat. Guatemalan feature film Polvo tells a harsh tale of post-civil-war Guatemala, while Belleza intrigues with the story of an Argentine family and their Indigenous housemaid. On top of all that, see new films by young filmmakers at the festival’s Longhouse.
Visual art is also on display in an outdoor photo exhibition that tracks the long walk of Innu women to Montreal for the 2012 Earth Day march and, nearby, watch as Inuit sculptors carve new works of art, while offsite at the Canadian Guild of Crafts, see art by Malecite artist Ginette Aubin. Kids can learn a bit about archaeology through traditional Iroquois song and dance with the Kahnawake Keepers of the Eastern Doors and more about the Kali’na tradition of Caribbean-coastal South American with the group Senuka and singer Marty Anoewarita. As with many of Montreal’s festivals, food plays a part: in partnership with restaurant Le Contemporain, the festival hosts food kiosks featuring indigenous food from across North America. And delve even further into Aboriginal history in Quebec on a “discovery tour” of the city, lead by the knowledgable guides of l’Autre Montréal.
First Peoples’ Festival, July 30 to August 5, 2013