Place des Festivals (photo Andreanne Lemire)

Place des Festivals (photo Andreanne Lemire)

Much like the many Quebec Native communities it represents to the world, Présence Autochtone, Montreal’s First Peoples’ Festival, has seen its fair share of struggles. And yet, this remarkable showcase of Indigenous arts of all kinds has managed to weather the storm once again to come out on top and offer up a plus-sized cornucopia of treasures for the 2014 edition of the festival and also big news for the future of the festival.

According to André Dudemaine, Artistic Director for Terre en vues/Land InSights, the company that puts on Présence Autochtone, the festival has seen an incredible turnaround in the last few months despite the threat of funding cuts.

In early March, Terre en vues mobilized supporters in a social-media campaign after the Partenariat du Quartier des spectacles (a City of Montreal council that handles funding for festivals in the downtown core) announced that it would withhold $100,000 in festival grants.

Dudemaine explained that while the festival has over 30 sources of revenue – the largest being Heritage Canada and the aforementioned Partenariat – any kind of major funding cut could have jeopardized the festival.

“Finally the city looked at it and decided that they would bridge the gap in our budget and allowed some funding for the next three years. I don’t know how much money this will be, but it will be significant enough for us to have a festival,” said Dudemaine.

Adding to this win, according to Dudemaine, Montreal has since asked Terre en vues to reexamine its business and festival model since the festival will get a permanent home in a new cultural and artistic venue for First Nations in 2017 for Montreal’s 375th birthday celebration.

“They asked us to think about what our programming will look like when this new venue for First Nations is opened,” explained Dudemaine.

Sinuupa will perform August 2 (photo Isabelle Dubois)

Sinuupa will perform August 2 (photo Isabelle Dubois)

“This venue will work with the existing organizations in Montreal, mainly the three most active groups – Wapikoni, Unvinuk (Yves Sioui Durand theatre) and Terre en vues. We are the three organizations that have made an agreement to be moved into this new building.”

The new plan will not only see the unification of these three artistic companies under one roof, it will also establish a permanent Indigenous artistic and cultural presence in Montreal and provide for programming throughout the year.

While the plan to create a hub for Native art and culture has been talked about by the City of Montreal since 1995, it has only now provided the cash to build this new centre in light of the 375th anniversary celebrations.

According to Dudemaine, while a location for this centre has not been selected, what has been discussed is that it will be a new building with a specific “architectural signature.” He said there is about $30 million on the table but this is for the entire project – everything from construction to office furnishings.

What is exciting for Dudemaine is that Montreal will finally have a specific landmark to represent the Indigenous cultures of Quebec.

“One of the goals is to be a reference centre for visitors to the city and a door that will open channels to the people who want to learn more. So we want this new venue to play a role for the communities throughout the territory when it comes to education and tourism and also economic and cultural levels. We want it to have benefits for the whole territory,” said Dudemaine.

As for this year’s festival, Terre en vues will be packing an artistic mega-punch into Place des Festivals from July 29 to August 5. This year’s theme is about a “joyous anger.”

According to Dudemaine, this theme was chosen because it is representative of current Aboriginal arts and the presenting artists.

“We have many reasons to be angry and this has led us to not only be resentful but also led us to action. This is joyful as it has made us go further and it is also the essence of the Idle No More movement,” said Dudemaine.

In that vein, Algonquin rapper Samian will be pushing his new album on July 31 on the main stage to kick off the festival.

As the party can’t keep rolling all night long on an outdoor stage, the Samian show will be followed by a cabaret performance by Shauit at Club Soda and run late into the night in what Dudemaine is calling one of “the parties of the year.”

Not to be outdone, the following night the festival will also be teaming up with MEG (Montreal Electronic Groove festival) for a night of outdoor dance amid the many spectacular art installations of Présence Autochtone with a DJ party featuring France’s Acid Arab and then Cris Derksen, a viola virtuoso putting on a duet with DJ Shub from Tribe called Red.

Street food during the festival

Street food during the festival

Giving a shot to the up-and-comers in the Quebec’s Indigenous music scene on August 2, Inuit singer-songwriters Beatrice Deer and Sinuupa will be the main event on the outdoor stage and are guaranteed to put on an unforgettable performance.

During the daytime the festival will focus on theatre this year with Native legends coming to life.

For this, the fest hired multidisciplinary artist Moe Clark to serve as narrator and vocalist for a street theatre piece that depicts the traditional tale of the Soleil pris au piège (Sun Caught in a Trap). Accompanying her will be Véronique Hébert, an Atikamekw thespian, with music created by Katia Makdissi-Warren (OktoÉcho).

According to Dudemaine, in previous years there was a focus on celebrating Indigenous cultures abroad. The 2014 edition is more about the people of Quebec and this is reflected in the programming.

Naturally the film and video segment is back and with it comes a deluge of screenings of Indigenous films from around the world, competing for various prizes. This year’s event will see a new prize awarded courtesy of APTN for the Indigenous cinematographer who has had the most impact throughout the year.

Plus, the festival will have all sorts of other goodies, from traditional craft demonstrations to the sale of traditional foods to traditional dance performances and competitions.

Adding to the festival’s aesthetic glow will be spectacular new projections on the outdoor teepee walls by Anishnabe artist Caroline Monnet and her associate Sébastien Aubin.

“This is why it was so important that we got our funding, so that we can make all of these things happen,” said Dudemaine.

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