Bringing its unique flare to Montreal’s downtown core, the First Peoples’ Festival delivered several days of action-packed cultural festivities that included a film festival, several outdoor concerts and dance performances, and artisanal-crafts displays.
A stroll through the outdoor festival site was a multi-sensory experience. You could enjoy the sights and sounds of the incredible dance and music performances happening on the grand stage, plus there were Indigenous foods to savour and ceremonial presentations that patrons could sit in on.
Amid the many nature-themed sculptures, futuristic suspended teepees and trees that had been transported to the downtown area to give the festival its distinct image were two men carving traditional Inuit soapstone, there on behalf of St. Michael’s Mission.
“We have so many talented artists who go unnoticed because they don’t have the opportunities to be seen. So I asked a couple of our clients if they were interested in carving for us here at the festival,” said Caitlin Murphy, a crisis worker who coordinated the carver’s presentations.
Sitting quietly, completely absorbed by his craft, Geeta from Iqaluit was working on his soapstone.
“I was asked to carve here today and this is one of my passions in life. I have been carving for 21 years,” he said.
Showing off his newly finished pieces of a hunter throwing a harpoon and a drum dancer, Geeta said he was really happy to be carving outside in the warm summer breeze.
One teepee over, Brandon Perrault – an Aboriginal originally from Garden River, Ontario – was sitting next to his heavily pregnant girlfriend, Mary. While not Inuit, Perrault said that he learned the art from his cousin in Moose Factory who had in turn learned it from Inuit staying in the hospital there.
“It is really cool that so many people are interested in what we are doing. We’ve had lots of questions that we are answering. We are greeting a lot of people and many of them are very interested in trying out stone carving,” said Perrault.
Aside from the artisanal displays, this year’s event also featured Indigenous food presentations that included discussions on the many gifts from Native Mexican to the world (think avocados, corn, mortars and pestles, certain varieties of chillies) as well as open fires to grill corn and game sausages.
Also on hand were members of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal who had with them, child and family care worker Marie-Celine Charron; she is also a traditional hoop dancer who performed at the event.
Dancing at the event was the coming together of Charron’s artistic and professional worlds as her performance gave her the opportunity to collect donations for the shelter.
“There is a big healing component to dancing. When I dance I always tell myself that I’m dancing for the people. I dance with my heart. I dance for those who are too sick to dance. I dance for those who cannot walk and all of those who are in need. I always carry them in my heart, whether I am at a powwow or a performance. I also give thanks for the ability I have, being able to dance and share that with others,” she said.
Sitting around at the shelter’s booth, wearing her traditional garb and posing with her hoops, Charron drew in tourists and Montrealers alike to enjoy her artistic talents as well as raise their awareness about the needs of so many.
Indians and Aliens
Presenting Rezolution Pictures’ latest work at the film and video competition, Chisasibi’s Ernest Webb had the pleasure of premiering the first episode of Indians and Aliens, a six-part documentary that will be broadcast on APTN later this fall.
“Our festival experience was great. It is always good to present new stuff to people and I always enjoy presenting our work at the First Peoples’ Festival,” said Webb, expressing his gratitude on showcasing the new show for the first time.
For Webb, the festival is a favourite as it gives him the opportunity to present his work to family and friends in his “home away from home – Montreal.”
Having presented at least a half a dozen projects at this festival over the years, Webb said the reception of his latest project was fantastic.
According to Webb, the show focusses on people from various Eeyou Istchee communities who have had a UFO sighting or an experience with a UFO in the north.
And after working on this documentary, Webb said that UFO sightings have become so commonplace in Eeyou Istchee that he feels “left out,” for never having had the experience personally.
“All of the different categories of sightings are covered up north, such as the classic saucers, the triangles and the balls of light. A lot of this will remain a mystery, but we try to take it on from a scientific perspective and we also look at what happened during the Cold War with the secret planes and tests,” said Webb.
The project also took different directions than originally anticipated Webb said as he never expected Crees to talk about a spiritual aspect to their sightings, such as what former Grand Chief Matthew Mukash described in this first episode. In it, Mukash described how balls of light once appeared during a ceremony he was attending.
Though Webb did not walk away with one of the festival’s coveted awards, just having had the opportunity to present his documentary to loved ones and receiving a positive response from the audience was rewarding enough.