This year’s Montreal First Peoples’ Festival got off to a roaring start July 30 before a packed auditorium at the Grande Bibliothèque for the world premiere of Paroles Amérikoises by Pierre Bastien. For the third consecutive year, the week-long festival hosted live concerts and cultural events at downtown Montreal’s Place des Festivals.
The festival’s signature giant teepee is now a regular sight on the Montreal festival circuit, which draws thousands of tourists from all over the world to experience Aboriginal creativity.
“This festival is unique because it is the only one that has been growing steadily in the last few years within all of the five main demographic age groups,” observed organizer André Dudemaine. “It just goes to show how this festival attracts people of all ages and generations.”
Quebec Aboriginal Affairs Minister Élizabeth Larouche attended the opening ceremony along with Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador. “This festival has continued being a source of pride and a draw for tourists to Quebec,” Larouche said. “It is important to continue celebrating our Aboriginal heritage through such festivals and Quebec will continue its support.”
Picard, who was a surprise guest, joked that he was attending the ceremony as a “tourist.”
“Twenty-three years hosting this festival has given the event a great standing in Quebec and beyond,” Picard said. “Amidst all of the celebration we must not forget those who rose up with Idle No More and why they must continue.”
The evening started with the screening of two shorts – L’Enfance déracinée by noted Innu documentary filmmaker Réal Junior Leblanc, and Umätu, le chant du Notou, a film from New Caledonia. Leblanc’s short touched on the scars left by residential schools on those who survived through poetry and haunting visuals. Working with Wapikoni Mobile, Leblanc’s work is a testament to the powerful imagery and narrative that can be told through the lens of local Aboriginal filmmakers when given the opportunity. Umätu had a more light-hearted tale by a local storyteller of how the Umätu bird got its name.
The opening film, Paroles Amérikoises, focuses on a diverse group of Quebec and Aboriginal writers who embark on a camping trip to experience northern Quebec. Despite its documentary style, the film takes on an almost surreal quality with the vast emptiness and beautiful landscape providing the setting for a wide-ranging discussion of social issues. Emotions run high and passionate as the group discusses the impact of hydro dams and other forms of development.
The standing ovation continued long after the lights came back on as the opening ceremony ended. With its strong lineup of events, the Montreal First Peoples’ Festival had something for everyone, from concerts and films to activities and traditional dancers.