Just four weeks before the First Peoples’ Festival kicked off on June 12, the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, the federal ministry that annually grants the event $50,000, told the festival it was not going to get the money nor would it get any in the future.

“The minister (Jean-Pierre Blackburn) is reconsidering the whole thing and we have some indication that he will find a way to compensate us because it happened on such short notice,” said festival organizer Andre Dudemaine. Yet, at the same time, Dudemaine is certain that if the festival receives any compensation it will not be the full amount and might only be enough to keep the festival out of the red.

The grant, which provides the budget to promote the event internationally and bring in foreign press members to cover the event, means that the festival will have to seek funding elsewhere or face cutting back on future festivals. Should no further funding be available, the festival’s website would see significant cutbacks as well as its international presence.

Though this international Indigenous film and arts festival is the largest of its kind in Canada, the ministry’s explanation for the cutbacks was to be able to give more to the multi-million dollar mega-festivals such as Just for Laughs and the Montreal International Jazz Festival. At the same time, Dudemaine is baffled by the decision as $50,000 is only a drop in the bucket for the major festivals. The First Peoples’ Festival’s total budget is approximately $650,000.

Speculating as to whether the decision may have been politically motivated, Dudemaine said, “I have no insight into the matter nor into the mind of the minister. I know that it has been said that he is very impulsive, and makes decisions without thinking twice and without consultation.”

At the same time, the decision came shortly after it was announced that Richard Desjardins’ controversial documentary, Le Peuple Invisible (The Invisible Nation), about the current struggles and literal genocide of the Algonquin people at the hands of Quebec, was to be shown at the United Nations. The film was screened at the festival on National Aboriginal Day June 21.

Whatever the reason for the ministry’s decision, Dudemaine sees the situation as contradictory especially coming at the same time as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology for the residential school system.

First Peoples’ Festival reviews

Shooting Geronimo

Kent Monkman (Canada, 11 min) This surrealist silent short explores stereotypical Cowboy-and-lndian movies with a contemporary twist. With humorously cycled bits, this 11-minute short is all about what happens when two strapping young braves get together with General Custer and a Native drag queen for some movie-making.

A Massacre Foretold

Nick Higgins (UK, 58 min)

Scotland’s Nick Higgins, an expert in Mexican culture and politics, shows a never-seen-before look at the 45 Indigenous residents of the town of Acetal before they were slaughtered during a prayer meeting by paramilitaries. This intimate and disturbing look at the Chiapas rebellion goes behind the headlines to tell the story of a doomed people

caught in the middle of a political uprising and the dark days leading up to their untimely fate. This is not for the weak of heart.


Dominique Keller (Canada, 5 min)

Spectacularly fusing animation with live-action and featuring world-champion hoop dancer and hip-hop artist Dallas Arcand, this short follows an Aboriginal youth as he connects with First Nations culture of the past and the present. A brilliant example of how the past connects with the world of today, this family-oriented film explores cultural pride in both contexts.


Mark Albiston (New Zealand, 15 min) This picturesque short features brilliant performances as it tells the tale of three family members overcoming the death of their mother and finding themselves. An overbearing father com-pensâtes for duel parent duty by keeping his kids on a rigid running schedule and forcing his daughter to practice classical music instead of her own composition. When the children stand up to him together, the spell of grief is broken.


Living The Language,

Parts 1 & 2

Paul M. Rickard and Tracey Deer (Canada, 2 x 48 min)

This in-depth two-part documentary tells the story of the Akwesasnse Freedom School, how it came to be and how it has given strength and solidarity to the Mohawk language and a community trying to keep it alive. Chronicling the school’s history from 1979 to the present, this made-for-TV documentary explores the educational experience as taught through adapted Mohawk programs. Showing how it is possible to be an academic success despite the school’s traditional teaching methods, this doc brings the Mohawk language alive and offers a fascinating example for other communities looking to do the same.

Our Land, Our Life George Gage and Beth Gage (USA, 74 min)

This breathtakingly beautiful documentary chronicles the struggles of Carrie and Mary Dann, two feisty Western Shoshone sisters who fight the Bureau of Land Management all the way up to the Supreme Court. When the Nevada-based elderly siblings are informed by the U.S. government that they are trespassing on their own traditional lands by allowing their livestock to graze on the open range without a permit, a tale of government-assisted corporate greed unfolds. This touching, engaging and inspirational story of family, tradition and struggles for Native land rights so deserved the festival’s Rigoberta Menchu Prize. A must see!

Club Native

Tracey Deer (Canada, 75 min)

The idea of determining a person’s racial identity based on bloodline reeks of 19th century eugenics and its most vigilant exponents: the Nazis. However, the measuring of blood is not new to Aboriginal people. It’s a system that’s been used for nearly two centuries to decide Native status by the Europeans. Mohawk director Tracey Deer explores the use of blood quantum to ascertain membership in her hometown of Kahnawake, just outside of Montreal, by focusing on four women who currently live on the reserve. Their situations are under scrutiny as two of them are in relationships with white men and two have non-Mohawk fathers. This insightful and compelling documentary is given a personal twist since Deer’s younger sister is one of the subjects.

(Martin Siberok)

First Peoples’ Festival Winners 2008


Yves Sioui Durand


First prize: Miss Chief Eagle Testickle Trilogy,

Kent Monkman, Gisèle Gordon, Canada

Second prize: Los Chulpas, Alex Moya Ibacache, Chile

Finalist: Ecstatic Vessels, Diane Kitchen, USA

Finalist: The Colony, Jeff Barnaby, Quebec-Canada


First prize: Our Land Our Life, George Gage,

Beth Gage, USA

Second prize: 13 pueblos en defensa del agua, el aire y la tierra, Francesco Taboada Tabone, Mexico

Finalist: Muffins for Granny, Nadia McLaren, Canada

Finalist: Club Native, Tracey Deer, Quebec-Canada


Prize: A Sister’s Love, Ivan Sen, Australia

Finalist with special mention: Whispering of the Trees, Tom Lemke, Germany

Finalist: Sami Daughter Yoik Liselotte Wajstedt, Sweden

Finalist: Hope, Thomas Buchan, Stuart Reaugh, Canada


Prize: Hamac Caziim, Jeronimo Barriga, Mexico

Finalist with special mention: Hawaikii, Mike Jonathan, New Zealand

Finalist: Taua, Tearepa Kahi, New Zealand

Finalist: Run, Mark Albiston, New Zealand


Prize: Hope, Thomas Buchan, Stuart Reaugh, Canada

Finalist with special mention: El Hospital, Leiqui Uriana, Xavier Larroque, Yanilu Ojeda, Venezuela

Finalist: Taua, Tearepa Kahi, New Zealand

Finalist: Hawaikii, Mike Jonathan, New Zealand



Prize: Club Native, Tracey Deer, Quebec-Canada

Finalist with special mention: Muffins for Granny, Nadia McLaren, Canada

Finalist: Little Caughnawaga, Reaghan Tarbell, Canada


Prize: Unishinutsh La voie des autres, Sonia Robertson, Alain Connolly, Mendy Bossom, Quebec-Canada

Finalist: Truly Traditional, Cynthia Taylor, Canada