Montreal First Peoples Festival: Creating a new collective “us”

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André Dudomaine, director and founding member (1990) of the Montreal First Peoples Festival, sees the event as one the most strongly rooted First Nations resistance movements in North America.

Last winter, Dudomaine was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Faculté des arts et des sciences of the Université de Montréal. The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse du Québec has awarded the Droits et Libertés award to the festival, known in French as Présence Autochtone. Its three founders received the Meritorious Service Cross, an honour conferred on those whose contribution to Canadian society proves to be inspiring. In this case the cross rewards 27 years of determined work in support of First Nations’ rights.

We are living on Indigenous land, which was not ceded, Dudomaine reminds us. It is important to recognize this historical fact as an underlying principle of the festival.

Let’s meet this modern humanist.

A member of the Innu Nation, Dudomaine co-founded the Semaine de cinéma régional in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, which became the Festival international d’Abitibi-Témiscamingue. The former teacher at Concordia University also sees in the Montreal First Peoples Festival a bridge connecting communities and the city.

The festival is the proof of the fertility of this relationship; for a number of artists whose work is based on heritage, the festival offers access to international exposure. Indigenous art has its own distribution networks that are neglected or unknown to bigger festivals or the media. The Montreal First Peoples Festival gives open exposure to underground artistic currents by presenting film and music from five continents. A victim of its own success, it has to turn down hundred of candidates.

The festival exists in a context of reconciliation with the Indigenous heritage that belongs to all. For a long time, to view tradition as antagonistic to modernism has become a habit, as if constant reference to the past prevented First Nations people from enjoying access to modernity.

Always opposed to this idea, the festival wishes to connect to the essence of the first contacts between Indigenous people and Quebecers. In order to bring these repressed memories back, we have to practice spiritual archeology, as did cinematographer François Girard when he made Hochelaga, terres des âmes, one of the most important events of the first edition.

“We are searching to create a new collective ‘us’ in order to be able to place ‘us’ in a present that is fair,” explains Dudomaine. The First Nations’ desire for affirmation, and their will to go forward, combined with recent immigration, supports the idea of the new American continent we need to create with warmer bonds if we wish to advance together towards a new identity. It is an idea that finds expression in the Nuestroamericana friendship parade to which the Montreal First Peoples Festival gives an important place, taking the opportunity every year to reaffirm it in the city’s heart.

This new Montreal identity is a return to roots and a marriage of forms and expressions that open perspectives where false notions blurring identity representations do not exist. Quebecers and First Nations must leave conflicts and resentment behind if they want to advance toward a new identity.

The 28th edition of the Montreal First Peoples Festival takes place from August 7 to 15 in Quartier des spectacles of Montreal. www.presenceautochtone.ca

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