First Peoples’ Festival: The big step forward

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

More than ever, the priority of this year’s International First Peoples’ Festival—the event that reaffirms the relevance and importance of First Nations artists, filmmakers, storytellers and dancers—is to create encounters, decompartmentalize imaginations, and free up talents capable of bringing forth the unprecedented.

After a brief break, the director of the International First Peoples’ Festival is back at work. André Dudemaine has directed the festival for more than 30 years and, with his team, is putting the finishing touches on this year’s edition.

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For the visual arts section, which will be presented at La Guilde, the Festival will ­welcome Abenaki author, illustrator and painter Christine Sioui-Wawanoloath, originally from Wendake. Her works on paper will be ­exhibited as part of a group show. “Christine is a renowned artist; her work is always very ­joyful, very colourful,” says Dudemaine. The painter is inspired by the traditions of her ­people. Her work is also tinged with multiculturalism: sometimes she integrates elements from other countries to make links and establish relationships between mythologies. There is humour in her drawings—a kind, bright ­humour that radiates good mood.

A unique evening

Dudemaine especially wants to talk about plans for the Aug. 14 event. The first part of the evening will see Pascal Germain-Berardi—the passionate conductor and former Petit chanteur du Mont-Royal, fan of heavy rock and constantly on the lookout for musical projects that push him further—conduct the 12 guitars and double bass of the ensemble Forestare in Chant(s) (2022), a composition by Alexandre Éthier for classical guitar ensemble, accompanied by poems by Andrée Lévesque Sioui, taken from the book of the same name (Éditions Hannenorak, 2021), read by the author.

The next piece will be Arauco; por fuerte, principal y poderosa… (2006), a work for ­flamenco guitar and 16 classical guitars and narration by Chilean Javier Arauco. Narrator Andrée Lévesque Sioui will read Spanish epic poems from La Araucana (1569, 1578 and 1589), translated into modern French by Éthier. “It is an important contemporary work, which refers to the resistance that the Mapuches put up against the conquistadors at the time of the conquest,” explains ­Dudemaine. Germain-Berardi will conduct flamenco guitarist Phillipe Jean and the ­musicians of Forestare.

“The pièce de résistance, Uiesh (2019) by Tim Brady, a composition for voice and 14 ­instrumentalists, based on poems in Innu-aimun by Joséphine Bacon, will be presented as a world première,” says Dudemaine. Please note the presence of the Inuk soprano ­Deantha Edmunds, who will sing the poems from the collection Uiesh/Quelque part (Uiesh/Somewhere) by Joséphine Bacon (Mémoire ­d’encrier, 2018). “Deantha Edmunds is probably the only practising Inuit soprano; she will have to familiarize herself with Innu, because it’s not the same language,” says the director, himself an Innu from Mashteuiatsh. Well-known ­Lorraine Vaillancourt will conduct the NEM instrumentalists. “It will be a memorable evening,” Dudemaine says.

The art of collaboration

More and more, classical orchestras are ­seeking collaborations with First Nations artists. This is a good thing, because ­partnership is the DNA of First Peoples’ Festival. “Last week, I was in Germany for the Classical: NEXT 2022 event, as part of the conference portion of the symposium,” says Dudemaine. He attended a workshop given by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal on collaboration between classical ensembles and First Peoples artists, and how to do it right.

Of course, with the chamber opera Chaakapesh (2018), based on a story by Cree playwright Tomson Highway, the OSM is ­setting a perfect example. Sharing and stripping are far from meaning the same thing, and this opera, based on a hopeful Aboriginal ­legend, has established a real dialogue ­between several peoples. “Not so long ago, we were getting looks like we sneaked to get in, but now… it’s a big step forward,” says ­Dudemaine.

But what changed for the International First Peoples’ Festival? A series of events shook public opinion. First, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court saying the term cultural genocide was legally appropriate to describe the situation. This was followed by the horrific death of Joyce Echaquan and the discovery of unmarked graves around former residential schools. “Everything was aligned to provoke a revision of the way Aboriginal ­people were considered and, as a consequence, the work the festival does is now more recognized and our role accepted,” says André Dudemaine.

Place des Festivals 2.0

At Place des Festivals, the renewal of the famous scenography will bring an even more remarkable effect, transforming the urban environment into a surprising space inspired by the cultures of the First Nations. “Back in 2010, First Peoples’ Festival was the first among the summer festivals to come up to the Place des Festivals with a design that ­captured the imagination,” explains Dudemaine. “What matters to us is to leave a mark on the urban landscape. We are currently working to make it even more beautiful and to include new technologies for the lighting and special effects of the live video frescoes. The ­experience on the Place des Festivals will be greatly upscaled, more immersive, and the Aboriginal artists who perform there will leave an even stronger mark.”

In 2022, the festival’s focus will be on youth and emerging artists, and First Peoples’ Festival will offer them new ground to explore.

Matiu, a native of the North Shore, will soon benefit from this. He won the Emerging Artist award at the Teweikan Aboriginal Music Gala (2018) as well as Show of the Year and Blues and Rock Artist of the Year in 2019. His voice is rough as sand. This committed singer-­songwriter from the Mani-Utenam community tells the stories he sees out there, in what he likes to ironically call Indian 2.0. Matiu will present his first full-length album Petikat, which he has been touring with since March. His appearance at Place des Festivals is ­scheduled for Aug. 13.

Véronique Basile Hébert, an Atikamekw ­author from Wemotaci, proposed last year that her play Notcimik be staged at the Place des Festivals. “Given the health situation, the funders didn’t have high expectations, but I decided to go ahead anyway and the audience was there, so we’re doing it again with Utei, the autobiographical story of Omer Saint-Onge, a survivor of the residential schools,” says André Dudemaine. It is a committed theatrical experience, a drama rooted in the specific orality of First Nations culture. Omer St-Onge recounts the teachings and culture of his ancestors; he delivers the vision of the world that they were able to bequeath to him. The play is a solo and it was decided to give it a less confidential, more epic feel. “Audiovisual equipment will support the action, but it will have to be used with restraint and relevance, because the subject is quite heavy,” says the festival director. Xavier Huard, who works with Charles Bender and Marco Collin in the Menuentakuan company, will stage it. To be seen at Place des Festivals on Aug. 15.

The First Peoples’ Festival will be held from
Aug. 9 to 18, 2022.

National Aboriginal Day Celebrations

Land InSights, the society for the dissemination of Aboriginal culture that oversees the First Peoples’ Festival, invites you to participate in the celebratory events leading up to June 21, National Aboriginal Peoples’ Day (also known as National Indigenous Peoples’ Day).

June 16

As part of National Aboriginal History Month, Land InSights and the NEM are joining forces to present the exploratory event around Tim Brady’s Uiesh (Somewhere), composed on poems in Innu-aimun by author Joséphine Bacon.

André Dudemaine, director of cultural activities for Land InSights, will host the event. He foresees an exceptional moment. “It will be a journey into the poetic universe of Joséphine Bacon, who will be present, as well as a privileged incursion into the artistic process of composer Tim Brady. Through the reading of poems and the unveiling of musical excerpts, the two artists will share with the audience the rich exchanges that led to the completion of Uiesh.”

Under the baton of Lorraine Vaillancourt, soprano Deantha Edmunds and the 14 musicians of the NEM will rehearse excerpts from Uiesh, which will have its world première on Aug. 14 as part of the First Peoples’ Festival. The event, at Salle Claude-Champagne, starts at 7:30 p.m.; admission is free but seating is limited. Reservations required at In partnership with La Scena Musicale.

June 17

Innu singer-songwriter Mike Paul, originally from Mashteuiatsh, will give an outdoor concert in the gardens of the BanQ Grande Bibliothèque. Nominated for the 2019 Canadian Folk Music Award and Indigenous Music Awards and recipient of the 2019 CALQ Impulsion grant, he sings in Innu-aimun and French and is also a storyteller and lecturer on First Peoples culture. His third album Ashuapmushuan (Where We Watch for Moose) is currently available on all platforms and has ranked highly on the national Indigenous Music Countdown charts, which air the top 40 Aboriginal songs. In the gardens of BAnQ, noon to 1 p.m.

June 18

The committed Innu author, poet and interdisciplinary artist Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, originally from the community of Pessamit, on the Nitassinan (Côte-Nord, Quebec), will read from the famous book Je suis une maudite sauvagesse (I Am a Damn Savage) by the Innu writer and activist An Antane Kapesh, who has become a standard bearer of Aboriginal speech. “Natasha Kanapé Fontaine pays tribute to the durability of this language, of this poetry, which is mostly feminine,” says André Dudemaine. In the BAnQ auditorium, at 7 p.m.

June 21

At the beginning of National Aboriginal Peoples’ Day, Sedalia Fazio, an active elder in the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community, will perform an incantation in Mohawk language to celebrate the summer solstice ceremony both in Aboriginal and universal cosmogony. The rite will be broadcast live on the First Peoples’ Festival Facebook page. At the First Nations Garden, at 5 a.m.

Starting at noon, the solstice fire will be lit and participants will throw a bit of tobacco into it, in a propitiatory rite. An ancient spirit that unites the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas with Mother Earth will take flight under the June sky. Afterwards, participants will be able to watch traditional dances and listen to ceremonial drums. At the Quai de l’Horloge in the Old Port, until 2:30 p.m.

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


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