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First People’s Festival lineup makes a splash

The 2015 award-winning American drama Mekko, from Sterlin Harjo, features a man who finds a community after being released from prison in Tulsa and uses his grandmother’s practices to push out a man with an evil personality. (Courtesy First People’s Festival)

By: Kate Sheridan, The Eastern Door


The ocean will provide the inspiration for the 26th annual First People’s Festival, scheduled to run from August 3 to August 10 at locations around the Quartier des Spectacles in Montreal and Kahnawake.

The festival will begin with a showing of 100 Tikis, directed by Daniel Talaupapa McMullin from the Samoan Islands.

Other notable feature films to be screened include 2015 Peruvian documentary Hija de la laguna from Ernesto Cabelkos Damián and 2015 award-winning American drama Mekko, from Sterlin Harjo.

“The Pacific can evoke a huge number of images, but I think the first image is the image of a wave,” said André Dudemaine, co-founder of Terres en Vues, the non-profit that coordinates the festival.

Dudemaine compared the resurgence of organizations and initiatives to promote the art of Indigenous people to a wave. “These things will definitely change the landscape, like a wave on the seashore. Artists are our best ambassadors,” he said.

The festival’s mission is to highlight artists who are Indigenous or whose work is otherwise relevant.

Short and feature-length films will be screened, with the features competing for one of three prizes. For the first time, some films will also be screened at Concordia University. The final dates and times of the screenings have not yet been set.

In addition to the film screenings, four artists will also perform live at the Place des Festivals in Montreal from August 4 to August 7, including Digging Roots (with Raven Kanatakta) and Logan Staats, who is from Six Nations.

Staats will perform with the Kawandak group. Several other performances and exhibits, including workshops and demonstrations of traditional Abenaki ash craftwork – made from trees cut down in Montreal due to the emerald ash borer infestation – and the launch of a book about oral Innu traditions.

“Year after year, the attendance at the festival has increased,” said festival spokesperson Henry Welsh. “The only thing that we are not in control of is the weather. There’s nothing we can do about that.”

A variety of other associated events are also on the schedule. A march and ceremonial fire in Place d’Armes in Montreal will mark the establishment of the Wild Toponymy Commission of Montreal on June 21, coinciding with the summer solstice and National Aboriginal People’s Day.

The commission and march are both organized by LAND INSIGHTS (Terres en Vues), a non-profit founded in 1990 by Dudemaine, Daniel Corvec and Pierre Thibault. LAND INSIGHTS has coordinated the festival since its inception as part of the organization’s mission to promote the culture of Indigenous peoples.

The organization’s board includes nine people from Mohawk, Huron-Wendat, Abenaki, Innu and Cree nations. (Kahnawa’kehró:non Alana-Dawn Phillips was former president of the organization.)

Quebecor is a major sponsor of the event, as is the Canadian government’s culture ministry.


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