Montreal festival celebrates First Nations
MONTREAL - Offering everything from films and dance troupes to artists,
concerts, lectures and reading, this year's First Peoples' Festival marked
its 15th anniversary with bright entertainment and new exhibits to present
a weeklong celebration of Aboriginal culture throughout the city June 13 -
Known as "Presence autochtone" to Francophones, the festival - timed to
coincide with Canada's National Aboriginal Day and the summer solstice -
also served to educate non-Natives on the history and lifeways of the
Aboriginal peoples among them with a blend of social commentary and the
The stage at Emile-Gamelin Park shook with the rhythms and movements of
nine dance troupes, including traditional social dances by Thunder Hawks
Dancers from Kahnawake; the "turkuy" dance, in which the men declare their
love by the way they dance, performed by Armonia Andina, Music and Dance;
Kisis, a new troupe from Pikogan; and Mexico-Magico's "Concero," a
religious and ritual dance from Mexico.
Displayed and offered for purchase at the outdoor encampment within the
park were the works of numerous artists, including traditional Abenaki pine
needle baskets and Boruca balsa wood masks. Visitors watched imagination
take shape in the hands of skilled craftspeople.
Festivalgoers interested in First Nations filmmakers had a wide selection
of films and documentaries by noted filmmakers from which to choose,
touching on subjects as diverse as the environment, traditional medicine,
the struggle to protect Aboriginal identity, and social interaction and
family relations. A few of these works follow:
"Distant Drumming" was an opportunity to revisit the memorable characters
of the world-famous Alberta television series, "North of 60." "Stryker," a
Venice Film Festival 2004 selection, related the story of a young arsonist
from northern Manitoba who fled to Winnipeg and, as a "stryker," or recruit
for the Indian Posse gang, sparked a gang war. "Mohawk Girls," a production
from Cree-owned Rezolution Pictures, followed four teenaged students facing
their futures. And "Awin Ni Nin," a video clip produced as part of the
Wapikoni Mobile project - a traveling production unit that gave young
people in isolated communities a chance to tell their own stories.
Bolivian filmmaker Jorge Sanjines offered up his new feature film, "Los
hijos del ultimo jardin," and presented a retrospective of his works -
including the rarely-seen "La nacion clandestine." Other foreign films
included "Basal Banar," a selection at the 2003 Yamagata Film Festival; and
New Zealand's "Two Cars, One Night," a Best Foreign Short Subject
nomination at the 2005 Oscars.
In an ongoing exhibit that opened with the festival, La Grande
Biblioteque's book exhibit "Written Images of the First Nations" showcases
artists' books - a form of artistic expression that as often as not
contains no words, but a plethora of vivid images that speak volumes. Some
books were created using materials such as lambskin and white birch bark
for pages, and feathers and beads for decorations; others employed
paintings and engravings to tell their stories.
Artists Oswaldo de Leon Kantule, Kuna; Francois Newashish, Attimekw;
Jean-Pierre Pelchat, Cree, Dolores Contre-Migwans, Odawa ancestry;
Christine Sioui Wawanoloath, Abenaki/Wendat; Ginette Aubin, Malecite; and
several others created strikingly colorful artists' books depicting
biographies of family members, tribal historical events, important memories
Other visual-art exhibits included "Abenaki heritage"; Ginette Aubin's
"Tracing, Seeing: Stone, Paper, Print," featuring carved tracings of the
lines of ancient Malecite petroglyphs; and "Moz8biak, Beads and Beading,"
featuring a selection of traditional headgear and contemporary pieces by
Readings and lectures were given by Genevieve McKenzie, Innu storyteller
and poet; Rae Marie Taylor, a recognized specialist in Southwestern art and
archaeology who launched the first American Indian literature course at
Dawes College; and Remi Savard, anthropologist.
A civic ceremony celebrating National Aboriginal Day brought together
Aboriginal leaders and representatives of the provincial and federal
governments in a gesture of bridge-building and recognition.
The festival was made possible by many government agencies, including the
Economic Development Agency, Canadian Heritage, Indian and Northern Affairs
Canada, the Council for the Arts, the city of Montreal and others. As in
prior years, it was organized by Montreal-based Land InSights (Terre En
Vues), whose mission is to promote Native cultures.