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6 Reasons to Hit This Year’s Montreal First People’s Festival

The Montreal First Peoples' Festival 2016 has dozens of great reasons to come; here are six of them.
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The 2016 version of the Montreal First Peoples’ Festival is almost here, and with it come an abundance of film offerings, art exhibits and performances in both music and dance. It’s the 26th year that this cultural festival will celebrate Indigenous Peoples, showcasing creations from all over the world. Besides the Place des Festivals in the Quartier des spectacles at the city’s center, events and screenings will take place at Concordia University, L'Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and Kahnawake.

Here are some of the highlights of the upcoming festival, which runs from August 3 through 10.

FILM: 100 Tikis, a Brilliant Sendup of Samoan Cultural Appropriation

Director Dan Taulappapa McMullin will be on hand for two screenings of his 100 Tikis, a 2016 overview of depictions of the Indigenous Peoples of American Samoa over the decades. The links drawn are surprising, extending even to some characters in the Lord of the Rings movies.

“A jubilant and irreverent collage based on the outdated images of colonial exoticism inflicted on the South Pacific and its peoples,” the festival site’s description reads. “Brilliantly executed by a Samoan island native. And beneath this iconic kaleidoscopic wave, a silent storm of anger is brewing.”

RELATED: Spiritual Vultures: Films Explore Cultural Appropriation by New Agers

This is, of course, just one of dozens of films both short and long that will be screened during the festivities. Some filmmakers will be on hand to discuss their work, as well. A film will close the festival on August 10, with a screening of Le cercle des nations, “a choral film presented as a world premiere in the context of the World Social Forum taking place in Montreal this year,” the festival organizers said.

ART: Abenaki Artist Sylvain Rivard and His “Pulpe Fiction”

In its annual partnership with the Canadian Guild of Crafts, which runs from July 14 through September 4, Abenaki artist Sylvain Rivard “leads us to the heart of the Abenaki imagination,” the festival organizers promise, with works of “undeniable evocative power reminiscent of colors and textures of the four elements” that he forms into collages.

“Using ancient techniques and mixed media, such as paper and bark, I try to create a contemporary ethnological art that is closer to Aboriginal identity and goes beyond cultural mixing,” Rivard said in a statement. “There is a question to ask! Why should artefacts be left to scientists and art to First Nations artists when syncretism is possible”?

Courtesy Montreal First Peoples Festival

Indian Dance, by Sylvain Rivard

CRAFTSMANSHIP: Ash Wood and Beyond

Rivard will also bring Abenaki culture directly to the Place des Festivals, where he will showcase traditional craftwork with the wood of ash trees on Friday August 5 and Sunday August 7. The emerald ash borer is decimating this species, and with it a millennia-old craft tradition, even as the preventative felling of the trees provides a wood supply, for now. Bearers of Abenaki cultural traditions will use trees that have been cut down on the island of Montreal itself to demonstrate every aspect of the craft, from chopping trunks to dying wood splints. Vintage photographs, descriptive panels, stories and poems will give visitors a deep look at this longstanding practice. Topping it off, “an Aboriginal DJ will be invited to create a work based on the sounds and rhythms accompanying the processing of the Ash,” the Montreal festival organizers said.

RELATED: Emerald Ash Borer Leaves Widespread Destruction of More Than Trees

Photo : Collection Jardin Botanique Montreal

Working with ash wood.

MUSIC: A Cornucopia of Sound

Innu-reggae artist Shauit, a repeat performer at this festival, will launch a new album on August 5; Juno Award–winning Digging Roots will perform from For the Light, sung in Anishinabemowin and English, on Thursday August 4; Soirée ÉlectroChoc and DJ XS7, otherwise known as Micmac musician Alexander Jerome from Gesgapegiag, will spin his signature “electronic music with an aboriginal input” on August 6; August 7 sees young Mohawk author-composer-performer Logan Straats, Six Nations, performing for the first time with the group Kawandak along with arranger and double bass player Normand Guilbeault. All concerts will take place near the Grand Teepee at the Place des Festivals.

Photo: Courtesy Montreal FIrst Peoples' Festival

DJ XS7, a.k.a. Micmac musician Alexander Jerome from Gesgapegiag, will spin at the Montreal First Peoples' Festival 2016.

MASHUP: Rock ‘n Roll Meets Amerindian Tradition

Artist Riel Benn “takes a fresh look at rock ’n roll classics by creating stunning disc covers, which, through his facetious imagination, link well known songs to the Amerindian cause, which is a bit less known,” the Montreal First Peoples Festival describes. “The artist is a modern Trickster who turns the order of things on its head, and leads us, by this merry detour, to better understand First peoples’ realities.”

Large-scale reproductions of these album covers will be displayed along St. Catherine Street through August 7, and the original works will be presented by Productions Feux sacrés in partnership with the First Peoples Festival at the Ashukan space beginning on August 3.

Courtesy Montreal First Peoples' Festival

Aerosmith reimagined by artist Riel Benn.

BOOKS: The Innu Oral Tradition

Rémi Savard will launch his book Carcajou à l’aurore du monde, Fragments écrits d’une encyclopédie orale innue in partnership with Recherches amérindiennes du Québec. Anthropologist Savard has worked with Inuit and Innu communities in Québec and Labrador, the festival organizers said. His work has generated numerous essays, anthologies and articles on the Innu oral tradition, especially Kuekuatsheu (Carcajou), a cultural hero. Savard is also a professor at the Anthropology department of Université de Montréal and a guest lecturer at the University of Beijing (China) and the University of Hohot (Inner Mongolia). 

Cover courtesy Montreal First Peoples' Festival