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A Total Package

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MONTREAL, Quebec - As a province that touches the United States along so
much of its border one would think Quebec would be home to people whose
backgrounds are virtually identical to Americans. Instead Quebec is a
mysterious foreign land with many cultural differences. Its inhabitants
teach their children to speak French as a first language, they thrive on
carbohydrates, they believe there is a difference between political
candidates, and they embrace their First Nations' brothers.

Unlike most of the European colonists that washed upon the shores of North
America, the hardy French fur trappers that followed Jacques Cartier in
1534 settled the Quebec region and lived largely harmoniously with the
indigenous people they encountered. Rather than trying to convert the
Natives to their customs, the French chose to respect and sometimes adopt
the mannerisms of their neighbors. In turn the Aboriginal people embraced
the newcomers.

That same sense of mutual respect pervades the city of Montreal today. The
Quebecois have celebrated that relationship publicly for the last 14 years
with the First Peoples' Festival, known as Presence Autochtone to the
Francophones.

Comparable to the United States, relations between Native and non-Natives
have undergone plenty of thorny times. The festival is at least partially
in response to the 1990 Oka crisis where the Mohawk community of Kanesatake
and the municipality of Oka came to blows over the development of land the
Mohawks claimed. The conflict degenerated into a prejudice-driven fracas
that devastated Aboriginal relations.

The festival is made possible with help from many governmental agencies
including the Ministry of Indian Affairs, Canadian Heritage, the Economic
Development Agency, the Council of the Arts, the province of Quebec, the
city of Montreal and many others. It is organized by Land InSights (Terres
En Vues). The mandate of Land InSights is to promote First Nations'
cultural products in Canada and abroad and to create meeting opportunities
and fruitful exchanges for Aboriginals.

Along with improving brotherhood, the events are designed to celebrate
Aboriginal people as well as educate non-Natives. The festival is a total
package. It brings together art, music, dance, ceremony and social
commentary.