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Celebrating Reconciliation: Dancers, Artists, Musicians Flock to Montreal First Peoples' Festival

The Montreal First Peoples' Festival is in full swing, with stirring movies, music, great dance vibes, lots of art, from all over the world.

The Montreal First Peoples’ Festival 2016 edition is in full swing, with perfect weather, expanded offerings, additional venues and new partnerships bringing more aboriginal culture than ever to the heart of this Quebec city.

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

Photo: Theresa Braine

Festival Director André Dudemaine introduced the festivities on August 3 at the Grande Bibliothèque.

The theme this year is unity, said director André Dudemaine in a statement introducing the festivities on opening night, calling the festival a "microcosm and symbol of all ongoing reconciliations." 100 TIKIs, a video montage made by American Samoa native Dan Taulapapa McMullin, kicked off the festival to a full house on August 3 at the Grande Bibliothèque and set the tone with a 45-minute montage of movies—ranging from monkey-like dancing Disney characters, to From Here to Eternity to the Lord of the Rings trilogy—that connect to the Polynesian people. The depictions, both funny and cringe-worthy, were juxtaposed against real-life shots of American Samoans and other Pacific Island Natives to show both the roots and the continuation of stereotyping stemming from colonialism.

Preceding that showing were Bleed Down, a four-minute visual essay that shows Canada (though it could be extrapolated to just about any country on the globe) devolve from a verdant, forested, pristine landscape to one that’s pockmarked by poisoned industrial waste and development. As such the short poses the question, “What have you done to my country?”

The second short film could be said to ask, “What have you done to my people?” In this wrenching three-minute video, Inuit youth express their will to live despite their pain at the loss of their friend, young Sarah Patsauq, to suicide.

Elsewhere, Sioux artist Riel Benn introduced his take on album-rock covers that he has infused with Native imagery, in an exhibit at the Espace Culturel Ashukan.

Photo: Theresa Braine

Nadine St-Louis, curator, and artist Riel Benn at his exhibit at the Espace Culturel Ashukan during the Montreal First Peoples' Festival.

“I wanted to create a new platform to bring awareness to some of the issues that Natives face,” he said of his art, which takes classic rock ’n roll images of icons such as Aerosmith and Jim Morrison of The Doors and substitutes American Indian faces, regalia and symbols. He manages to weave in themes from boarding school, Native history, Native war veterans, politics and other aspects of Native life since contact.

The exhibit of oil paintings, five years in the making, were on display at the gallery run by Nadine St-Louis, Métis of Algonquin heritage, who dedicates herself to showcasing Native artists. Large-scale replicas were also mounted alongside the Place des Festivals, the center of the action.

On Thursday evening August 4 a crowd gathered for the sounds of the Buffalo Hat Singers, accompanied by dancers, followed by the singing duo Digging Roots, and on Friday the reggae sounds of Shauit had everyone dancing. There are more kiosks than in the past, including art demonstrations as well as the usual habitués, the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and Nunavik Creations, the fashion outlet that provides Inuit women with a way to sell the sealskin products they make based on traditional designs and craftsmanship.

Photo: Theresa Braine

The Buffalo Hat Singers accompanied dancers to launch the evening concerts of the festival, which lasted through the weekend.

The festival runs through Wednesday August 10, so there is still time to catch both Saturday night’s concert and an abundance of great films from all over the world. Check the Montreal First Peoples’ Festival website for more information.

Besides music and art were the numerous movies and documentaries, from all over the world, including a first-ever partnership with an Inuit film festival, Tillutarniit (Inuktitut for “Pulses,” according to the Nunatsiaq News) runs from August 4 through the weekend and showcases food from Inuit country, games, singer Beatrice Deer, and film screenings.

Photo: Theresa Braine

Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo answers audience questions after a screening of 'Mekko' at Concordia University during the Montreal First Peoples' Festival.

The heart-wrenching feature film Mekko, by Sterlin Harjo, was also screened, and the filmmaker himself was on hand to answer questions about it at Concordia University, a new venue for the festival’s offerings.

RELATED: Sterlin Harjo's 'Mekko': A Thriller Set Among Tulsa's Street Chiefs

“I wanted to really show how someone ends up on the streets,” he said of the story about the post-prison life of a man who is freed after 20 years and has to start over. “I wanted to make a film about the beauty of Native people on the streets and how they take care of each other.”