“Joyful anger” is the theme of this year’s Montreal First People’s Festival, and that refers to the energy of exuberant spirit that is bursting forth from indigenous youth here in Canada.
“A new generation is rising up and speaking out,” announces festival organizer André Dudemaine in the program notes. “They fire off words as heavy as bombshells to burst open blocked horizons.”
The festival certainly reflects this aesthetic, from the hip-hop of acclaimed Algonquin rap sensation Samian, to the array of environmental-themed films, to the artistic works on display around town.
“Are there any Indians here tonight?” yelled Samian in French to the crowd in the Place des Festivals in the center of the city. Cheers erupted in the packed plaza as he broke out into uproarious lyrics that had feet of all ages stomping, arms waving high in the air, to the infectious beat.
Discovered by Wapikoni Mobile some 10 years ago in its own infancy, Samian was celebrating both the group’s 10th anniversary and the release of his latest CD, Enfant de la Terre.
He spoke of the hardships of growing up on a reserve and encouraged everyone in the audience to follow their dreams. He tipped his hat to Wapikoni, which launched in 2004 by visiting Native communities throughout Quebec and collecting youth stories. Ten years later it has helped 3,000 youngsters from nine nations worldwide create more than 600 films, many of them award-winning.
The festivities continued with reggae tunes from Shauit at Club Soda on July 31 after Samian’s show, to an electronic extravaganza on Friday August 1 back at the Place des Festivals, featuring the unlikely combination of cellist Cris Derksen, Deejay Shub and Acid Arab in a performance dubbed “Concert Électro-Choc”—which is exactly what it did, in a good way.
More celebrations continue throughout the weekend as the movies keep coming, the aboriginal-themed cuisine gets served out at Bistro Le Contemporain, where chef Antonin Mousseau-Rivard worked his annual magic.
Music and food notwithstanding, the origins of the festival lie in film, and this year’s crop of feature movies, documentaries and shorts bring forth the youthful exuberance and an “enough is enough” attitude: no more discrimination and racism, and no more environmental destruction. Many of the films reflect the latter.
In Canada, as Dudemaine pointed out in an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, indigenous people are the fastest-growing segment of the population—and as new souls arrive, mainstream Canada is aging. This festival and others like it are “a sign of hope, and we need to give that to all those young persons,” he said, so that they are inspired “to have a great and meaningful life.”
This year the festival, and the hope, continue to burgeon. More organizations than ever before are involved, Dudemaine said. And this year’s annual collaboration with Wapikoni Mobile has been expanded into an international film symposium, in addition to the usual offerings.
“So each year we have new partners and we deepen the collaboration, and our partnership is always growing,” Dudemaine said. “This year we are taking root in the fabric of the city itself.”