MONTREAL—If Montreal First Peoples’ Festival organizer André Dudemaine had wanted the event to attract attention to aboriginal culture, simply the spectacle of a sun-drenched plaza being set up with tipis would seem guaranteed to do the trick.
Tourists and Quebecois alike snapped photos of rising tipis and other structures at the Place des Festivals, the city’s central party plaza, on Thursday August 4. Music emanated from the stage during the sound check for the evening’s concert. Children frolicked in the fountains that cascaded around the festival’s emblematic turtle and other animal effigies.
“I think it’s worth being interested in because this is our history—all of the Americas’ history,” said Diane Beauséjour, 64, who had stopped in the plaza on her way somewhere and stayed to drink it all in. “We live with them, but we don’t.”
Thinking about Canada’s aboriginals got her reminiscing about her grandfather, a doctor who had lived up north in a French-Canadian village and was subject to being fetched at all hours of the day and night to tend to the remote area’s Indian population.
“They’d put him in their sled and take him into the reserve,” she said. “My grandpa would come back five or six days later.”
It was fitting that the plaza goings-on would inspire such recollection, given the festival’s goal of showcasing aboriginal cultures and highlighting the role that indigenous peoples played in Canada’s founding.
On Thursday night Anishinabe rapper Samian rocked a crowd of hundreds in the Place des Festivals with songs in both French and his native language. It was his debut solo concert and his first time playing such a prominent space, and he said that on a larger scale it felt like a turning point for awareness of aboriginal issues.
His goal, he told journalists after the show, is to promote aboriginal culture in Quebec, Canada and beyond, and to educate those who come to listen. He also had a message for aboriginal youth.
“I want them to dream,” said the man who “couldn’t speak” when he was a child, until he started writing at age 12. “Everything starts with dreams. If it’s possible for me, it’s possible for anyone.”
Stay tuned for a weekend packed with events. On Friday the fluid tones of Inuk singer Élisapie Isaac will waft from the Place des Festivals starting at 8:30 p.m. On Saturday Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, the HBO film featuring the late Gordon Tootoosis as Red Cloud and Adam Beach as Charles Eastman, will screen at the Place des Festivals. Find the full schedule here.