Discover Indigenous culture in Montréal this spring

Daniel J. Rowe

The people who walked the land beneath Montréal’s pavement for thousands of years before settlers from across the Atlantic arrived are featured throughout the city’s cultural landscape this spring. Tiohtá:ke, as the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) call Montréal, or Mooniyaang, in the Anishinaabeg language, is brimming with Indigenous arts and culture waiting to be explored.

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Must-see museum exhibitions

Those looking to check out some of the most relevant and exciting contemporary Indigenous artists on the continent called Turtle Island must swing by the McCord Museum this spring.

Kent Monkman’s Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience is a can’t-miss show taking visitors on a Canadian history tour far from the mainstream, led by the Cree artist’s cross-dressing spiritual alter-ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. It’s a punchy, tragic, visceral and at times cheeky recasting of the country’s 150 years, highlighting the devastating effects colonialism left in its wake on Indigenous people. Monkman’s exhibit runs at the McCord Museum until May 5, 2019.

On April 26, the McCord Museum launches SDING K’AWXANGS – Haida: Supernatural Stories, featuring a selection of rare historical Haida objects from the northwest Canadian coast in addition to work from nine contemporary Haida artists.

Wearing our Identity – The First Peoples Collection is in the McCord Museum’s permanent exhibit on the ground floor and explores the complex and rich history of clothing and dress in Indigenous communities. It includes interactive and educational exhibits from contemporary Indigenous designers.

A floor up from Monkman’s work is Kanien’kehá:ka artist Hannah Claus’ there’s a reason for our connection. Claus is the perfect counterpoint to Monkman, with her ethereal, light and engaging works that tell a different but equally important story.

Claus’ show runs until August 11.

Indigenous art in Old Montréal

Claus also has a piece in Forgotten or Missing: Akonessen, Zitya, Tina Marie and the Others at the Ashukan Cultural Space in the heart of Old Montréal. The exhibit features seven contemporary Indigenous artists working in Québec and is a tribute to the country’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Ashukan is a 100 percent Indigenous boutique following strict principles of fair trade.

Works of public art

On Sherbrooke Street in front of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts stands the towering and magnificent Totem Pole created by Kwakiutl artist Charles Joseph in 2017.

In the fall, Algonquin artist Nadia Myre will transform the Bonaventure Expressway’s median with a series of sculptures titled Dans L’attente…/While Waiting.

To get a taste of Myre’s work, check her out at the edgy contemporary Art Mûr gallery, where she exhibits alongside some of the country’s most exciting young emerging artists.

As you stroll the city, keep your eyes up, as the walls often pay tribute to the island’s original inhabitants. The corner of Atwater and Lincoln Avenues celebrates legendary Abenaki documentarian Alanis Obomsawin in Atikamekw artist Meky Ottawa’s mural, one of the handful of Indigenous-themed murals throughout the city.

From the streets to the pages

The Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival is taking part in UNESCO’s International Year of Indigenous Languages by inviting Indigenous authors and artists from Australia, Latin America and Turtle Island.

Events include “Do You Speak Indigenous?” (May 4, 6 p.m.), “Racism: A White Person’s Problem” and “Indigenous Literatures: Emergence and Re-Emergence” in addition to the annual First Peoples Prize award ceremony, which will be awarded to Seabird Island author Terese Marie Mailhot for her memoir Heart Berries. The full program of activities is available on the Blue Metropolis website.

Daniel J. Rowe

Daniel J. Rowe, journalist

Daniel J. Rowe is a West Coast transplant that wound up in Montréal via Japan and became an award-winning journalist and photographer working out of the Kanien’kehá:ka community of Kahnawà’ke. He’s an admitted culture addict, sports fanatic in the worst way and food and drink snob, though he’ll eat a hot dog and enjoy it on those nights that hot dogs are all that’s needed. The best view in life for him is on a bicycle at high speeds, and he will point it out if you use the adjective everyday incorrectly.

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