A Celebration of Vibrant Indigenous Cultures

Jesse B. Staniforth

The Place des festivals goes well beyond English and French ancestry with the Montréal First Peoples’ Festival, celebrating the diverse cultures of Québec’s 11 Indigenous Nations with an array of music, dance, film and art, from August 2 through August 9.


For a week every summer, the Place des festivals is remade in the image of Québec’s Indigenous communities, stunningly decorated with First Nations teepees, Inuit tupiks and Iroquoian longhouses (representing Montréal’s specific Mohawk history). The First People’s Festival offers an opportunity for beautiful immersion in Indigenous cultures.

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The Main Event

Sky Woman fell from the clouds—and in doing so created the world. From her sprang her twin sons: Ioskeha, associated with the sun and summer, created helpful things to help humankind, while Tawiscara, associated with night and winter, created monsters and destruction. The main event of this year’s First People’s Festival is an immense choreographed retelling of these stories: Ioskeha and Tawiscara: The Great Game of Creation (August 3 and 6 at 8:30, Place des festivals). Light and darkness, creation and destruction: the saga of the twin brothers is both universal to all cultures and specific to the Nations that have retold it for millennia. A liturgy by musician Ziibiwan Rivers (Anishinaabe) will carry the audience through the story of their creation and eventual confrontation, as choreographed by the renowned Pierre-Paul Savoie.

Master Sculpture from a Master Sculptor

Vivid and voluptuous sculptures of fish, land-animals and dragons, done in intricate and striking detail: these might spring from the dreams of both Inuit and Nordic cultures. Abraham Anghik Ruben, made companion to the Order of Canada in 2016, imagines they could come from both—since they shared the same northern territories, and encountered one another over the years. Over a career of more than 40 years, Inuk master sculptor Anghik Ruben has both responded to his own experiences in Residential School and celebrated the culture those schools tried to extinguish. With Abraham Anghik Ruben – Similar in Spirit: Norse and Inuit Interactions (at Guild Gallery, 1460-B Sherbrooke St. W.), fifteen large and breathtaking sculptures investigating the overlap between Vikings and Inuit bring a reflective piece of the Western Arctic to Montréal.

Sights, Sounds and Tastes

Traditional music, Inuit games (open to all) and fresh country food to taste—including seal and arctic char. The Tillutarniit Film Festival is far more than a series of screenings: it is a three-day celebration of Inuit identity. Running August 3, 4 and 5, the event brings pieces of all four areas of the Inuit Nunangat (ranging from the Western Arctic to Nunavut to Nunavik to Labrador) to the core of downtown Montréal. The unifying event each night will be the films, curated by NFB filmmaker, poet and artist Isabella-Rose Weetaluktuk. This year, each night will be oriented around themes of animals central to life in the Arctic—Netsiq (Seal), Tuktu (Caribou) and Inuk (Person)—and films will be selected to explore the meaning of and relationship in between each.


Jesse Staniforth

Jesse Staniforth is a Montreal-based freelance journalist specializing in Indigenous issues, cybersecurity, and lifestyle reporting. He has been a regular contributor to the Nation magazine, serving the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee (on James Bay’s eastern coast), since 2011.

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