As you walk by downtown Montreal, you may stumble upon a giant teepee tent, a symbol of gathering for Indigenous people. This week, it also stands as an invitation to all to the First Peoples Festival.
Indigenous artists from across Canada and the world are gathering to showcase their history, art and culture.
This year’s 32nd edition has concerts, film and documentary screenings, as well as exhibitions.
It’s happening in several locations across Montreal including Place Émilie-Gamelin and La Grande Bibliothèque, but the hub is Place des Festivals.
Organizers say the festival is an opportunity to learn more about the history and art of Indigenous Peoples, and most importantly a chance for all cultures and people to connect with First Nations.
“They will be really in the middle of an Indigenous experience with all the authenticity, all the connections, the truth and all the friendship,” said André Dudemaine, the First Nations People Festival director.
Dudemaine said that after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions, having the festival come back in full force is a great joy for everyone.
“There is a parallel to do with the comeback of the festival and the comeback of First Nations culture after a period of oblivion,” said Dudemaine.
“This year we can really feel the Indigenous community of Montreal, of Kahnawake and all around, how they are happy this festival exists and how it belongs to everybody. This sentiment of belonging was there before but this year is stronger than ever.”
This year, the festival site features a skateboarding ramp where First Nations youth can come and learn how to skateboard.
It’s led by non-profit Nations Skate Youth, which travels across Canada connecting Indigenous youth with skateboarding.
The setup was inspired by Joe Buffalo, one of the non-profit’s co-founders. He is an Indigenous skateboarding legend and a survivor of Canada’s residential school system.
A documentary on his life is being screening as part of the festival.
Buffalo says the sport saved his life.
Rosie Archie, co-founder of Nations Skate Youth, understands that feeling.
“It definitely saved my life,” said Archie, who started skateboarding in the early 1990s while growing up in British Columbia.
“Growing up in the community, there was a lot of drug and alcohol abuse, a lot of suicides. I could have easily gone down any of those roads but I had my skateboard.
“When I say it truly saved my life, that’s what I mean. It took me out of that darkness that I could have gone into.”
Archie is now teaching youth how to skateboard and wants to make sure that through it, Aboriginal youth can learn to be proud of themselves and their culture.
“Skateboarding has become so mainstream with the Olympics, but not many people see Indigenous skateboarders,” Archie said. “We want to bring that proudness, so when a young Indigenous boy or girl walk, they’re going to be like ‘wow’, something they’ve never seen before.”
For festival organizers, featuring the non-profit at the festival was important.
“We wanted to bring something that connects youth with the culture once again and skateboarding is that thing,” said Padget Williams, the festival’s production manager.
The festival runs until Aug. 18th.
For full programming, visit presenceautochtone.ca