An Anishinaabe performer from Pikogan First Nation, 600 km northwest of Montreal, is speaking out about a Quebec music festival’s “stupefying” decision to cancel a planned set because the selected songs contained more Anishinaabemowin than French.
“The show comes as it is,” Samian, the multilingual hip-hop performer, told APTN’s Nouvelles Nationales in an interview. “I come at 100 per cent – take it or leave it. They chose to leave it.
The Festival International de Chanson de Granby, which has been holding shows for more than 50 years, recently extended an invite to Samian to perform in its upcoming fall edition.
But as he tells it when they found out his song list – like his most recent album – was entirely in Anishinaabemowin, organizers tried to convince him to add in more French songs from his musical repertoire.
“They asked me to adapt my show to feature 80 per cent French [songs] and 20 per cent Anishinaabemowin [songs],” he said. “It’s like they asked me for this one night, you have to be 80 per cent French, and 20 per cent Algonquin, when for 15 years I’ve been trying to build bridges between Quebecois culture and Indigenous culture. I can’t break that bridge.
“It was frustrating. It was insulting.”
In an emailed statement to APTN News, the festival’s directors explained they’re still open and willing to have Samian perform in their 2022 edition, “while taking into account that [our] first mission is to promote French music.”
“We’re hoping the dialogue with Samian and his management will continue so that he can be a part of our next edition.
Samian, however, is no longer interested.
In a Facebook status update published earlier this week and shared thousands of times, Samian said he’s “royally fed up with this colonial ideology” – a feeling he reiterated when speaking with APTN.
“Indigenous languages don’t threaten French. Indigenous languages are threatened. We have a job to do, as Quebecers, to value and uphold them,” Samian said.
However, Samian said he’s concerned about the way his experience with festival organizers is kicking up dust in Quebec’s political circles.
In a press release, the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador made a link between the incident and Quebec’s proposed Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec.
Bill 96 was tabled in May 2021, and is intended to overhaul the province’s French-language charter by recognizing French as Quebec’s “official language,” and includes 200 amendments meant to strengthen the status of French.
Among those amendments are tougher laws on signage, more language requirements for businesses, and reducing spots in English-language colleges.
“The position of the [Festival International de la Chanson de Granby] mirrors the position of the Quebec provincial government which, with its Bill 96, imposes French to the detriment of the first languages of Indigenous peoples,” Ghislain Picard, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, said in a written statement.
“Another example of a colonial ideology well-established in Quebec.”
The First Nations Education Council (FNEC), who also oppose certain provisions outlined in Bill 96, told APTN the Festival International de la Chanson de Granby “underestimated the impact of their decision.”
“It is key for our youth to be proud of who they are,” explained FNEC’s director, Denis Gros-Louis.
“Samian speaks Anishinaabe, he’s proud of his culture, and he has been a role model. And that’s what needs to be promoted.”
Monik Kistabish, chief of Samian’s home community of Pikogan in the Abitibi region, also feels there’s a broader context to be considered.
“For us, it reignites the debate about the importance of our language,” Kistabish explained. “We’re affected by what’s happened with Samian because he’s a member of [our community.]”
“We’re very proud of him, both council and community members. It touches us too, because the value of our languages – we all carry that, regardless of our nation.”
APTN requested an interview with Simon Jolin-Barrette, the Quebec minister responsible for the French Language, Secularism, and Parliamentary Reform – but that request was declined.
Instead, a ministry spokesperson submitted an emailed response to APTN’s questions about how Bill 96 could impact Indigenous languages.
“Bill 96 […] is intended for the protection of the French language. These are two distinct challenges,” according to the email.
“Minister [Simon] Jolin-Barrette reiterated numerous times during the consultations on Bill 96 that we understand the desire among Indigenous peoples to protect their language. In this sense, we assured that Bill 96 doesn’t impede in any way the right of First Nations and Inuit to assure and maintain the development of their traditional language and culture.”
Samian, for his part, said he doesn’t want the political buzzing to detract from his initial message posted after the festival’s backtracking on their invitation.
“The message I wanted to convey amidst all this is to let the younger generation of musicians know – whether they’re Atikamekw, Innu, Algonquin – that they have the right to sing in their language. And not to be afraid, like ‘if I don’t sing in French, will they not accept me in a festival?’” Samian said.
“I always wanted to bring people together, and for me it’s ‘mission accomplished’ in the last 15 years to see so many Indigenous people and Quebecois people come together to see shows.
“I think that’s beautiful. And that’s what I want to continue to do.”
-With files from The Canadian Press.