Festival du Voyageur is entering a new era — one focusing on Indigenous inclusion, the environment and site improvements.
The countdown to Festival 2020 kicked off Thursday at Fort Gibraltar with a chorus of enthusiastic “Hé Hos” and a promise to better reflect Manitoba’s past and present.
“On our 50th anniversary last year, we acknowledged that we hadn’t done enough to showcase Indigenous culture,” said executive director Darrel Nadeau.
“There wouldn’t have been a voyageur era without Indigenous people, there wouldn’t have been a fur trade without Indigenous people, so we can’t imagine a festival without Indigenous people.”
The 51st edition of the event, which runs Feb. 14-23, will feature the biggest lineup of Indigenous programming to date, including a full-day showcase of contemporary musicians; a visual art installation and performance by Jamie Black, creator of the REDress Project; a reading by Beatrice Mosionier, author of In Search of April Raintree; and a six-day culinary pop-up by Ishkode at old St. Boniface city hall.
Barbara and Clarence Nepinak — both of whom were named recipients of the Order of Manitoba last year for their efforts to preserve Indigenous culture — have run educational workshops at the festival for a number of years. On Thursday, the husband-and-wife duo was pleased to see better cultural representation at this year’s event.
“It’s always been included in the past, but as a very minute part of it — you maybe saw dancing or drumming, but there’s more to being Indigenous than just that,” Barbara said. “It’s encouraging to see that we are part of that circle.”
For Clarence, the 2020 logo, designed by local Oji-Cree artist Jordan Stranger, is an indication of the festival’s commitment to inclusion.
“Each year, it was little steps and little steps… and now the 51st step is like, ‘Woah, OK we’re here,’ evidenced by the graphics that were produced,” he said. “It’s a good feeling. (We) don’t feel like outsiders anymore.”
The new Indigenous programming is supported by the province’s Manitoba 150 celebration this year, but Nadeau said the intention is to make it permanent.
“We’ll find a budget for it, whether it’s funded by someone else or coming out of our own budget, it’s too important for us not to do,” he said.
The Winnipeg winter festival is also rolling out a series of new environmental initiatives. An volunteer position has been created to help people navigate the new composting program at Voyageur Park, and free water refill stations will be installed onsite — something that required a bit of creative problem-solving.
“You’d think (that’s) really easy, but in winter there’s no water lines that run through this place, so we’re bringing huge water tanks to be able to do that,” Nadeau said.
University of Manitoba engineering students will also be conducting an energy feasibility study during the festival.
“We’ll be tracking how much propane each tent uses throughout the day, and we’ll also be determining how much heat they’re losing by measuring temperatures inside and outside of the tent,” said Trina Semenchuk, president of student group UMEARTH.
“As engineering students, we need to be working with communities and telling them how they can be addressing climate change.”
On the topic of tents, the former Bell MTS Red River Tent, which had a capacity of 650, is being replaced with a structure that can accommodate more than 1,000 people. While the capacity at Voyageur Park will increase slightly this year as a result, Nadeau said staff at the gate will be keeping a close eye on the numbers.
“What we’re really doing to reduce lineups is better controlling the capacity of the park,” he said. “We encourage people to buy their tickets early, and buy them online in advance to guarantee their entry.”
Festival du Voyageur’s full 2020 music lineup was also released Thursday. Headliners include: Charlotte Cardin, Clay and Friends, Five Alarm Funk, and Twin Flames.