Anishinabeg rapper says Quebec festival cut him because his show wasn't French enough

Indigenous leaders are speaking out, saying First Nations languages aren’t a threat but the Eastern Townships festival says its mission is to promote French music.

Samian performs in Anishinaabemowin and French, says organizers should have done their homework

Samian is an Anishinabeg rapper and actor from Pikogan, Que. who writes and performs in French and Anishinaabemowin. (F6Image)

Samuel Tremblay, better known by his stage name Samian, says he was shocked when a discussion with an organizer from a prominent Quebec song festival turned to how much of his proposed August show would be in French.

The Anishinabeg rapper and actor is a member of the Abitibiwinni First Nation in Pikogan, Que. He performs in French and Anishinaabemowin — one of many Algonquin languages spoken in First Nations in Quebec, Ontario and other parts of Canada and the U.S.

He says the Festival international de la chanson de Granby (FICG) wanted assurances that no more than 20 per cent of the show would be performed in his Indigenous tongue.

"I find it very insulting," Samian told Radio-Canada.

"For me the show comes as it is. My last album is entirely in Algonquin … you can take it or leave it — and they left it."

Samian shared his frustration on social media over the weekend, saying booking agents need to "do their homework."

He said it's hard to reconcile his recent experience with some of the progress that's been made over the course of his 15-year career — including Quebec's move to officially recognize and help protect Indigenous languages last June and a similar move by the United Nations.

"I understand we want to have francophone festivals and I understand the fight of the French language against English," he said, "but Indigenous languages aren't threatening. Indigenous languages are threatened."

WATCH | Samian explains how an invitation went sour:

Indigenous artist Samian says he was told he needed to perform 80% in French at Granby festival

2 years ago
Duration 1:27
An Anishinabeg artist who has songs in French and in Algonquin, says a song festival in the Eastern Townships invited him to perform but only if his concert was mainly in French.

Festival 'sincerely sorry'

The Granby festival declined an interview request from CBC but issued a statement saying it had invited Samian to perform knowing he had songs in French as well as in his first language and its team is "sincerely sorry about the turn of events." 

"We told his representative we were open to him performing songs in his two languages, accounting for the fact the primary mission of the festival is to promote francophone songwriting," reads the statement.

The festival said it hopes talks with Samian and his agent can continue so he can still put on a show.

WATCH | 'Anishinabe,' the first track off of Samian's latest album, Nikamo: 

Indigenous leaders speak out

Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL), condemned Samian's exclusion from the Granby festival and issued a news release that was shared online by Innu Senator Michèle Audette.

"The performance of Samian … was refused because he could not provide an adequate quota of songs in French in the eyes of the organizers," the release said. 

"The languages of the First Nations are not a threat to Quebec's heritage but rather the very essence of the First Peoples. Despite several observations on the fragility of these languages … the fight remains. The reaction of the FICG is proof of this."

Quebec's minister responsible for Indigenous affairs, Ian Lafrenière, says the province doesn't get involved in programming decisions and will let the festival explain its decision.

But the minister's office said Quebec needs to value and promote Indigenous languages, something that chiefs, grand chiefs and urban Indigenous organizations have highlighted as one of their biggest priorities.

Samian says he feels it's disrespectful to impose linguistic requirements on Indigenous artists and says the subject never came up when he was invited to perform at other French festivals like the Francos de Montréal.

"I can't start calculating the percentage of French and Indigenous language in my show," he said. "It felt like I was talking to politicians."

"I think festival promoters have a duty and a responsibility. If they decide to invite Indigenous artists to perform they shouldn't limit themselves to quotas or percentages … they should be inviting them because the artists want to express themselves in their mother tongue."

Samian performs at the Innu Nikamu festival in 2018. (Marc-Antoine Mageau/Radio-Canada)