Here’s the real meaning of pure laine

Mélanie Carrier and Olivier Higgins’ latest Québékoisie, which has its world premiere tonight at RIDM, explores the true heritage of Quebec’s Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and uncovers some startling information.

Mélanie Carrier in Québékoisie

Québékoisie is a road movie but it’s unlike anything I’ve seen. In a little over an hour, the film manages to call into question a lot of what my primary and high school Canadian history education provided. The film documents directors Mélanie Carrier and Olivier Higgins’ bike journey through Quebec as they attempt to explore our roots — uncovering that our Aboriginal and French cultures are far more intertwined than what may have been previously assumed.

We spoke to Carrier and Higgins via email earlier this week about the film’s fascinating discoveries and what they could mean for the Québécois.

Kayla Marie Hillier: What specifically about visiting other cultures made you think about Canada’s heritage, and the true lineage of its people?
Mélanie Carrier & Olivier Higgins: After travelling all over the world, we decided to go on a 8,000km adventure from Mongolia to India. We were fascinated by the diversity of cultural demonstrations that succeeded each other from one village to the next. We ended up asking ourselves what our own traditions were in Quebec? What was our culture? Riding a long way on bicycles leads you to think a whole lot. In the Himalayan heights, we realized that we maintained strong ties with the other end of the world, but that we couldn’t even name the 11 First Nations living in Quebec. We were ashamed. We promised ourselves that our next projects would explore the roots of our ignorance.

q2KMH: What did you discover when you began to explore those roots?
MC & OH: In school, we were told repeatedly that Jacques Cartier discovered Canada in 1534. We’ll remember that date our whole lives. We were never taught about the contribution, past or present, of the different Aboriginal cultures to what Quebec is today. To understand who we are and where we’re going, in Quebec as much as in Canada, it seems fundamental for us to revisit the founding myths that were transmitted to us. We believe that developing an interest in the Aboriginal people, who have been living in Quebec forever, is an obligatory step for all those who call themselves “Québécois.”

KMH: How do you expect people to react to the film? Do you think some will be hesitant to accept some of the ideas and history presented in it?
MC & OH: The “Métis” past of what we call the “Quebec nation” will certainly have people talking. Among Aboriginal people, some are also very attached to the idea of being “100 per cent pure Indian.” Québékoisie attempts to demystify these bloodline questions to highlight the invaluable richness of the cultures of our world instead. We hope to make a few boundaries fall with this film. But we know very well that for some people, especially the older generations, some of the ideas we are presenting will be difficult to digest. But questions of interbreeding and mixed identities are up with the times in this globalization era.

KMH: Especially considering current political arguments based on cultural ideas, do you think that the film will encourage further discussion about what it means to be Québécois?
MC & OH: It’s truly worrisome to hear about reasonable accommodation, Quebec values and cultural diversity without ever addressing Aboriginal issues, or even the Aboriginal presence. If we really wish to build a society where the social fabric would be based on solid foundations, we have to be consistent. There is a clear paradox, for example, between our struggle to save the French language in Quebec and the omission, or even the denial of the struggle of the First Nations to preserve their own ancestral languages. We think that this film can contribute to revisiting the questions of identity. But we’re also convinced that identity is a concept that we can’t put in a box. What does it mean to be Québécois, Innu, German? That is a question that each of us can struggle with our whole life.

q3KMH: Was there anything that you found particularly surprising while doing your research for the film?
MC & OH: We were surprised to learn that in the Montreal region, no less than 85 per cent of the people who are referred to as “French Canadian” have at least one Aboriginal ancestor in their lineage. We were also surprised to find how taboo it is for some Aboriginal people to have “white” ancestors. We were completely devastated to see how the racist theories of previous centuries led to atrocities being inflicted upon the different Aboriginal people of the country.

One of the highlights of the project remains, without a doubt, the time when we found ourselves, six years ago, in a shaputuan surrounded by Innu elders. We were the only ones who didn’t understand their language and we weren’t in Tibet, we were 800 km away from our bungalow. We felt like we were at the right place, at the right time — Québékoisie was taking off. ■

Québékoisie has its world premiere at the RIDM documentary film fest at Cinema Excentris (3536 St-Laurent) tonight, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 8:30 p.m., $11.50. And there’s a second screening at the fest, also at Cinema Excentris, on Friday, Nov. 22, 4:15 p.m., $11.50.

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