[Entrevue] “Ninanimishken. I walk against the wind”: seeking peace
Florent Vollant lives at his own pace. And this pace is slow. This is what he first answered to the author Justin Kingsley when the latter offered to collaborate with him so that he writes his life. “If it takes two years in general to write a book like that, he told her, with me, it will take three. »
It must be said that Florent Vollant had a long story to tell.
And Justin Kingsley has been patient. Regularly, when Florent Vollant was in Montreal, the latter invited him to join him, under a bus shelter, at the corner of Parc and Mont-Royal avenues. “He called it our office,” recalls Justin Kingsley. Then, the two men walked for long hours and Florent Vollant exposed himself. After some time, he agreed to be recorded.
It is these bits of life, of reflection, which form Ninanimishken. I walk against the wind, which has just been published by Éditions Flammarion Québec. The idea arose when Florent Vollant gave an interview during the filming of the film Chaakapeshon the OSM tour in the Far North.
« We left the interview crying, » says Justin Kingsley.
In this book, Florent Vollant tells his life, that of an Innu born in the middle of Labrador, of a family where we liked to sing and make music. It was at Indian Point, an hour’s walk from Labrador City. His grandfather’s favorite song was called Nikanaand that of his grandmother Iapit Uin Tshin. From that time, he remembers that his people did not share the notions of wealth of the foreign gold diggers that his father guided in the region.
“From this point of view, wealth is not seen in the same way in the city as in the woods or in the North. Eating well is a sign of wealth for us. We lived in a cabin, but the smells that emanated from it, at mealtimes, were incomparable,” he wrote.
That was until he and his six brothers and sisters were all, without exception, placed in boarding school, leaving his parents deserted.
Want to break everything
“The day we knocked on our door, I was five years old. From September 6 to 7, 1964, overnight, there were no more children at home, the count was seven to zero for the government. »
At boarding school, Florent Vollant was a model child, even if he says he tried twice to escape. Very strong in French, in particular. When he comes out, he no longer knows who he is. His mother, who did not drink alcohol, took up drinking like his father. “When I returned to the Maliotenam reserve, to my parents, and found what was left of my father and my mother, I wanted to break everything. Burn everything I saw,” he wrote.
Along the way, he had also lost his language, Innu. In a moving passage, he recounts how he was unable to follow his grandfather’s instructions, when they were in the forest, because he did not know the language well enough.
Innu was taught to me by my sister, who was a teacher, after I left boarding school. It is a soft language, because there is no letter r.
It is however in Innu that he wrote all his songs, in particular that of the group Kashtin, which he formed with Claude McKenzie.
« The Innu is my sister, who was a teacher, who taught me to write it after I left boarding school, » he said in an interview. It’s a soft language, because there is no letter r « .
Florent Vollant is a man who needs peace. This is what he understood when he came out of a few months in prison, sentenced for throwing a rock at a police car during a fight between Aboriginals and whites. This peace, it is the music which brought it to him. « Music saved me, » he said in an interview.
« At 18, I was rebellious, » he recalls. Today I want peace. »
dream at night
Already, at boarding school, it was on a small xylophone and a banana-shaped harmonica that little Florent deceived his boredom and his pain in living. At night, unbeknownst to everyone, he also allows himself to dream of life in the woods.
“If no one knows that you have fun traveling around in your head, chasing caribou, catching big fish, no one can take those thoughts away from you. They are yours,” he wrote.
But in music, he also experienced adversity. In 1990, after the Oka crisis, the then popular Kashtin songs stopped playing on the radio, which boycotted native music in response to the crisis.
Twenty-five years ago, he founded the Makusham music studio in Maliotenam, where he lives, to make his own recordings. Today, this studio is used to record both Indigenous and non-Indigenous music. Florent Vollant also recounts his friendships with « his » Richard, Richard Séguin, who wrote the preface to the book, Richard Desjardins, and Zachary Richard.
He is now campaigning for quotas for indigenous music to be imposed on the radio. “In Quebec, on our public and private radio stations, the distribution is 65% French songs, and 35% English songs. I believe it would not be exaggerated to demand 5% of airtime for Aboriginal artists,” he wrote.
He is still indignant, daily. In particular, comments by the Premier of Quebec, François Legault, who launched that the problem of racism at the Joliette hospital was “settled”, before apologizing to the widower of Joyce Echaquan.
“I laugh blackly because I am told that there is no systemic racism in Quebec”, he writes. He says he knows Aboriginal people “who would rather die in the woods than go to a hospital like the one where Joyce Echaquan was carelessly left to die after having insulted, humiliated, mistreated her”.
Since he suffered a stroke, Florent Vollant can no longer play the guitar, he can no longer go kayaking and surfing the waves. He had been condemned to a wheelchair. He swore he was going to walk, although he has done so so far using a walker.
« Move, move forward, that’s what matters most, » he writes. I am a nomad. If I don’t walk and there is no more wind, I will fall. My life’s work is created when I walk. Illness is just another big blow. I won’t stop there. Ninanimishken, man. »
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