Award-winning movie Atikamekw Suns recounts Manawan tragedy

There were questions when five Atikamekw from the community of Manawan, Que., drowned in 1997 when the van they were riding in slid off the road into a nearby river.

The driver and his friend, two non-Indigenous men, both survived.

While local authorities declared the crash an accident.

Now a new film tries to answer some of those questions.

“It’s a film about racism, especially systemic racism,” says Chloé Leriche, who wrote, directed and produced Atikamekw Suns. “And I find that Indigenous people in Canada experience a great deal of injustice on many levels.

“Listen, I wouldn’t have spent eight years of my life if I didn’t think this was extremely important.”

Actress Lise-Yolande Awashish, Atikamekw from the community of Obedjiwan, portrayed Lucie Petiquay, a mother who lost her son in the crash.

“For me, this film is a voice for Indigenous communities, for Indigenous people,” Awashish tells APTN News. “Because racism is nothing new. It’s 2024 and it’s still present today.”

The Atikamekw language is featured prominently in the film.

Jacques Newashish is an established actor and multidisciplinary artist from Wemotaci. He portrayed David-Marcel Ottawa, an Atikamekw interpreter who works in the courthouse.

“I knew the person I’m playing, ” says Newashish. “…He’s someone who made a big impression on me, not only because of his presence, but also because he was there for others.”

Leriche learned about the tragedy from a sister of one of the victims.

She says by telling the story she was able to understand a part of Atikamekw history.

“I want us to repair the relationship between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people in Canada. I want things to happen and I want action to be taken.”

Since its premiere on the film festival circuit in October 2023, Atikamekw Suns has won several awards.

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