Innu play ‘Manikanetish’ takes high school students across the province

Manikanetish is an Innu play currently making its way through cities across Quebec and Lashuanna Aster Vollant, 17, from Mani-Utenam couldn’t be happier.

“I am living my dream,” Aster Vollant said during a recent interview.

The play is about reconnecting with one’s identity. It’s bringing together a talented troupe of young actors, many of whom are performing on a professional stage for the first time.

Aster Vollant said that she has enjoyed being part of a young cast and recounted that she came to Montreal for the first time to perform in the play when it first debuted last year.

“My character’s name is Mélina. She’s 15 years old and a rather shy student, but as time goes by, as the play progresses, she adapts more and opens up more,” she said.

The play is based on a novel by writer Naomi Fontaine and tells the story of a young Innu teacher, Yammie Fontaine, who comes home after 15 years to teach French and reconnect with her roots.

Sharon Fontaine-Ishpatao, portrays Yammie, the high school teacher who begins working at Manikanetish high.

“When she arrives in this class, she’s distraught and lost, and it’s a real re-education in terms of everything she has to relearn about empathy, understanding, community spirit and even her maternal instinct,” Fontaine-Ishpatao said.

Innu play
Students onstage for rehearsal. Photo: Marisela Amador/APTN.

The budding actress, whose credits include the feature film Kuessipan, said that she was drawn to the character because it hit close to home.”

“The inspiration for the character of Yammie came directly from Naomi Fontaine, who was a teacher herself and then later became my teacher. So, I was there in her first year of teaching. I pretty much saw everything that happened,” she explained.

As one of the more experienced performers in the production, Fontaine-Ishpatao added that she had taken the young actors under her wing.

Shapatu Vollant, 18, from Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam said that he considers himself lucky for the opportunity to be a part of this play.

“Indigenous people are doing all the same things that non-Indigenous people do. I do it because I like it. And because I know inside that I’m good at it. And I like telling this story,” Vollant said.

Manikanetish will be on tour across Quebec until June.

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