It is well-known that Canadian society is made up of a variety of ethnic cultures. Canada’s long-standing policy of multiculturalism allows each individual Canadian the opportunity to explore and promote his or her ethnic background in a variety of ways, from attending language courses to participating in cultural festivals. For many Canadians, connecting with one’s ethnic background is a source of pride and identity. It can also help someone figure out where they have come from, make sense of the present, and chart a new course for his or her future.
Atikamekw First Nation filmmaker Thérèse Ottawa’s documentary short Red Path (Le chemin rouge), released in 2015, is an emotional look at a young Atikamekw man’s life journey of redemption, forgiveness and farsightedness. In this 15-minute film produced by the NFB’s Johanne Bergeron, Tony Chachai recalls his, as well as his mother’s, substance abuse during his formative years. Forgiving his mother and filled with a strong desire for change, Tony recounts his mother’s final request: that he would become a dancer. Tony’s cousin, Ronny Chachai, is instrumental in helping him learn to dance, thereby connecting Tony to his Atikamekw roots. Watch the film below:
From start to finish, there was a sense of peace, hope and optimism emanating from Tony in the film. It was fascinating to see Ronny conduct the ceremonial prayer with Tony. It was also heartwarming to see Tony visit his mother’s grave in his dancers clothing, conversing with her and revealing to her that his partner will be giving birth to her grandchild. Finally, seeing Tony dance with his cousin Ronny showed his ultimate connection with his culture, enabling him to move forward to become, in his own words, a role model for others.
Red Path premiered at Présence Autochtone in 2015, where it received special mentions in the Best Short Film and Télé-Québec Best Choice Award categories. Since then, it has been featured at the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois, the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, San Francisco’s American Indian Film Festival, Vancouver’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival as well as the Yorkton Film Festival, where it received the Golden Sheaf Award in the Multicultural category.
Red Path is compelling and encouraging; it is highly recommended to anyone who is seeking to let go of the past, reconnect with one’s self in the present, and go forward with a renewed sense of purpose for the future. It is also an educational glimpse into life on Atikamekw First Nation. Good luck to Thérèse in her future filmmaking career.