Wapikoni Mobile began as a project to capture the stories of youth in First Nations communities in Canada. Co-founder Manon Barbeau, a Québécois documentary filmmaker, had written a film script with with fifteen Atikamekw youth. Among these youth was a group leader named Wapikoni Awashish. In 2002, Wapikoni died at the age of 20 in a car accident. Barbeau was much affected by her death — and by the large number of youth suicides in the communities — and co-founded Wapikoni Mobile in Wapikoni’s honor in collaboration with Council of the Atikamekw Nation Youth Council and the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, and with the support of the Assembly of First Nations and the National Film Board of Canada.
The first Wapikoni Mobile workshop began in a camping car that made stops in different communities. The studio was in the shower and project editing was done inside the car. Since their founding, they have grown to 3 buses that travel to various indigenous communities, providing workshops for First Nations youth that allow them to master digital tools by directing short films and musical works. During each stopover, “mentor filmmakers” welcome and train 30 young participants across all stages of implementation. They have stopped in more than 54 communities, helping youth build their video making skills and express their ideas in concrete ways.
The idea of Wapikoni Mobile is grounded in its mobility — it is accessible and it can travel. There have been cases where the Wapikoni bus was put on boats to reach a community. Reaching even isolated regions is a core part of the organization’s mission.
Wapikoni Mobile has also gone south, with workshops in Panama, Peru, and other parts of South America, and they have visited indigenous groups along North and South American borders. As Virginie Michel, Director of Communications for the organization, says, “This is to show that the imaginary lines that have been drawn as Canada, US and Mexico are not naturally existing. The idea is to connect with each other, but also to use video as a tool for indigenous cultures [to shift the frame] where people don’t see us, or when they see us it’s through derogatory glasses.”
This approach of bringing studios directly to the community and co-creating content with youth in those communities builds their artistic, technical, social, and leadership skills, and is further aimed at building their self confidence and aiding in suicide prevention. The subjects of the films are chosen by the youth. Doing so acknowledges their agency, and elevates awareness on the social issues that are affecting their communities, which are often otherwise invisible. Wapikoni Mobile works in collaboration with the community to allow residents to find ways to heal themselves internally without outside aid, reducing external dependencies.
The idea of Wapikoni Mobile has expanded beyond functioning solely as an arts and cultural organization. The organization works on three systemic issues affecting indigenous youth: suicide prevention, leadership training, community resilience, and elevation of indigenous issues and cultural preservation.
The mission of Wapikoni Mobile is for youth films to serve as a repository of First Nations culture that is often overlooked or misrepresented by mainstream media and would disappear from public memory if not safeguarded. As Michel said, “Wapikoni Mobile turned into a great tool to acknowledge our culture and also bypass mainstream media. By using social media to distribute our work, we create what *we* think is our culture and not what the mass media portrays. When you see inaccurate representations of yourself in mass media – this is itself damaging. But Wapikoni Mobile is self-created. So you see it in a more positive way, you see yourself in the work, and you feel like you exist. This has changed the game. [What we’ve created] becomes a ‘cultural library;’ it safeguards the space that could disappear.”
With nearly 1000 films created since the launch of the organization, the Wapikoni Mobile films create self-affirming narratives for marginalized First Nations youth communities, making them more visible and an important part of the prominent culture. As indigenous rights movements grow in prominence in the media, and as various indigenous groups strengthen their cross-border and cross-group collaborations, Wapikoni Mobile has entered into a formal consultative partner with UNESCO, aimed at providing a platform for Indigenous youth to express themselves on issues that affect them.
Learn more: www.wapikoni.ca/home