On connected activism: the wapikoni mobile short film project
Born out of desire to foster cross-cultural dialogue with the necessity of preserving the legacy of residential schools in Canada, Wapikoni Mobile is not your average grassroots movement, nor is it your average film project. In liaison with the Atikamekw Native Council, this travelling film collective and non-profit hybrid began its journey to support “reconciliation through arts” in 2003, and has since connected with over 2000 youths from over 10 different Indigenous groups across Canada.
However important, media use in Indigenous campaigns is by no means a novel concept. Traditional media has existed as a transnational platform for mobilization since the 1970s (1), and in recent years this movement has grown to include social media platforms as well. In reflection of the necessity of film as a platform within the Canadian context, Mowhawk and author of think-piece “Indigenous Media is Not a Novelty; Its A Load Bearing Column in Canada’s Fourth Estate,” John Ahni Scertow is quoted saying “Indigenous peoples need the capacity to produce media in their own communities just as much as the Canadian public needs new opportunities to hear our stories, and maybe even meet us face to face” (2). What makes Wapikoni unique is that the it adds a collaborative dimension as a means of fostering cross-cultural conversation. Not only does the collective argue for the necessity of Indigenous media in Canada, but in its almost 15 year existence Wapikoni has come closer to building bridges than many of the formal initiatives taken on by the Canadian government since the end of the Residential School System in 1996.
While it may appear as nothing more than a RV or motor-home to the average on-looker, the rolling-studio is fully equipped with all the digital and media technologies necessary to write, produce, and edit documentaries which reflect the lived realities of Indigenous people in Canada. With the mandate of targeting the disproportionately high rates of violence, suicide, and injustice, Manon Barbeau, a renowned Quebecoise film maker and the initiative’s founder, sought to create a space of “assembly, intervention, and audiovisual and musical creation for First Nations Youths” (3). In her interview with the Montreal Gazette in 2012, Barbeau reflected upon the project and how film, as a political and creative endeavour, occupies the “space for [non Indigenous] people to lose their sense of prejudice, racism” (4) and to discover another narrative of history.
Beyond providing access to these expressive means, both the Indigenous and non-identifying members of Wapikoni are dedicated to creating long-term change through active listening. And in addition to the studio itself, the collective provides workshops, training and continuing education, so that participants gain the skills necessary to the continue manifesting social change through channels of awareness and engagement at the level of the Canadian public. Others find empowerment in the industry which leads them to expand their endeavours into political campaigns and professional careers.
In addition to films the dedicated to documenting the Residential School experience, Wapikoni has partnered with communities across Canada to create a bank of projects that are dedicated to gendered violence. As a young artist and advocate, Maryanne Junta of the MicMac nation produced “Protect Our Future Daughters” in order to raise awareness for the “REDress Project” and her own experience as the “namesake of a missing and murdered Indigenous woman.” The project itself is political campaign and visual art installation that seeks to draw attention to the violence in Canada that is particular to Indigenous women by hanging red dresses on campuses across the nation. Although Maryanne cites more than 100,181 women in Canada and the United States have gone missing or been killed in the last 30 years. Thus the idea behind this “aesthetic response” is to grant these women space where they were denied by society and within the Canadian legal system (5). At only 17 years old, Maryanne created the short-docudrama as a visual reminder of why the the red dress is such an important symbol to her and her community. By combining this political sentiment with the power of filmography, the product is a film which breathes life into the metaphor of the “red dress” and forces the viewer to confront the fact that the impacts of gendered violence against Indigenous women are not limited to the injustice experienced by the women themselves.
While the range of films produced in collaboration with the collective are equally as diverse as the communities involved, and whose topics touch upon from everything from suicide to feminism, one common thread runs through the entire project. Although each film reveals it in their own unique way, the systemic oppression experienced by Indigenous communities across Canada is one that transcends boundaries of generations.
(1) Faye Ginburg, “Embedded Aesthetics: Creating a Discursive Space for Indigenous Media” 2003.
(2) John Ahni Scertow “Indigenous Media is not a Novelty; It’s a Load Bearing Column in Canada’s Fourth Estate, 2017.
(3) Laura Beeston. “Montreal Diary: Wapikoni mobile offers a creative outlet.” 2012.
(5) Jamie Black “The REDress Project,” 2014.
Beeston, Laura. “Montreal Diary: Wapikoni mobile offers a creative outlet.” The Gazette, 28 Oct. 2012, www.wapikoni.ca/conent/documents/revuedepresses/the%Gazette_20121028.pdf
Black, Jamie. The REDress Project, 2014, www.theredressproject.org.
Ginsburg, Faye. Embedded Aesthetics: Creating a Discursive Space for Indigenous Media. 2003.
Scertow, John Ahni. Intercontinental Cry. “Indigenous Media is not a Novelty; It’s a Load Bearing Column in Canada’s Fourth Estate.” Intercontinental Cry, 29 2017, intercontinentralcry.org/indigenous-media-is-not-a-novelty
“Wapikoni mobile.” www.wapikoni.ca