The Real Magic School Bus: Wapikoni Mobile

Instilling change through art

Jaina Kelly, Staff Writer

Wapikoni Mobile is one of Canada’s most incredible youth initiatives. This not-for-profit organization was founded in 2003 as a creative solution to aid Indigenous communities with mental health crises, issues regarding addiction, and lack of job opportunities. They act as a moving studio, travelling by bus, in order to access even the most remote Indigenous communities.

PC: Sarah McPherson

The group was co-founded by Manon Barbeau, a Quebecois filmmaker, director, and writer, who holds the position of general director. Wapikoni’s creation was influenced by an early 2000’s film written by Barbeau, titled ‘The End of Contempt’. The film featured fifteen young Atikamekw from Wemotaci, a First Nations reserve on the north shore of the Saint-Maurice river in Quebec. One of these individuals included Wapikoni Awashish, who acted as a positive role model for the group. In a devastating accident, she died at the age of twenty after a truck carrying wood crashed into her vehicle. Following Awashish’s sudden and tragic death, Barbeau created a program in her honour to help Indigenous youth. This program would eventually become the mobile bus. She thought that a mobile studio could travel and act as a positive, creative intervention into different Indigenous communities around Canada. With the help of the Atikamekw Nation Council, the First Nations Youth Council of Quebec and Labrador, the Assembly of First Nations, and the National Film Board of Canada, Wapikoni Mobile was born, complete with a name that captured the loving tribute to Barbeau’s friend from the community of Wemotaci.

The organization carefully selects its focus within particular communities through direct communication and approval from their various Band Councils. Wapikoni’s workshops are meticulously planned, and always keep in mind their long-term vision of the participant’s development, as informed by the claim on their website that a “long-term intervention is essential for lasting impact on youth and communities.”

Wapikoni has three major objectives for their work within Indigenous communities, and they are as follows:

1) To combat isolation and suicide among First Nations youth by developing artistic, technical, social, and professional skills.

2) To disseminate the films made and raise awareness among different audiences about First Nations issues by promoting a rich and often overlooked culture.

3) To contribute to the safeguarding of First Nations cultural heritage.

The organization offers workshops of up to thirty participants that teach mastery of digital, state-of-the-art tools used in the development of short films and musical works. These workshops utilize the expertise of a trained Wapikoni community assistant, a youth worker, an Indigenous coordinator, and two professional filmmakers to influence artistic creation through a “learning by doing” approach.

Since its official launch in 2004, Wapikoni has helped Indigenous youth create over 1,000 short films. The films are produced in the moving studio, in which they drive directly to the participating communities. All recordings produced in these respective communities are then added to the official website as edited and completed short films.

Since their original debut in 2004, Wapikoni Mobile films has won 156 awards. In an exciting press release from earlier this month, they announced that the organization has added 116 new five-minute films, produced during their travels in 2017. To view these films, visit