by Betty Bardswich
M’CHIGEENG—For the sixth year, M’Chigeeng First Nation hosted a youth conference held at the community complex on May 23. As M’Chigeeng Family Resources department head Elaine Migwans explained, the name of the gathering is always Inspiring Minds Youth Conference and the theme for this year was bzindan which means ‘listen.’
“The youth will find their message through public service announcements,” Ms. Migwans explained. “They will work in groups or singular with magazines and Bristol board to do a public service announcement. The Bristol board visual will then go on to a DVD which they can take home. Youth have a lot of energy and we provide a venue to promote their energy in a good way. This conference is open to everyone. Everyone is welcome.”
Artist, writer, screenwriter, actor, film producer and founder of the Weengushk Film Institute, Shirley Cheechoo, along with her son Nano Debassige, were facilitator’s for the event. Ms. Cheechoo explained that the conference was to teach the youth to use their voice to make change and that the public service announcements are to give them the opportunity to show what they think is needed in their community.
Another event at the conference was photography. “We give them a list,” Ms. Cheechoo said, “then the youth will use photography to capture the words.”
Mr. Debassige explained that they were set up to do motion graphics, audio mixing and video editing for the student’s project. While speaking to The Expositor, Mr. Debassige spelled out the need for more arts in rural communities in Canada. “The arts have to be supported,” he said. “Rural Canada seems to be geared around sports. Creative arts have to be supported too.” Mr. Debassige is a Weengushk board member and has an extensive background in film. After taking media arts classes at Sheridan College, he worked in the film industry in Toronto and New York City as a cinematographer and has shot videos and commercials. He is also a paramedic.
Casting director Micheline Blais, another Weengushk board member, was also at the conference to host one of the games and assist Ms. Cheechoo. “I am also doing some scouting, to scout some teens who want to break in to show business. We support diversity.” Ms. Blais went on to say that she had a part in the film Moose River Crossing, which was produced by Ms. Cheechoo. “I come every year,” she added, “to do some film work.”
Ms. Cheechoo led the students in ice-breaking exercises for everyone to get to know each other and to build confidence before students headed to tables covered with magazines from The Economist to Ontario Out of Doors to Good Housekeeping to do their project.
Aaron Courtotielle was one of the participants attending the conference. She lives in Grouard, which is four hours north of Winnipeg. “I am taking courses at the film institute,” she said, “Lab one. I love it. It is the best school I have been to.” Ms. Courtotielle has a teaching degree and thought the conference was a good thing. “It builds positive relationships and gives confidence,” she added.
Crystal Sagon, Chelsea Antoine and Kennedy Nakogee-Rickard worked together at one of the tables. They were covering their Bristol board with suggestive pictures from magazines. “We are showing that sex sells in advertising,” Ms. Nakogee-Rickard said as she explained the message they were giving for their project. Ms Sagon was happy to be attending the forum as she felt it was inspiring for youth from different reserves while Ms. Sagon said that she had brought six students to the conference from Zhiibaahaasing First Nation.
The conference finished with each student taking home a DVD of their project as well as a poster of their Bristol board work. The evening ended with a dance with DJ Blake Debassige.