Sudbury

Capital campaign in works for Weengushk Film Institute

A film institute on M'Chigeeng First Nation is working toward making a dream come true –  building a learning centre that is shaped like a giant turtle to reflect Indigenous teachings. 

Shirley Cheechoo says Weengushk Film Institute's new facility will be modeled after the turtle

Shirley Cheechoo is founder and director of the Weengushk Film Institute in M'Chigeeng. (Brock University)

A film institute on M'Chigeeng First Nation is working toward making a dream come true –  building a learning centre that is shaped like a giant turtle to reflect Indigenous teachings. 

Shirley Cheechoo, founder of Weengushk Film Institute, said her original vision was to build two turtles. 

"One side of the turtle would be the administration, and on the other, the other turtle would hold all the programs," Cheechoo said. 

"At the center of these two turtles would have a light, like a light beam that will go into the sky, and it would be shaped like a teepee." 

She also envisioned a series of residences on the campus, created in the manner of traditional houses shaped from different cultures in Canada. 

Cheechoo said the final product will likely be a pared-down version of her original vision. In addition to Fednor funding which has supported it up to this point, the institute is now hoping to get funding from the private sector to see it to completion.

"I know there's a lot of rich people out there that could probably just say, 'hey, let's build it," she said.  "This vision was with me for a long time, you know, and finally we have an audience now. People are listening."

The project is currently in its third phase, Cheechoo said, with the expectation the institute will begin a full capital campaign in the coming weeks.

So far, Cheechoo said, reaction from the public has been positive.

"The students especially are really thrilled," she said.  They don't have to be in the warehouse anymore."

The Institute has outgrown its current facility, which students call the warehouse. The new, turtle-shaped building will provide not only more space, but reflect the region's cultural teachings.

"I have an elder who tells students everything about what that turtle means," she said. "The world, the life cycle, life, and the really big teaching that goes along with it."

Overall, the Institute has contributed to sustainability for Manitoulin Island's budding circle of film professionals, as well as providing a focus for youth.

"All these young people need to have a voice," she said. "I didn't have a voice growing up. I'm a residential school student. I didn't have a voice. I had to find my voice."

"The only way that I could find my voice was through the arts," she said. "I found it in the arts and healed. And that's why it's important for these kids to come to my school."

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