Manon Barbeau teaches filmmaking skills to Aboriginal youth, in order to help them connect, dialogue, document and share stories about their communities. Manon currently operates over a dozen Wapikoni Mobile studios on Aboriginal reserves throughout Quebec, which give young participants the skills and resources to operate equipment, write scripts, and use their own experiences to create films. The youth are also mentored by professional filmmakers and community organizers. By 2013, Manon plans to reach out to all Aboriginal communities in Quebec and expand to Alberta and Manitoba as well as Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and French Polynesia.

This profile below was prepared when Manon Barbeau was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.

Manon Barbeau enseigne des compétences de réalisation de film à des jeunes autochtones, afin de les aider à rentrer en contact, dialoguer, documenter et partager des histoires sur leurs communautés. Manon gère actuellement plus d’une douzaine de studios de Wakiponi Mobile sur des réserves autochtones à travers le Québec, ce qui donne les compétences et ressources aux jeunes de manipuler le matériel, écrire des scripts, et utiliser leur propre expérience pour créer des films. Les jeunes sont aussi guidés par des réalisateurs professionnels et des organisateurs communautaires. À l’horizon 2013, Manon prévoit atteindre toutes les communautés autochtones au Québec et étendre ses activités en Alberta et au Manitoba ainsi qu’au Brésil, en Bolivie, au Pérou et en Polynésie Française.


Manon Barbeau is restoring the Canadian aboriginal communities’ deeply damaged natural social structures by empowering young people and indigenous groups to connect with their communities through a professional film-making process. By creating an international network to cope with historic adversity, Manon is bringing about systemic change.


Oral traditions and story-telling are fundamental aspects of aboriginal cultures that have always been critical in establishing strong inter-generational links in communities. Manon’s initiative is creating a new way for the youth to recover this important tradition through modern applications of film and music production. The movies, written and produced by youth, become tools to open hidden societal wounds, rebuild inter-generational relationships and bring back hope and pride to a hurt society. Mobile and permanent film studios managed by the local population living in Native Reserves become the focal place in aboriginal communities serving as a space to transfer knowledge and express worldviews.

Manon’s filmmaking process has been transformative for youth as well as entire communities, teaching young people to become more cooperative, efficient, professional, and enterprising, while also endowing them with self confidence, reliance and hope. The films initiate dialogue within all levels of society, facilitating renewal and revitalization in social exchanges, particularly through the reconciliation of aboriginal youths’ contemporary and ancestral cultures.

Films that have been produced within Manon’s initiative have been distributed to international festivals, bringing the aboriginal community’s realities to the forefront of Canadian and international societies. Various indigenous groups around the world have been inspired by Manon’s work, and are implementing her methodology in their own countries to create a global exchange of stories and histories.


Aboriginal youth in Canada face some of society’s most difficult problems, including violence, suicide, isolation, alcoholism, drug abuse, elevated school drop-out rates and incest. The suicide rate among First Nations is double that of Canada’s national average, and data from the 2006 Statistics Canada Census shows that half of Inuit between the ages of 25 and 64 have not completed high school. The trials that this community face are a result of over a century of policies that have led to the mass destruction of aboriginal societies and culture, and left a majority of them stigmatized and isolated from the rest of Canada.

From 1863 to 1996, the government of Canada funded and supported church-run Indian Residential Schools that removed and isolated over 150,000 aboriginal children from the influence of their home, family tradition and culture in a deliberate attempt “to kill the Indian in the child.” Most children suffered from some type of emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse: a source of trauma which can unfortunately be passed on to today’s generations. Nationally, nearly half of Inuit children have one relative who had attended a residential school, leaving a legacy that has contributed to many of the social problems that exist today.

One of the related challenges aboriginal youth face is the progressive loss of their culture. Many find it difficult to connect with and understand their parents’ and grandparents’ traditions, and since they are often physically and socially isolated from the rest of society, young people tend to feel as though they are neither part of the Canadian culture or their ancestral culture. Consequently, it is very difficult for kids to build a strong sense of identity and self-worth.


In June 2008, the Canadian Federal government acknowledged its shameful role in promoting residential schools for over a century and delivered a formal apology. This acknowledgement sparked a long-term healing process and a commitment to publicly educate the Canadian population on aboriginal values and history. Manon is greatly contributing to such public education through the dissemination of films produced by aboriginal youth in national and international film festivals.

As a filmmaker, Manon is passionate about creating movies that give a voice to oppressed communities, and she believes that working with young people is the most direct way to make a difference. After involving young people in all aspects of the filmmaking process of her early projects, she realized that her participatory methodology is a powerful tool for deep change. Soon after, Manon developed her organization of mobile film studios, Wapikoni Mobile, to help youth address their personal wounds and the historical struggles faced by their communities.

In 2004, two of Manon’s mobile studios began visiting two communities. With a crew composed of filmmakers and community organizers, the mobile studios now travel in fifteen aboriginal reserves in Quebec. During the month-long process, youth learn how to use the audiovisual technology, write a movie synopsis and use their own experience to create high-quality movies with the clear goal of presenting them in a variety of festivals. A key element of her strategy involves partnering youth (as the principle creators) with professional filmmakers and community organizers, as guides in the process.

For their first movies, the youth often choose to portray painful and hidden social issues. Their films break the silence on difficult issues and encourage dialogue in their own communities and beyond. Moreover, the language barrier that exists between the native youth who speak French or English, and their elders who often only speak their native languages is slowly eroding. As the youth feel a deep desire to share their movies with the elders, many are beginning to learn these languages and translate their movies in a process that is slowly rebuilding inter-generational links.

To ensure systemic change in the community, Manon organizes assemblies to allow for reflection, openness and dialogue. In these meetings, the films presented to the local and neighboring communities serve as a unique link between isolated people. After the screenings, the youth disseminate the films to international film festivals with Wapikoni Mobile’s support, as a means of educating non-aboriginal people and facilitating cultural exchange. All the films are currently being translated into French, English and Spanish in order to guarantee access to a larger audience.

Bringing the films outside the youth’s own communities encourages young people to be proud of their stories, their art, and to better understand how to position themselves in the world. While the media often highlights the problems in aboriginal communities, these films help aboriginal youth portray and develop a positive self-image, paving the way towards self-empowerment. To date, movies produced have won 21 national and international prizes and one of the short movies was presented as an introduction to a blockbuster on 85 screens in Quebec.

Permanent studios in aboriginal communities are supported and supervised by the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, while Canada’s National Film Board offers Wapikoni Mobile strategic and administrative support. After participating in Wapikoni Mobile’s program, some youth have found jobs connected to the film industry, while many others leave the program equipped for other professions. Building on her success, Manon plans to open five new permanent studios in Quebec by 2013.

To extend Wapikoni Mobile’s social impact, Manon is reaching out to many aboriginal communities in Quebec, Canada as well as abroad. She is already spreading her methodology to Alberta and Manitoba, Canada as well as to Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and French Polynesia. With the strong interests of local aboriginal groups, Manon is developing partnerships with local organizations to replicate the model and train filmmakers and social workers. Manon’s global expansion strategy is deeply rooted in the broader goal of creating strong links in a vast chain of solidarity among First Nations people globally.


Since her teenage years, Manon has been deeply troubled by injustice and committed to ameliorating the plight of those neglected by society. After studying social and cultural intervention, she became a documentary filmmaker, with the hope of giving individuals who have been excluded from society a voice to the world.

Early in her career, Manon made documentaries on street kids, homeless people, and other groups that have been historically oppressed or ignored by society at large. At the end of the 1990s, she started co-writing a movie with a group of aboriginal youth entitled The End of Contempt to help aboriginal communities overcome the humiliation they still feel as a result colonization and centuries of domination. After the subject of her film—a young aboriginal woman named Wapikoni—died in a car accident while the movie was still in production, Manon decided to dedicate her life entirely to this isolated population in Canada. In dedication to her lost friend, Manon created Wapikoni Mobile to provide tools for aboriginal youth to overcome contempt and restore dialogue within their communities and with the rest of the world.

As a filmmaker, Manon has won many prizes and recognitions. In addition to her involvement with aboriginal communities, she also teaches actors from all sectors of society her methodology.