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Our Mission

Weengushk Film Institute (WFI) shall be a centre for capacity building in the audio-visual arts for aspiring Indigenous and diverse artisans and filmmakers through the provision of education, training, and their creative journey to promote cultural, ethnic, and artistic vitality.

While shooting her feature film BEARWALKER on Manitoulin Island in 2002, Dr. Shirley Cheechoo was amazed at how many youth were itching to get involved in the filmmaking process. 


This observation led to the beginnings of Weengushk Film Institute (WFI). 

By July 2002, WFI was founded by Dr. Shirley Cheechoo, and became incorporated as a non-profit, charitable organization under Provincial Charter. 

As a professional, community-based arts organization, WFI is dedicated to the creation and establishment of an artist-focused centre for capacity building in the media arts for both Indigenous youth and persons of diversity.  The Institute provides a unique forum for artists from various cultural experiences to share in their stories, and supports the collection, preservation, and representation of new voices in the media arts.  The concept of WFI was born from the need to reignite the interest of Indigenous youth to participate in community initiatives through arts-education, and to offer them an opportunity to re-engage in the learning process through community-based, media-arts instruction.​

In 2009, WFI arranged the lease to own agreement of a 4 000 square foot facility in M’Chigeeng, ON.  It was at this time that WFI initiated the first 8 month introductory Lab series for Indigenous youth.

The new facility also saw the development of an articulation agreement with Laurentian University in Sudbury for graduates of Lab 2 to receive 30 credits towards a Bachelor of Arts Degree.  These students are also eligible for 12 credits towards a concentration in Rhetoric and Media Studies with the Department of English.

2012-2013 saw the creation, development, and production of a feature length film by program participants, entitled Moose River Crossing.  

WFI continues to offer community-based workshops and the Summer Scenes Film Camp as part of our overall strategy towards community arts education and exploration.

A number of WFI participants have received awards in Canadian film festivals for the short films they created at WFI, including Best Short at the Cherokee Film Festival, and Best Short and Honorary Jury Selected Special Recognition at Cinefest Sudbury Film Festival. 


2013 to Present - Brock University fully-accredits Lab 1

In 2016, participants who enrol in the WFI Lab 1: Certificate in Film Production course will now receive a Certificate in Film Production from Brock University. Students will receive five university credits upon successful completion.

WFI maintains its' commitment to provide an opportunity for the youth of Indigenous communities to experience storytelling through the medium of film.  WFI's strategy towards youth community arts education and exploration is made possible for delivery by partners, funders, sponsors, and donors.  It is the goal of WFI to continue program delivery to youth in the community, so that they may bring their stories to life through film. 


What began simply with community-based weekend workshops in the filmmaking crafts has now blossomed into a four year, residential, media-arts training and creation program for aspiring, emerging, and professional artists alike.  Today, our full-time program has expanded with concurrent instruction and registered participants from across Ontario and parts of Canada.  Indigenous and other individuals from remote, isolated areas benefit from WFI's unique educational delivery and methods, and are able to take the next steps towards a sustainable future.




Over the course of my career, I learned that the only way to achieve my goals was to work hard and invest in myself through training and professional development. When I started my career in film, there was very little training available in the north. This meant that I had to travel south for training. It was this experience and my desire to share

my culture, skills and experience with Aboriginal youth and persons of diversity that inspired me to create Weengushk Film Institute (WFI). WFI is an education and training organization that will positively impact the lives and economic situation of Aboriginal youth and people of diversity. I know from personal experience that art has the power to heal and uplift.

As you move forward in your training, there will be challenges and obstacles. However, if you all come together in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, these challenges can be overcome. Remember that we all need each other and together we can move mountains.

You are tomorrow’s leaders. The future rests in your hands and I encourage all of you to blaze a trail not only for yourselves but also for those who will come after you. Within each of you lies everything that you need to succeed. Blaze a trail and leave your mark!

I wish you all every success. Thank you all for being here and being to be a part of Weengushk Film Institute (WFI).



Dr. Shirley Cheechoo

Founder & Executive/Artistic Director



- To provide a safe place that enables participants to discover their purpose and focus on their development and growth.



- To acknowledge the land, culture, language, and self in everything they do.



- To welcome all voices and allow open expression of ideas.



- To be unafraid of mistakes, and unafraid of growth.



- To provide an environment that fosters personal development and professional growth.



- To embrace learning curves; innovate, iterate, err, improve, repeat.



- To work together to eliminate obstacles, remove barriers, and break down walls that cause constraints to the organization.



- To be adaptable to the new innovative world, which will spark creativity and imagination.



Shirley Cheechoo_0116-5.jpg

Shirley Cheechoo (Cree) was born in Eastmain, Quebec on the eastern shores of James Bay.     


Shirley is the Founder and Artistic Director of Weengushk Film Institute.     


She is an accomplished and awarding winning artist, actor and filmmaker, and has been working in the Indigenous community for over 30 years. She is the proud recipient of numerous awards both for her own work and for recognition of her profound contributions to arts practice throughout Ontario.  This multi-award winning filmmaker is the first person from a First Nation to write, produce, direct and act in a feature length dramatic film in Canada, entitled Bearwalker, which had a market screening at the Cannes Film Festival in France.    


Shirley began directing films in 1998, after working as a playwright, actor and director of notable plays. Her directorial debut is the award winning short film Silent Tears, in which she chronicles the events of one harsh winter trip with her parents to a northern trap line when she was eight years old. It was screened at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, and was also awarded the Telefilm Canada and Northern Canada Award for Best Canadian Aboriginal Language Program.     


As a respected visual artist, her paintings have been exhibited worldwide. Her commissions include Christmas Cards for UNICEF, Amnesty International, The Ontario Native Women’s Association, and the Hospital for Sick Children. Her works can be found in many private and public collections.        


Shirley’s play, PATH WITH NO MOCCASINS, gave her an opportunity to speak about her life and the struggle to retain her identity and Cree heritage.   She continues to teach drama workshops to Indigenous youth and young learners across Canada. In 1984, Dr. Cheechoo founded De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Group, located on Manitoulin Island, and this touring company has become one of the foremost and respected independent Indigenous theatre companies in the world.




Nano Debassige is currently the Managing Director at the Weengushk Film Institute on Manitoulin Island. Within the company, Nano assumes many roles from a supervisory role in the educational side of the company, the Production Supervisor at all stages of production for all the projects that the Institute is involved in, to overseeing the operations of the building.

Nano went to Sheridan College in Oakville Ontario after High School. He attended the Media Arts Program. He would go on taking many jobs in many different aspects of the Film Industry.


Looking for new opportunities Nano began an education in Cinematography. He enrolled in a course that the Canadian Society of Cinematographers, which lead to him travelling to Rockport, Maine to further pursue this ambition.


Nano wanted to come home after over a decade away but there was no way to work in film and live on Manitoulin at the time so he enrolled back into school to study Emergency Medicine and in 2006 he became a certified Primary Care Paramedic in Ontario.


Outside of his duties at Weengushk Nano is an accomplished Cinematographer and Editor who has received accolades in the Documentary/Docu-Drama genres. Nano has also worked on Television productions, Feature Films, and Theatre productions as both actor and crew. Outside of film Nano has found training from the auto industry, transportation Industry, Electronics Industry, and Health Care. He strives to understand the relationship between the artist and the business of art and hopes to bridge that gap for the future.

Sandra McKay with experience in finance, administration and her love of the arts, found her way to Weengushk Film Institute in 2021. Sandra’s positive and go get them attitude is an asset within her role as the Financial Administrator.


Her background of  20+  years work experience as a bookkeeper and administrator at various organizations keeps WFI organized and keeps the activities of the Institute running smoothly. Sandra works closely with the Executive Team and ensures effective communication to WFI’s Enaak-na-ge-zhig Circle (Board of Directors) and other various stakeholders.


Born and raised on Manitoulin Island, Sandra has been an active  member of the community participating in various recreational programs and has a great love of the outdoors.  Sandra is  a loving mother, grandmother of four and a superb golfer...she also makes a mean guacamole!


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