The Wachiay Friendship Centre Society in Comox Valley on Vancouver Island has become a training hub for Indigenous youth looking to learn professional skills in digital media, broadcasting and creative printmaking, thanks to two growing social enterprises operating within the Friendship Centre.
Wachiay MultiMedia (or WAMM) is a fully functional, nearly state of the art learning centre that offers a full suite of digital and multimedia courses. Students have the opportunity to explore broadcasting, podcasting, vlogging, filmmaking, photography and lighting. They also explore market-based skills that accompany creative skills, including marketing, advertising, budgeting, pitching and producing.
Wachiay Studio is one of the most well-equipped screen printing and graphics studios in Canada built to accommodate training in textile, flat graphic and industrial print using a mix of manual and automatic equipment. The studio courses help students build their artistic portfolios and entrepreneurial skills.
These two programs at the Wachiay Friendship Centre Society started in 2013 as an educational initiative that evolved into a more structured curriculum. Interest in the program was very high, and Wachiay started acquiring equipment to better serve the needs of people using the studio. In 2015, WAMM purchased an entire radio broadcasting studio to support their teaching of audio/visual arts, broadcast journalism and filmmaking.
As WAMM and Wachiay Studio have grown, they have created numerous partnerships that strengthen the quality of learning that students can get from the program. Many of the filmmaking and broadcasting projects have been commissioned for workplace projects from community organizations.
“WAMM students have completed a number of projects including an HIV awareness video commissioned by Island Health,” says Rob Crowston, managing director of WAMM. “Our most recent production was a production commissioned by the Victoria Native Friendship Centre focusing on the Centre's extensive youth programs. For this commission, the students traveled to Victoria, shot a dozen interviews with workers, administration and recipient youth—plus a ton of 'stills' and 'B roll' over two grueling days, returned with their footage and spent six intense weeks editing, arranging, composing, re-editing and re-defining their story.”
Rob stresses the value of “purpose-based” work, where students have the opportunity to work with real clients on projects that have a noticeable impact on the community. With Wachiay, Rob hopes to “open the door of providing commissioned work from other Friendship Centres across Canada: archiving digital materials, screen printing promotional materials, event documentary production, celebration videos and so forth. We intend to broaden opportunities for youth at those Friendship Centres through long-distance learning and use the internet to communicate and educate youth so that they too might open doors of opportunity within their own communities.”
The staff at Wachiay Studio and WAMM recognize the importance of keeping Indigenous culture and imagery involved in their activities in order to empower youth and strengthen communities in a traditional way, with modern tools.
One program works with local Aboriginal Education classes to bring in students from local schools to learn digital design, which they then turn into designs to be screenprinted onto paper or shirts they can take home.
“We did a really nice project before Christmas. Two people from the local Ko’moks First Nation built 45 cedar gift boxes to present to the elders,” Rob says. “We helped co-ordinate the art and the printing. The boxes were a big hit. We also held a printing class for our elders group at the Friendship Centre, and they all did their own shirts.”
Additionally, Wachiay staff traveled to the Yukon and installed an automatic screen press to print limited edition prints. “We then ran a workshop with six Indigenous artists and other locals including staff from the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre to learn the press operation and techniques using water-based inks,” Rob says. “Now the people in the Yukon and northern B.C., Alaska, and Northwest Territories are able to print their art locally. We are also setting up printing programs on the Ahousaht and Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda reserves this year.”
Wachiay Friendship Centre Society was also awarded the Indigenous Innovation Demonstration Fund in 2016, allowing them to better research the labour market and train young Indigenous people with applicable skills in a region that relies on retail and the service industry to fuel its economy.
“With our abilities to digitally connect youth, ideas and technology, we intend to become leaders and creative partners in the ongoing stories of Canada’s Indigenous youth,” Rob says. “As of 2017, we are offering our creative services to Friendship Centres across Canada as both a resource for educational and promotional multimedia production, and to extend an invitation to members of our pan-Canadian Friendship Centre partners to learn about the many employment opportunities available to young people in the multimedia technology sector wherever they might reside.”
WAMM and Wachiay Studio are currently accepting applicants for their 2017 intake of the program.