Clueless in workshop on aboriginal issues


Special to the RJRC

The questions on the quiz at the start of the workshop sent my mind into overdrive. “When was the last time you read a story about Canada’s indigenous community?” we were being asked.

Could I remember the last story? When would it have been? Had I ever even read a story about this country’s aboriginal people?

The further I got into the quiz the more clueless and uniformed I felt. “When is it appropriate to use the term Indian?” “What was the last story you read about indigenous people about?”

This all unfolded in my fourth-year Senior Reporting class. Our instructor, April Lindgren, had invited Journalists for Human Rights to come in and run a two-hour workshop on news reporting on Canada’s indigenous people. Delaney Windigo, a national video journalist for APTN, led the Feb. 11 workshop along with Myles Kenyon, JHR’s program coordinator. Windigo, a member of the Muskowekwan First Nation in Saskatchewan, and Kenyon delivered the same program a week earlier in a first-year reporting class.

Our discussion began with an examination of common stereotypes of indigenous people. Windigo quoted Duncan McCue, the creator and curator of Reporting in Indigenous Communities, an online guide for journalists who are reporting stories in indigenous communities. McCue, who is also a journalist for the CBC, has observed that when we hear about indigenous people in the news, they are either drumming, dancing, drunk or dead.

He’s right. I don’t know much about Canada’s First Nations and the vague impressions I do have relate either to missing or murdered women or videos of colourful festivals.

We also discussed the lack of reporting on indigenous people by Canadian media. Windigo suggested if news coverage reflected Canada’s population, then about two per cent of stories should be about Aboriginal people. Unfortunately, that is not what’s happening – I still could not remember any stories I came across. Most of what I know, I realized, was from conversations and social media.

I learned a lot. We talked about when it is appropriate to use terms such as aboriginal, indigenous, Metis or Indian and came out of the session knowing that the best thing to do when working on a story is to ask sources how they want to be identified.

I learned that when I meet an elder in the indigenous community it is respectful to present a gift of tobacco. I learned that women who married outside of the indigenous community were stripped of their status. And I learned that tax exemptions are only offered to some status Indians.

I was also shocked a lot of the time. Kenyon provided a brief history of indigenous people in Canada and I was startled to hear about the 60s scoop. The “scoop” involved the removal of many aboriginal children from homes that authorities deemed “unfit” for ridiculous reasons, such as their bed sheets not matching. During the 1960s, when this happened, these children were then placed in foster homes with white families.

I am a 22-year-old black woman and this workshop made me think about the coverage of the black community. The issues are similar in that news coverage of both communities is typically negative – a black man is usually only seen in the media when he is under arrest, murdered or wanted by police. In 2004, a family friend was murdered and it really bothered me how he was portrayed as a “gangster” instead of the loving brother and son he was.

As a journalist and a member of Toronto’s black community, one of my goals is to tell positive stories about the black community by highlighting individuals who are starting their own business or volunteering their time to help young people. This workshop got me thinking that a case can be made for offering a workshop on reporting about the black community.

Kenyon and Windigo talked about the need to learn about and understand indigenous communities if you plan to write about them. They said reporters should build relationships with people and not just call when there is a problem that warrants a story. They also said we need to tell the positive stories and not just focus on negative events.

One of the things that will stay with me was a comment Kenyon made at the end of his presentation.

“Just remember,” he advised, “these tips can be used when reporting on any group.”

Daisy Badu is a fourth-year student at the Ryerson University School of Journalism.