When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published its 94 calls to action, journalism schools across the country were specifically called upon to change. The schools were asked to include education and history of Indigenous people into media programs. In my opinion, there could have been a lot more to call journalism schools to change.
We need to fix the nearly unrecognized bias and narrative that often nestles itself into stories. So many stories relating to Indigenous peoples have a decided tilt to them, whether in describing a drumming circle or a missing Indigenous teen. In the Carleton course I took called Covering Indigenous Canada, we looked at some examples of bad (or at least eyebrow-raising) journalism relating to Indigenous peoples. There were lots to choose from.
All this being said, it’s easy to sit here and criticize the work of others. It’s easy to find what’s wrong with something, but it’s much more challenging to say what the better versions should look like, and even harder still to create those versions myself. I’m constantly faced with this question: How do I ensure my writing does not fall into the same holes and pitfalls as so many journalists?
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even really have many answers at all. I have some thoughts, and an example of someone I think is doing it well.
First off, though, what is reconciliation journalism? I’ll be honest, I’m still working this out. It’s easy to define something by what it is not, rather than what it is. I’m trying not to do that, so bear with me in some mental exploration.
For starters, context is vital, which is why I understand the 86th call to action from the TRC asking journalism schools to teach their students the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada. As I’ve learned here in the Yukon, context is imperative. I think that is one of the main cornerstones of reconciliation journalism. Context helps the readers understand what’s caused, and is causing, many of the issues we’re still seeing today. Perhaps more importantly, it also helps pull the journalists themselves out of their own potentially misinformed narratives they have regarding Indigenous peoples.
I think perhaps one of the most important lessons I’ve learned while here is that the best stories come from a place of humility, and a recognition that we’re all people. It sounds so simple but I think that’s often forgotten. For some there is a fine line between providing context and turning the people in the story into characters defined by single terms, rather than people – complex, confusing beings that cannot possibly be defined in a single term.
Another cornerstone of reconciliation journalism is conversation. Again, it sounds so simple, but yet again I think it’s often overlooked. As we learn more, sometimes it’s easy to stray into thinking we know everything and some lose their sense of humility. That’s when people stop listening, and start hearing conversations in sound bites and clips, ticking items off on a checklist of what they want the person speaking to say. That’s not a conversation. I think one of the most important and effective ways of starting the reconciliation process, whether in journalism or in general, is talking to each other.
Harold Gatensby, a First Nations elder living in Carcross, helped me realize that. He quietly challenged our worldviews and got us thinking about why we were there sitting in front of him. He asked us why we were there. We shared with him, and then he shared with us. It’s that kind of dialogue that can start to help bridge gaps many of us currently have between context, presence and history.
For me, there seems to be a disconnect between those three things. It seems hard to have all three together. I think that’s why I respect Waubgeshig Rice, who works for CBC, so much. He embodies reconciliation journalism, resurgence journalism every day through his Twitter account. He shares articles on Indigenous issues, including many of his own pieces through CBC. He also directly engages with his audience members, something most journalists simply won’t do. He often has conversations with people via Twitter, showing them what he meant by a passage, or helping to explain some gaps in understanding.
He also just talks about his life. He tweets about being a new dad, and about sports, about turtles and about his childhood.
Being a #newdad means more diligent proofreading of emails I’ve written before hitting “send” #typos #sleepdeprived
— Waubgeshig Rice (@waub) July 10, 2017
Sometimes it seems like they won’t make it but they’re good at powering down – that’s why turtle trauma/resource centres matter.
— Tara Williamson (@WilliamsonTara) July 10, 2017
Essential reading for all Canadians. https://t.co/kJm5vu1mHs
— Waubgeshig Rice (@waub) July 9, 2017
Kinda disappointed Joe Thornton didn’t end up signing with the Leafs 😓
— Waubgeshig Rice (@waub) July 1, 2017
To a follower of his Twitter account, Waub Rice isn’t defined by one term. He is a father; he is Indigenous; he is a sports fan; he is passionate about the world. Every day on his account he reminds his followers that he is defined by so many things. Again, it sounds so simple not to put people in a single box with a particular label on it, but I think it’s something that is often lost. I guess that’s part of context.
This is what I think of when I hear the word resurgence. I think of Waub Rice. I know I am by no means the person to define that term, so I won’t. But in my opinion, Waub connects the dots between the past and the present, he portrays his context without being completely defined by it.
My final project for this course ties directly into providing context. My piece is looking at the relationship between the First Nations government and the territorial government on wildlife management and conservation.
It’s very complicated (an infographic will be necessary). There are several different organizations and bodies at play here, with renewable resource councils and the fish and wildlife management board, all playing different roles with the two governments – and sometimes the federal government gets mixed up in there as well.
This set up is unique to the Yukon, and impacts everything from trees to water to fish and wildlife. Understanding the context of how these bodies are organized, how they work together, and how they came to be, is imperative to understanding the decisions that come out of the Yukon on wildlife management. Especially as new decisions are coming down the pipes.