Currently viewing the tag: "Indigenous issues"

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

Tanya Talaga, author and Toronto Star reporter on Indigenous issues, discussed her book “Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City” with Ryerson journalism students. (Amanda Pope/RJRC)

Toronto Star reporter Tanya Talaga went to Thunder Bay, Ont. to write about why Indigenous people don’t vote in federal elections, but came back committed to investigating the deaths of seven Indigenous high school students and the education system that failed them.

Talaga, a two-time recipient of the Project of the Year National Newspaper Award, detailed the stories of the seven students in her new book “Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City.” She recently discussed the book, which has been shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, at a Ryerson Journalism Research Centre event attended by about 100 journalism students.

“When you’re reporting, be conscious to think beyond the stories you’re seeing and the stories that don’t get told,” said Talaga, who has worked for The Star for more than 20 years. “Those are the stories that are often going to lead you down an interesting path.”

Talaga said the book idea emerged from a completely different story assignment. The 2011 federal election was underway and she had travelled to Thunder Bay to talk to Stan Beardy, the grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, about why Indigenous people in northwestern Ontario don’t vote.

“He looked at me and said, ‘why aren’t you doing a story about Jordan Wabasse?’” Talaga said. “I thought maybe he wasn’t hearing me right so I asked the question again and he looked at me and he said, ‘Jordan has been missing for 70 days.’”

Beardy told her that Wabasse was one of seven youths who had come to Thunder Bay for high school to go missing or die since 2000. Talaga, whose grandmother was raised in a small community about an hour from the city, said she was shocked.

“I was stunned,” Talaga said. “I couldn’t believe that if there were seven students that had died or had gone missing, how come this wasn’t national news across Canada? How come I wasn’t reading about this in all of the newspapers and seeing it on every single TV station in the evening news? There was hardly anything out there.”

The young people whose deaths Talaga chronicles in her book had come to the Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nations High School in Thunder Bay because they don’t have access to secondary school in their remote First Nations communities.

The seven students, all of whom died between 2000 and 2011, are Jethro Anderson, 15, Curran Strang, 18, Paul Panacheese, 17, Robyn Harper, 18, Reggie Bushie, 15, Kyle Morriseau, 17, and Jordan Wabasse, 15. 

Talaga said it was apparent that Beardy felt Canada had failed to keep Indigenous youth safe and unharmed: “This is a story about Thunder Bay but this is [also] a story about Canada,” she said. “This story can be seen all across the country when you’re dealing with Indigenous people and their rights and what’s been happening for so long, for too long.

“There is a whole part of history of this country, Indigenous history, that has been lost or not told and it’s only now that it’s being told.”

During a question-and-answer session, one fourth-year journalism student asked Talaga for advice on reporting difficult stories about Indigenous communities.

“Keep reporting in these areas, keep asking the hard questions,” she said. “You shouldn’t be shy. It doesn’t matter if you’re Indigenous or not, just be respectful when you’re approaching a community and I think that you’ll be surprised by what you find.”

A portion the book’s sales will go to the Dennis Franklin Cromarty Memorial Fund. This fund was set up in 1994 to financially assist Nishnawbe Aski Nation students who are studying in Thunder Bay and at post-secondary institutions.

BY JASMINE BALA
Staff Reporter

Duncan McCue, CBC journalist and the Ryerson School of Journalism’s Rogers Visiting Journalist, at CBC’s Toronto studio. (Jasmine Bala)

Duncan McCue, CBC journalist and the Ryerson School of Journalism’s Rogers Visiting Journalist, at CBC’s Toronto studio. (Jasmine Bala)

Reporters working in Canadian newsrooms should receive diversity training just like police officers and health workers do says Duncan McCue, the newly appointed Rogers Visiting Journalist at the Ryerson School of Journalism (RSJ).

McCue said the training is necessary because journalists who don’t understand indigenous cultures can cause harm while reporting on these communities.

“The reason that police officers get cultural training is because if there’s a cultural misunderstanding in the middle of the street, someone could wind up getting shot. The reason why health workers get diversity training is because if someone is misunderstood … someone could die in an ER room over a cultural misunderstanding,” said McCue.

“But I would suggest that the impact of repeating stereotypes and misrepresentations in the mainstream media about cultural groups — in my case, indigenous groups — is every bit as harmful as some of those dire situations that police and health workers face. So, it’s important that we as journalists have a cultural baseline when it comes to the communities we serve.”

McCue is Anishinaabe, a member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation in southern Ontario, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the new host of CBC Radio One’s Cross Country Checkup. As a reporter for CBC’s The National, he was part of an award-winning CBC Aboriginal investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

In his capacity as the Rogers Visiting Journalist, McCue will work with Ryerson journalism instructors on developing new approaches for reporting on stories involving indigenous communities. He will also assist in the revision of the RSJ’s curriculum.

“[McCue will] have an influence in a number of different ways,” said Janice Neil, the school’s chair. “He brings his experience — not just 17 years as a journalist and not just his experience being an indigenous person in Canada, but putting those together [to teach journalism] with an understanding.”

McCue said that coverage of indigenous communities needs to go beyond stereotypical accounts of poverty and land claims.

“There’s all kinds of diversity within the indigenous community itself and many, many different stories to tell,” he said, “and so to simplify our stories into poverty, road blocks or land claims is to only give one small slice of life.”

Although indigenous issues still aren’t being covered enough, the amount and quality of coverage has improved, he said, noting that news organizations and schools are responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations.

The TRC, a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, investigated the removal of indigenous children from their homes in placement into residential schools in the 19th century. The country’s last residential school closed in 1996.

In the Atkinson lecture she delivered last winter at the RSJ, TRC commissioner Marie Wilson said the commission’s mandates were to inform the public about the residential school system and to help its survivors heal and reconcile with the rest of Canadian society. As part of the process, the TRC issued 94 calls to action, including three that relate to journalism. It called upon the federal government to restore and increase funding to CBC/Radio-Canada so that the public broadcaster can do a better job of reflecting the diverse perspectives of Aboriginal peoples and for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network to support reconciliation. It also called for Canadian journalism programs and media schools to require students to be educated on indigenous history.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was, in a way, almost like flipping on a switch,” said Neil. “It’s kind of been like a real wake-up call [for journalists and all Canadians].”

Ryerson’s journalism school is responding to the TRC’s call for action with a new online course designed to teach students about indigenous history and how to report accurately on stories involving indigenous communities. Reporting on Indigenous Issues, the online course taught by associate professor Joyce Smith, will be the first of its kind at the RSJ. It will be available for third-year and fourth-year students in January. McCue will be working with Smith to create the course.

“I’m really looking forward to working with Duncan, who teaches a course like this already for UBC,” said Smith. “It’s going to be great having him here to consult and to get a better idea of what has worked for him and what can work for us going forward in the future as well.”

Smith said she wants students who take this course to walk away with a better understanding of indigenous history and more confidence in reporting on these issues.

“As journalists, a big part of our job is making sure that we do our best to inform the public about things that will influence proper policy,” she said. “It’s not just [about] teaching young journalists; it’s teaching the people who will go on to tell the rest of us these important stories.”

The school is also getting input from McCue on a new website that will be a resource for students who are covering indigenous communities.

McCue said he hopes to introduce more hands-on experience with coverage of indigenous issues into the RSJ curriculum.

“My advice [for students] is always just get out and do it. In a classroom setting, it’s a safe environment to make mistakes. Go out, meet indigenous people – many people haven’t – try to find a story, and learn more about the story,” he said. “All of those things will teach you more than I could ever teach you lecturing at you from the front of the classroom. Bring those experiences back and we’ll break them down, talk about them, discuss them, think about ways that we could have approached things better, applaud the great things that we did do, and that is the most valuable thing.”

He said that he is optimistic that reporting on indigenous issues will be better in the future than it has been in the past.

“I know that things are going to change because I’ve worked with journalism students for several years now at UBC and they’re eager,” he said. “[This] generation is going to make a difference in the way that maybe my generation hasn’t and certainly the generation before [mine] didn’t.”

By LEAH HANSEN
Special to the RJRC

Journalist Jody Porter speaks at the Ryerson School of Journalism on Sept. 16 (Photo: Cait Martin Newnham)

Journalist Jody Porter speaks at the Ryerson School of Journalism on Sept. 16 (Photo: Cait Martin Newnham)

Students crowded into the Venn last week for CBC journalist Jody Porter’s talk on how indigenous issues are covered in Canadian media.

“Stories about indigenous people in this country rarely satisfy editors unless the main character is dead, drunk or drumming,” said Porter, who is based in Thunder Bay. “I’m not sure the newsrooms in this country are prepared to spend the necessary resources to get at the stories that Canadians have yet to hear from Indigenous peoples in this country.”

Porter’s presentation, which was organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, focused on the four central components of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) summary report, including an awareness of the past, an acknowledgement of the harm inflicted, atonement for the cause and action to change.

“For the day-to-day coverage of Indigenous issues, we as journalists should have a working knowledge of the Truth and Reconciliation report,” Porter said.

Even the simple terminology used by journalists is important in framing the tone of media coverage, Porter said, and suggested the journalists try to refer to groups of people as specifically as possible. “The way that we as journalists are introducing people frames our stories, and the way we introduce people to our readers, our audience, frames their perceptions,” she said.

Although the TRC report has made journalists more aware of the complexities and challenges of reporting on indigenous issues, there is still more educators can do to ensure that young journalists are prepared to cover Indigenous issues. Inciting honest curiosity about the issues in their students is one of the most important things, Porter said.

The first step in telling stories affecting indigenous peoples is knowing that those stories are layered, said Porter. Many reporters approach indigenous issues with the opinion that they “get it,” she said.

Porter’s experience in reporting on indigenous issues spans almost two decades, and began at community newspapers across Canada before she settled at CBC in Thunder Bay.

Porter, who is the editor of Strength and Struggle: Perspectives from First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples in Canada, has created social experiments on and off the air that take people out of their cultural comfort zones. CBC Thunder Bay’s Common Ground Café series, for example, brought strangers together to make a meal and discuss race relations in the city.

Even now, she is constantly discovering new ways to cover issues, she said.

“The best piece of advice I can offer you today is that you don’t know what you don’t know,” Porter said.

“Reporting on indigenous communities is very like being a foreign correspondent, except that there’s a reluctance in mainstream media in Canada to acknowledge that. I’m telling you right now, after 20 years at this, I’m surprised every day by what I do not know and do not understand.”

This story originally appeared on the Ryerson School of Journalism website (republished with permission).