Currently viewing the tag: "Indigenous"

By JASMINE BALA
Staff Reporter

Duncan McCue, the Ryerson School of Journalism’s Rogers Visiting Journalist, discusses politics and Indigenous communities at Ryerson University on Feb. 13, 2017. (Jasmine Bala)

Indigenous people want their leaders held accountable, but journalists should be cautious about perpetuating negative stereotypes, Ryerson School of Journalism Rogers Visiting Journalist Duncan McCue said during a lecture on Indigenous politics.

By way of example, McCue said stories such as those of the “crooked” and “corrupt” chiefs that make massive salaries and go on vacations should be reported by journalists. But they need to be put into perspective – a vast majority of chiefs do not make that much and have average salaries, he said. Some of them make less than municipal councillors even though they have the same or more responsibilities, including municipal infrastructure and treaties, he explained.

“Not all First Nations in this country are operating in these corrupt manners,” said McCue, who is a member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation in southern Ontario. “There are some though…and they absolutely should be reported from my perspective because First Nations citizens want to see them reported,” McCue told the crowd of mostly journalism students attending the discussion organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

“First Nations citizens aren’t happy when they find out that their chief has been collecting a $400,000 or $500,000 salary every year. They want to know that kind of thing and…the way that the Indian Act has been set up, they don’t always know. Band councils are not always sharing and transparent [with] the kinds of documents that First Nations band members want,” he said.

Between elections, he said, the chief and council are politically accountable to the minister of Indigenous and northern affairs: “If your chief isn’t showing up, you know, books off and doesn’t show up for six months, there’s nothing that an individual band member can do other than file an appeal that goes to the Minister of [Indigenous and northern] affairs,” McCue said. “And it’s the minister…who has to decide whether or not this person is irresponsible under the Indian Act with regards to their governance.”

McCue is Anishinaabe and an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia. The host of CBC Radio One’s Cross Country Checkup, he has been a reporter for CBC’s The National and was part of an award-winning CBC Aboriginal investigation into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

At the start of his presentation, McCue said he was deliberately using “archaic” terms, like “Indian” and “band council” when analyzing and explaining Indigenous history and talking about politics because the terms are from the Indian Act, which “is the system that still governs the majority of First Nations in this country.” When reporting on Indigenous communities, he added, journalists should ask the people they interview which terms they prefer and use those in their stories.

He said effective reporting on Indigenous politics also requires an understanding of who wields power at the community level. Many of the 600 First Nations groups in Canada have hereditary chiefs who wield influence, McCue said, but the Indian Act also requires that band members vote by secret ballot for chief and council members. The more members you have in a band, he added, the more councillors you have.

Other communities, he added,  have negotiated treaties with the federal government and therefore operate with their own election codes outside of the Indian Act.

“Every journalist should be aware when so-and-so says he’s a chief, what does that mean? Does that mean you’re an elected chief under the Indian act? Does it mean you’re a hereditary chief? If you’re a hereditary chief, how did you become appointed? How did you get your name? Who has given you the authority to speak for a particular clan?” McCue said. “It’s important to understand that the elected Indian Act chief may not speak for all of the community members, that there may be traditional leaders who also represent a portion of the community – in some cases, a majority of the community.”

Bands typically have an election every four years, he said, and many newsrooms have not shown an interest in covering these events. Although most First Nations may have an “open-door policy” when it comes to giving journalists access to Indigenous affairs such as band council meetings, there are no clear rules governing media access under the Indian Act, McCue said.

This same conclusion was reached by Discourse Media recently, which recently published a five-part investigation that examined press freedom issues and access to information in First Nations communities, including the legislatures of self-governing First Nations established by modern-day treaties.

“It really is a gray area that’s been untested legally about whether freedom of the press actually exists on Indian reserves,” McCue said. Whether you can cover an election, he said, depends on the chief and council.

“There are laws in the Indian Act about trespassing on an Indian reserves, and anybody who is not a band member can be asked to leave,” he said, noting that refusing to leave can result in trespassing charges.

“It’s not like walking around the City of Toronto, where you have a right to be in any public area and cover anything that you can see with your eye.”

Being sent away, he said, may the result of the difficult relationship journalists have had with First Nations in the past.  But it can also arise in other situations: McCue, for instance, said he was asked to leave a reserve while he was writing a story about an allegedly corrupt chief and council.

“I went to do the story, asked the chief and council for an interview several times, got no answer whatsoever,” he said. “Finally told them that I was in their community to do the story and that this was kind of their final opportunity to offer up their side of the story. And I got a letter from a lawyer – from the band’s lawyer – saying no comment and you’re not allowed to step foot on the reserve.”

Understanding the rules regarding access, however, helped McCue find a workaround: If journalists are invited onto a reserve by a band member, he said, they are allowed to be there with the member.

More generally, McCue said journalists have a role in helping Canadians understand the historical context that has not been provided through schooling. Treaties with Indigenous groups, he said, are not dusty historical records but real agreements that are still relevant today: “Canadians…need to understand that the treaties are not ancient documents…that they’re living, breathing documents and that we’re all treaty peoples.”

While it can be challenging to incorporate basic history lessons into daily reporting, it can be done, McCue said, adding that creating an accompanying item can provide the context:  “Can you put up an infographic that explains some of this complicated history in a more visually appealing or even entertaining way that someone will be able to digest so that they don’t feel like they’re going to a lecture?”

He pointed to key documents that are essential to understanding Indigenous politics and the political relationship between First Nations and Canada. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 established a relationship between the Crown and Indigenous people that was maintained in the British North America Act of 1867, which established that the federal government has responsibility for “Indians and lands reserved for Indians.” He said that explains why “you’ll often see First Nations saying that they’re going to take their concerns or their complaints about their treaties to the Queen…You’ll see them setting off to England.”

McCue also urged journalists to build relationships with Indigenous communities by covering the good news as well as the bad news.

“One of the reasons that we have bad relationships when we go to cover politics…is because we only show up when there’s crisis and tragedy,” McCue said. “[We] don’t form those relationships and cover the good news stories – the judo club or the hockey team that does well…. Those kinds of stories are important. It’s important to share the whole broad range of experience in Indigenous communities, not just the crisis and tragedy.”

Watch the full lecture below:

By JASMINE BALA
Staff Reporter

Journalists Karyn Pugliese, Tanya Talaga and Connie Walker speak on covering Indigenous community at the Ryerson School of Journalism. (Jasmine Bala)

Reporters Karyn Pugliese, Tanya Talaga and Connie Walker speak on covering Indigenous community at the Ryerson School of Journalism. (Jasmine Bala)

When Indigenous people share their stories with journalists, it is a part of the reconciliation process and not about assigning blame, the executive director of APTN said during a recent panel discussion about news coverage of Indigenous communities.

Karyn Pugliese, a member of the Algonquin First Nation of Pikwàkanagàn, said Indigenous people have stories to tell that come from places of hurt and anger and aren’t always easy to hear.

“When we tell you these things, we’re not blaming you,” Pugliese told the crowd of about 200 people attending the panel discussion at Ryerson’s School of Journalism.

“We know you didn’t do it. We know you weren’t the ones that murdered our sisters and you aren’t the ones who ripped the babies out of our arms and put them in residential schools. You weren’t the ones who [took] our leaders and put them in jail. We know these things. And I think I’ve noticed that we’re starting to get to the point where Canadians are saying, ‘okay, yeah, I didn’t do that, and I know you’re not blaming me, so I can listen to you,’” she said.

Pugliese joined three other Indigenous journalists on Nov. 3 for “Beyond Missing and Murdered Women: Covering Indigenous Communities,” a presentation organized by the Canadian Journalism Foundation. The panel was moderated by CBC journalist and Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue.

Building rapport with people and communities is a necessary part of the process of reporting on Indigenous issues, said Lenny Carpenter, program manager for Journalists for Human Rights’ (JHR) Indigenous Reporters Program.

“A lot of Indigenous people have been portrayed negatively in the media and so there’s this natural distrust when being approached by a journalist who wants them to go on the record,” he said. “I think if a journalist would come [to an Indigenous community] day-to-day, come visit, talk to the people and build that relationship, they might have had the opportunity during [more newsworthy events] where they would be welcome.”

Tanya Talaga, one of the reporters for the Toronto Star’s award-winning series on missing and murdered Indigenous women, said that being respectful and making time to listen is part of this relationship-building process.

“It’s very important to just take your time with someone – especially if they’re older – and just listen to their story,” she said. “You can’t do walk-by journalism … It doesn’t really work that way. You can’t be a story taker. You have to listen and it’s always worthwhile.”

Connie Walker, an investigative reporter for CBC National News who has reported extensively on Indigenous issues, said newsroom attitudes are changing and it’s getting easier to sell editors on Indigenous-related news stories.

Ten years ago, story ideas involving Indigenous communities would often be dismissed by editors who thought the ideas weren’t new or would not be of interest to audiences, said Walker.

“But I think in the last three years, it’s transformed just in terms of not only the interest in [missing and murdered Indigenous women], but the interest in all Indigenous issues.”

Pugliese agreed, observing that stories about Indigenous people have become mainstream and that the way they are covered has changed.

“In the ‘70s, if an Aboriginal women went missing or was murdered, the headline might read: ‘Dead Indian found by river.’ This is significantly different than the way you might cover it if a young non-native girl had gone missing. And there’s a name for it that came out of the States – it’s called ‘missing white women syndrome,’” she said.

Pugliese said that positive coverage of such a case might include naming the missing person in the headline. An example, she said, would be “Alicia, please come home,” because it names the victim and humanizes her story.

“I’ve noticed a big change from eight years ago, where we actually are seeing our women treated equally when these things happen, or more fairly when these things happen in the media,” Pugliese said.

Buried Voices, a JHR report that examined media coverage of Indigenous issues in Ontario from 2010-2013, concluded that there would have to be seven times more stories in the media for news coverage to reflect the size of the province’s Indigenous population.

While a more recent JHR study, Buried Voices: Changing Tones, reported little improvement in the representation of Indigenous people in Ontario media, it did find a major shift in tone. Over the past three years, stories involving Indigenous people have been, on average, 30 per cent positive in tone (up from 23 per cent in 2013) compared to 11 per cent negative (down from 33 per cent).

“As much as we’re seeing a shift in terms of the kind of stories we’re hearing from Indigenous communities, I think we’re [also] seeing a shift in the inclusion of Indigenous voices in regular mainstream stories that aren’t Indigenous focused,” Walker said.

An example of this, she said, is McCue’s role as host of CBC’s Cross Country Checkup, a weekly open-line radio show that discusses issues of national interest. As an Indigenous journalist, she noted, McCue brings a perspective to the issues discussed on the show that is the next level of inclusion of Indigenous voices.

“I feel like this is a snowball that is just getting bigger and bigger and bigger as it goes down the hill,” Walker said. “The more Indigenous voices we have, the more of an understanding Canadians have about Indigenous issues.”

Watch the full panel below:

By ALLISON RIDGWAY and ANIA BESSONOV
Staff Reporters

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Stephen Meurice, Stephen Trumper and Andrea Houston at an RJRC panel in October. (Ania Bessonov)

The Canadian Press (CP) is discussing how to update its stylebook to reflect changing language surrounding LGBTQ, Indigenous and disabled communities, CP’s editor-in-chief said during a Ryerson Journalism Research Centre panel earlier this month.

But the national news agency must keep its clients and readers in mind when contemplating such changes, said editor-in-chief Stephen Meurice.

“Clarity of language is key,” Meurice told about 90 journalism students and members of the public at the panel. “You want people to read your whole story and you want them to understand what’s going on … We do have to think about the small clients who are in areas that might be more conservative.”

Panel members discussed current language issues in news writing and reporting, including the singular use of “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun. Along with Meurice, the panel featured former Toronto Life editor and Ryerson School of Journalism instructor Stephen Trumper and Andrea Houston, a freelance journalist who teaches a course at the school on queer media. A video-slideshow prepared by journalism professor Joyce Smith discussed language issues that arise in the coverage of religion and security.

The CP wire service is purchased by news organization across the country, with clients that range from large metropolitan daily newspapers to smaller rural publications. It is also the publisher and editor of the Canadian Press Stylebook, a guide to journalistic conventions in Canada that is used by many news outlets and taught to journalism students.

A new edition of the style guide is expected next year, and Meurice said decisions will need to be made about what to say in the book on issues such as gender-neutral pronouns or the word “cisgender” (a term that describes people who are not transgender). While the stylebook does include an entry on the term “transgender,” it does not include an entry on the use of the singular “they.”

The singular use of “they” as a gender-neutral, third person pronoun is often used as a more inclusive pronoun, as it avoids assigning a gender to a person who does not identify as exclusively a woman or a man. Some people choose other gender-neutral pronouns, such as “xe” and “ze,” but the singular use of “they” is often the most popular.

Houston said that it is the responsibility of journalists to represent their sources respectfully.

“When you are interviewing a source and they ask for a gender-neutral pronoun, obviously don’t challenge them on this,” she said. “It’s not up to you, as a journalist, to have this debate – to debate someone’s identity. It’s up to you to respect them and represent them with compassion and honesty, as they want to be represented.”

Meurice, who said CP may well incorporate the use of “they” as standard practice in the styleguide, said the wire service does take the wishes of sources into account: “We would never intentionally use the pronoun ‘he’ or ‘she’ if someone had specifically asked us not to,” he said of CP’s policy.

Journalists, however, do not always receive support from their editors on these issues, Houston warned.

“I have had situations where I have been overruled by an editor when a gender neutral pronoun was put into a story, and that’s really unfortunate when that happens.”

Reader confusion can be avoided, Houston said, if news organizations include a brief explanation of why the singular “they” was used in a text.

“Words change and language changes and it’s fantastic to educate [readers],” she added.

The panelists also discussed language sensitivities and judgment calls related to covering religion and disability.

Trumper, who is on the board of the Canadian Abilities Foundation, said that perception surrounding disability is just as important – if not more so – as the language used to describe people with disabilities.

“We are the country of Terry Fox and Rick Hansen. We tend to revere the very athletic types of people with disabilities…but that’s not a true representation of all people with disabilities because not everyone has that strong upper-body strength or strong willpower,” he said. “In reality, [people with disabilities] are just ordinary people who can sometimes do extraordinary things.”

Joyce Smith, an associate professor at the School of Journalism who teaches reporting on religion, spoke on the importance of language as it relates to religion – particularly language surrounding Muslim communities.

Words like “radical,” “moderate,” “conservative” and “liberal” often come up when reporting on terrorist attacks, she said, but can demonize and stereotype religious people – particularly Muslims.

“It’s very important to think about how these words are coming to be suggested,” said Smith. “Is it the group themselves [using these words]? Is it their opponents? Is it a critic?”

A terrorist attack may be partially motivated by religious ideology, she explained, but many cases have other contributing factors as well. After Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot a Canadian soldier to death at Parliament Hill in 2014, many news agencies were quick to jump on the fact that he attended mosques, identified as Muslim, and had expressed support for jihadists in the past. Later, however, it was revealed that Zehaf-Bibeau had also been mentally ill and struggled with a drug addiction, factors that his mother said led to the shooting.

“It’s really important when we’re using religious words to remember that it’s not the only way to characterize someone’s motivation or their actions,” Smith said. “Separate the action from the ideology and the motivation.”