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This is one of a series of articles and videos on the June 2017 conference “Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future” hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. Watch the full conference panel below. To read more about the conference and local news, visit:  localnews.journalism.ryerson.ca.

By ABBY PLENER
Staff reporter

While working in community news, Wawmeesh Hamilton heard a story from a reporter at a rival paper that he found concerning.

The journalist told him that their publisher said that First Nations stories did not warrant enough interest to earn a spot on the front page.

Hamilton recalls being offended as a child by a front page story featuring a non-Indigenous woman dressed as Pocahontas, holding a wine bottle.

“That ignorance I saw [as a kid] had now morphed and taken the form of a suit –  a decision-making suit,” Hamilton said.

Since then, Hamilton has moved on to reporting for Discourse Media, where he produced a series on press freedom issues within First Nations communities. He was joined by Maureen Googoo and Lenny Carpenter on a panel where they shared their personal experiences reporting on Indigenous communities at  a conference on the future of local news hosted by the Ryerson School of Journalism.

Throughout his career, Hamilton has welcomed opportunities to cover a wide range of topics, giving him a breadth of knowledge he feels has strengthened his reporting in Indigenous communities.

He said that while many editors are supportive, there have been some who overlook Indigenous stories.

“My Indigeneity may afford certain access to these communities, but once I’m through that door, I’m journalist,” he said.

In 2015, he was awarded the Canadian Journalism Foundation Aboriginal fellowship for a project on how Indigenous sex offenders are reintegrated into their communities.

Maureen Googoo echoed similar concerns about regional chief meetings in Atlantic Canada. Though some are open to the public, this access is often at the chiefs’ discretion. Likewise, Googoo can access band council meeting minutes from her own band but not for other band councils. These minutes can be requested through freedom of information requests, but because the FOI process is so complicated, she often relies on her own sources to fill in the gaps.

Her 30-year career has afforded her a wealth of contacts to draw upon. She started with a summer reporting gig at Micmac News in Nova Scotia, which stopped publishing in 1991 due to funding cuts. Since then, there was no independent Indigenous news source for Atlantic Canada until Googoo launched Kukuwes.com in 2015. The site’s name is a derivation of her last name using its Mi’kmaq spelling.

She runs the site herself, with the help of her husband, and support from a crowdfunding campaign and advertising.

Googoo, who has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, says what separates Kukuwes from other outlets is that her work is targeted specifically to an Indigenous audience, while others are focused are wider readership. She notes that when Micmac News was operating, the paper aimed to challenge Indigenous leaders on key issues.) But since the newspaper closed, there hasn’t been an outlet consistently demanding access to Indigenous organizations and band councils.

“I think Indigenous people in the region deserve that kind of reporting,” she said.

Last fall, Googoo covered a fraud trial where the former director of finance for the Sipekne’katik Band was sentenced to two years in prison. The time-consuming court procedure demanded her full attention. Since she doesn’t have the budget to hire other reporters, there was no opportunity to pursue other stories during that time. Despite her limited resources, she’s determined to keep going. “I consider Kukuwes my baby,” she told attendees.

Googoo emphasized that Indigenous youth need to be encouraged more to pursue journalism, a point echoed by fellow panelist Lenny Carpenter.

At Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), Carpenter manages the Indigenous Reporters Program which aims to both strengthen opportunities for Indigenous journalists in Canada and educate non-Indigenous journalists on best practices. His portfolio includes a training program which has reached over 400 Indigenous community members in Northern Ontario since its launch in 2013. Recently, he was consulted by the Toronto Star ahead of their decision to capitalize “Indigenous” and “Black” in news stories, and he is currently working with Canadian Press to update the “Aboriginal” section of its stylebook. Before working with JHR, he worked as a reporter and editor at Wawatay News.

Since 2015, JHR has conducted over 30 workshops in newsrooms across Canada including The Globe and Mail, The National Post, VICE Canada, and The Toronto Star. The organization also facilitates similar workshops at journalism schools.

Carpenter told the crowd at Ryerson that graduation season is his favourite time of year, because it’s a chance to showcase positive stories of Indigenous youth. Too often, he says, the media portrays Indigenous community members through negative stereotypes. He enjoys writing stories about Indigenous musicians or athletes that “show the humanity” of these communities.

The panel concluded with an audience question about “the appropriation prize” controversy. The panelists emphasized that education on Indigenous topics and listening to community members are paramount.

When asked what advice he had for non-Indigenous reporters covering Indigenous stories, Hamilton offered a simple mantra: “Show up, do what you say you’re going do, and collaborate.”

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: