Currently viewing the tag: "Tanya Talaga"

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

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: