Case Study: Reporting in Indigenous Communities

by Brodie Ferguson

Ever since the creation of film and television, there has been controversy over the representations of Aboriginal peoples. Articles and reports on corruption, substance abuse, crime are often the only times we see Aboriginal peoples in the media. With very little external knowledge, many non-Indigenous Canadians set their views of Aboriginal peoples on these small glimpses of Indigenous peoples. It becomes necessary that newspapers and television channels alike must alter the ways in which they develop and present news stories relating to Indigenous peoples in a Canadian context. Mug shots of Aboriginal criminals or shots of stereotypical cultural events cannot be the only times in which we see Aboriginal peoples in the media.  As Duncan McCue states, “An elder once told me the only way an Indian would make it on the news is if he or she were one of the 4Ds: drumming, dancing, drunk or dead.”

Though Indigenous peoples may be present when filming takes place, there are seldom any other times where they influence or determine what is actually said or shown in the final report. Little consideration for the very people they are writing about only creates more problems in terms of reporting. Accuracy and truthfulness can never be incorporated into articles and presentations if there is no input from Indigenous peoples. Without any capacity of Indigenous input, it is difficult to believe that any kind of report on Indigenous peoples can truly be called accurate or truthful.

With the shortness of articles, footage and reports, there is little time to contextualize any issues that these journalists decide to bring up. Because of this, audiences may only hear about corruption, substance abuse, and crime without hearing about the reasons as to why such events might be occurring. The media is centered upon producing interesting and engaging stories, and Indigenous peoples are included or excluded on those terms. Positive events like Powwows are often used as filler, socio-economic problems of Indigenous peoples often taking center stage. And because of this, Indigenous peoples are more often associated with negative news.. “It is easy to understand why a non-Native audience might come to the conclusion that Aboriginal people are a troubled, plagued and contentious people.”And because audiences are more attracted to bad news, Aboriginals become stuck in this area of news. Rudy Platiel, who spent 27 years covering the Aboriginal beat for theGlobe and Mail, notes that, “There are an awful lot of good things happening that are not going to get reported in the mainstream press unless somebody pushes to get them there.”

Though it is the audience who takes in and believes the media, it is through the journalists and reporters that this issue can truly be fixed. Altering the way Aboriginal peoples are approached, filmed, and presented in the media will aid in changing the way Aboriginal peoples are portrayed to readerships and television audiences. To aid in this process, new resources and initiatives are being created to offer suggestions and advice to reporters and journalists in how they might go about correctly creating news article portraying Indigenous histories and culture. Among these resources is Reporting in Indigenous Communities, an online resource that aims to change the way reported enter, investigate, film, and present Indigenous peoples, histories, and cultures. In doing so, they hope to use the power media has to alter the way audiences and readers think and perceive Indigenous peoples.

Reporting in Indigenous Communities was conceived and created by Duncan McCue.  Mr. McCue has worked for 15 years as a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Company in Vancouver. Often, his current affairs pieces are featured on CBC’s main news show, The National. As McCue states, “Every story structure is an endless array of possibilities. I strive to afflict the comfortable. I do my best to get it right.” Being Anishinaabe and a member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation, McCue saw that there was a serious lacking in the representation of Indigenous peoples in the news. Seeing that there was little. In addition to this, very few reporters were educated in how they might properly enter Indigenous communities and film them. Feeling Native Issues should be either presented by Indigenous peoples are with heavy consultation from Indigenous peoples, McCue began to present many Indigenous pieces in the news. As Mr. McCue states, “I’ve made a point of telling native stories because other people have been telling our stories for too long. You name it. Missionaries, archaeologists, authors, explorers, historians.  It’s through their eyes that Canadians have learned about Indians, and, unfortunately, they often get it wrong.” He saw the value of the Anishinaabe values of reciprocity and respect and felt that these ideas were needed to define the relationship between reporters and Indigenous peoples. He saw that reporters would enter Indigenous communities with little regard for traditional protocols or rapport building. It only follows that this lack of respect causes tension between the media and Aboriginal peoples. McCue saw this firsthand and decided to create some kind of resource to fix these problems.

Originally pitching the idea to the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University, McCue received one year of funding to create “Reporting in Indigenous Communities”. Finally launched in 2011, the website has grown to act as a resource for reporters, journalists, and filmmakers alike.

The website’s target audience consists mainly of those in varying journalism careers, but the information offered on the website allows for a reaching out to a much larger audience. Ethical considerations and proper engagement with communities are themes everyone must come to follow. Anyone intending to research Indigenous peoples should abide by many of the guidelines put forth by McCue on the website. And for this reason, Reporting in Indigenous Communities is able to reach out to a much larger audience.

Reporting in Indigenous Communities’ main goal is to increase accuracy and truthfulness when reporting on Indigenous peoples and events that might surround them. McCue and other workers on the site believe journalists and reporters cannot continue to report on Indigenous Peoples without any guidelines or protocols. Though many journalists have a general disregard for ethical reporting, other journalists are genuinely unsure as to how to approach and engage with Indigenous peoples and communities. McCue intends for Reporting in Indigenous communities to help with both of these issues. He hopes that by reading examples of successful reporting that other journalists and reporters may come to understand what defines accurate portrayal of Indigenous peoples.

In addition to this, McCue also hopes that the website encourages Indigenous journalists to cross over into mainstream newspapers and television stations. A 1994 study by the Diversity Committee of the Canadian Newspaper Association, found that of the 41 mainstream papers surveyed (employing 2,620 reporters, copy editors, photographers and supervisors) only four people were Aboriginal. In doing so, the website expresses the belief that an increase of journalists in mainstream media might also help to alter portrayals of Indigenous peoples.

“It’s time native storytellers tell our own stories. The truth about stories is sometimes that is all we are.”The guidelines and advice aim to regulate and define three aspects of the reporting process; at the desk, in the field, and on the air.  McCue states that these are the three main aspects of the reporting process that must be directly attended to in order to create accurate reporting.

Reporting in Indigenous Communities is divided into a number of different sections. It consists of the blog, the guidebook, teachings, and a number of different links. The Blog is a place where website workers post articles, essays, and other literature on accurate reporting or other related issues. It also contains links to other news websites such as CBC’s specific area for Indigenous news. However, it is truly through the websites guidebook and teachings page that we begin to see how effective this resource or initiative is.

Reporting in Indigenous Communities’ Guidebook offers “ideas and practical methods for finding and developing news stories in ‘Indian Country’.” Though it is rooted in Canadian journalism, McCue hopes that the guide will may have a place in other contexts as well. Here, he offers suggestions as to what stories should and should not be presented or published on individuals. It offers methods of approaching Indigenous peoples and communities correctly. He discusses the use of traditional protocols and their effectiveness in building rapport. In essence, he asserts that creating a news piece on Indigenous peoples or culture is very difficult, and requires rapport and transparency with the individuals or community involved. He suggests that cultural events must be explained to the audience in an attempt to counter stereotypical perceptions of powwows and other cultural celebrations.

The Teachings page is a unique opportunity for other reporters and journalists to post their experiences and ideas that they encountered when engaging with Indigenous peoples. Whereas the guide is built mainly around McCue’s personal experience, the Teachings page allows for a mosaic of different opinions and ideas from hundreds of different journalists from a number of different backgrounds.  As McCue states, it is “a place to share the collective wisdom of journalists about reporting in Indigenous communities. Find tips on what to do, and what not to do, from reporters who have been there and done that.”

Reporting in Indigenous Communities has a unique pedagogy. Though McCue has written the guidebook and several of the articles on the web]site, he admits that he does not necessarily know all that there is to know about reporting on Indigenous Peoples. Through its Teachings page, the website allows for a horizontal pedagogy. Newcomers and veterans alike can play both roles of teacher and learner, as the website allows for the posting of experiences and advice from visitors to the website. Many resources speak to the reader as if they are the authority on issues and Reporting in Indigenous Communities does not follow this mantra. Instead, their

The last link provides a list to a number of different resources to aid in contextualizing ones’ article or report. Many reporters are greatly unaware of the complex histories of Indigenous peoples in Canada. A full understanding of a context can lead to more accurate and truthful reporting, as the audience is given a more holistic understanding of what they are viewing or reading. The Resources page offers links to timelines of significant events in Métis, Inuit, and First Nation histories. In addition to this, there are links to articles discussing the proper terminology relating to Indigenous peoples and the proper contexts and situations in which to use them. Every word has the power to affect one’s perceptions and it is by the use of the glossary that this aspect of misrepresentation can also be addressed. As well, this page offers links that map out the many First Nation reserves in Canada, and contact sources if the visitor chooses to learn more.

As news and other forms of media exist on many different scales, Reporting in Indigenous Communities aims to alter portrayals of Indigenous peoples on local, provincial and national levels. National newspapers often portray Indigenous peoples negatively, and Reporting in Indigenous Communities aims to focus on this aspect. As the website’s guidebook features rules and protocols for a number of different situations and events, it is well suited to address issues encountered on all three levels. From local Powwow events to broader stories, Reporting in Indigenous Communities is effective in addressing all levels of truthful reporting of Indigenous peoples.

In brief, Indigenous peoples have been misrepresented in the media for far too long. Audiences create many of the perceptions of Indigenous people from what they read and encounter in newspapers, magazines, and television. It has only been in recent years that foundations aimed at increasing proper representation have come to light. Reporting in Indigenous Communities acts as a tremendously effective resource that aims to offer reporters and journalists a guide in how to approach, engage, and present the stories of Indigenous peoples. In doing so, they help to combat the century old problem of misrepresentations of Indigenous peoples in the media.

 

Works Cited

King, Thomas.The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2005. Print.

McCue, Duncan. “Guide.”Reporting in Indigenous Communities. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

McCue, Duncan. “Indigenous Stories.”Simon Fraser University. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2014

McCue, Duncan. “Teachings.”Reporting in Indigenous Communities. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

McCue, Duncan. “What It Takes for Aboriginal People to Make the News.” Online posting.CBC News – Aboriginal. Canadian Broadcasting Company, 29 Jan. 2014. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.

Saganash, Emma. “Aboriginal People in the News.”Mediasmarts.ca. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.

Warry, Wayne.Ending Denial: Understanding Aboriginal Issues. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2007. Print.

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