On the road to media reconciliation

On the road to media reconciliation

Upcoming conference to tackle injustices surrounding the media's treatment of Indigenous Peoples
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September 8, 2016

The Saskatoon-based Reconciliation and the Media Committee will be hosting an important conference next month in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action.

A follow-up to the Decolonizing Media town hall that was hosted by the University of Regina School of Journalism last November, the Reconciliation and the Media conference will begin to tackle long-standing structural injustices surrounding the Canadian media’s handling of Indigenous Peoples in news coverage.

As the founder and editor of the largest independent indigenous investigative media’s group in Canada, I would like to take this moment to congratulate The Reconciliation and the Media Committee for instigating this important event.

If all goes well, the one day conference will carry forward a set of resolutions aimed at Saskatchewan newsrooms, urging:

While the scope of the conference is primarily focused on the province of Saskatchewan, it is nonetheless an important milestone in the journey to media justice in Canada.

For too long, the media has shirked its responsibility to Indigenous Peoples, preferring instead to perpetuate structural injustices that are as old as the print press. In Canada, those injustices reveal themselves in the media’s failure to uphold every Canadian’s right to access fair and accurate reporting that respectfully represents indigenous opinions, perspectives, voices, cultures, needs and rights; and that furthermore secures adequate funding, training, personnel and space for content that is free of personal opinions, economic interests, editorial agendas and all forms of prejudice where Indigenous Peoples are concerned.

I say that knowing full well that there are still many journalists, editors and publishers in Canada who would prefer to dismiss such problems outright–as if the media does not have a sacred responsibility to serve the public in the same manner that doctors are expected to uphold the Hippocratic oath. Indeed, it is the responsibility of every journalist in Canada to be impeccable with their words and deeds. Editors should also be capable of ensuring that such rudimentary expectations are met.

Public and private foundations, universities, and government agencies have a role to play in this well, by working in their own capacity to create a democratic environment in which media integrity can thrive.

I began taking on these problems when I founded IC Magazine twelve years ago. After spending close to twelve months observing the media’s handling of Indigenous issues, it became exceedingly apparent that we weren’t simply being ignored or boxed into what Duncan McCue aptly describes as the “WD4 Rule“. Rather, Indigenous Peoples were–and are–being deliberately marginalized and misrepresented.

The reasons for this are many and varied and it extends far beyond Canada’s borders. Whether we’re talking about mainstream, independent or alternative media–be it local, national or international–it’s the same thing everywhere.

Since day one, we’ve been striving to serve as a counter-balance to the media’s appalling racially-motivated and socially-destructive habits by providing the international community with an ethically-driven online environment that upholds the principles of journalism excellence.

As a consequence of this, we have, for the past twelve years, been unable to find a single foundation or sponsor in Canada to help ensure the continuity and growth of this work. Despite this, we have still managed to cover stories for more than 600 Indigenous Peoples and Nations around the world. For anyone keeping score, that’s arguably more than all other Canadian media outlets combined.

What’s more, we have initiated a series of special projects to further serve Indigenous Peoples where existing non profit organizations, educational institutions, governments and other media outlets in Canada fail outright.

These projects include:

In this project we aim to create an online media platform for indigenous students of all ages on any reserve throughout Turtle Island (North America). The idea of this project is to engage our youth in a meaningful way–by coordinating with different schools–to provide them with an outlet to share stories about their cultures and languages. In this project, students would be invited to draw pictures, write stories, sing songs and even carry out performances that would be uploaded to a central location on the internet.

This project consists of a series of online seminars, classes and courses that aim to create a new generation of informed, empowered and ethically-motivated journalists. Through this project we would teach aspiring journalists everything they might need to know, including: how to use social media, how to design a website, how to pitch a story, how to design a poster, how to produce an investigative documentary, how to conduct interviews, how to communicate securely and how to stay safe online. We would also examine journalism/storytelling/writing fundamentals. In the more advanced courses, we would dig into media theory, media ethics and critical thinking. Finally, we would produce a comprehensive first-of-its-kind course on culturally-responsible journalism.

The “Sweetgrass Protocols” is a framework of guidelines that we are developing to help journalists, photographers, filmmakers, and bloggers produce ethically-responsible content that respects the needs, cultures and rights of Indigenous Peoples. Once completed, the guidelines will serve as a foundation for a checklist that individuals and organizations can use to evaluate their journalism practices where Indigenous Peoples are concerned. It will also provide us with a core for the comprehensive ethical journalism course we aim to produce online.

While we are unable to move forward with the YOUTH MEDIA PROJECT or the “INDIGENOUS JOURNALISM” TRAINING PROJECT due to a severe lack of funds and personnel, we are–acting as unpaid volunteers–in the process of reviewing the first draft of the “SWEETGRASS PROTOCOLS”. We expect it to be ready for publication within the next few weeks.

In addition to this work, we are contemplating the development of an indigenous media pact to encourage media outlets to set a one percent minimum coverage standard. We are also exploring the codification of an unprecedented ethical code that is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and our own standards as an indigenous-led organization.

Sufficed to say, there is a long road before us that has never been tread upon. We are doing everything in our power to help lead the way forward, and we can only hope that each conference attendee will aspire for the same.

The process of reconciliation, after all, demands that we confront and surpass every obstacle that necessitated the need to carry out such a process. This means setting a new standard and respecting it regardless of the consequences in the spirit of those who came before and in honour of those who have yet to arrive.

There is much work to be done.

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