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Posted on 4 June 2015

“We call upon Canadian journalism programs and media schools to require education for all students on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations.”

– Call To Action #86, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
(p. 345)

Of all the courses I took during my undergraduate degree, the ones I’m most grateful for those are those focused on indigenous and Aboriginal issues (for lack of a better word) both in Canada and around the world. It’s given me a valuable understanding of the historical, legal, social and political contexts surrounding so many stories in modern Canada, from energy and land rights to the recently-released Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. I’m no expert, but at least I have a base to build on.

Whether or not it’s required, I heartily recommend anyone interested in working in Canadian journalism give themselves decent base understanding of the Aboriginal experience. It’s been extremely useful in my job, and I would put it up there with an understanding of Parliamentary democracy and the basics of the legal system as “things you hope journalists sort of know”. It is our job to reflect what is happening in Canada to Canadians, and if we only have a hazy understanding of “First Nations” as some sort of homogenous group of protesters, I’d argue we’re failing to do the best we can do.

To this end, let me direct your attention to the website Reporting in Indigenous Communities, a project from UBC journalism professor and CBC reporter Duncan McCue. It explores some of the common mistakes and clichés made by journalists covering indigenous issues in Canada. For a sample, here’s part of the site’s “Reporter’s Checklist“:

“Are you looking beyond pow-wows, cultural gatherings, and National Aboriginal Day for story ideas?

“Do you have a database of Aboriginal contacts, and a banking system to catalog research and ideas for future stories?

“Is there a way to include Aboriginal people in your “non-Aboriginal” stories?”

It’s humbling to take a look at the news cycle to see how often this checklist is overlooked.  The end game here is an understanding of the diversity of indigenous people in Canada, both as political entities and as individuals whose identity goes beyond “token Aboriginal”. Like all that is worthwhile we may not always succeed, but the least we can do is try.

Filed under: Canada, Indigenous, journalism

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