You’re writing a story about people living in Toronto. Do you refer to them as
d. North Americans
Every answer is technically right. However, there are different levels of accuracy within each term.
If people in Toronto are voting for a new mayor you’d probably say “Torontonians are going to the polls” rather than “North Americans are going to the polls”, because it more precisely communicates the identity of the people you’re talking about.
I bring this up in the context of a column written by Melanie Lefebvre and Alicia Elliott for the Walrus titled ‘We Didn’t Choose to Be Called Indigenous.’1 It’s a meditation on the way in which Indigenous/Aboriginal/Native/Indian people have been given generic monikers over the years, rather than being referred to by their specific nation.
“The continual refusal of Canada to acknowledge our names for ourselves, insisting instead on “Indian,” or later “Aboriginal,” or now “Indigenous,” has ideological roots in the same idea. We name you. We grant you your identity—or not. You are ours to name as we choose. “
By the end, they suggest some steps Canadians can take to take part in reconciliation, including, “Learn the treaty history of the lands that you live on. Learn how to say the names of the Indigenous nations who traditionally cared for those lands—in their language.”
In my read, it’s an ask to learn and think about Indigenous people not as a generic, catch-all category but in more specific ways: Dakelh are not Haida are not Annishnawbe any more than Albertans are Manitobans are Newfoundlanders or Canadians and Mexicans are Americans despite being part of North America. There is a certain amount of shared experience, but there are also unique historic and cultural characteristics that make more precise terms helpful.
However, in a somewhat less charitable reading, former Walrus editor Jon Kay summarized the piece this way:
In his subsequent replies, Kay makes clear it’s his belief Elliott and Lefebvre are arguing the word “Indigenous” is no longer an OK to use and are embarking in language policing:
The thing is, I don’t understand where Kay’s reading of this piece comes from (I’ve asked him, he’s yet to reply).
One reason I don’t think Lefebvre and Elliott are attempting to prevent anyone from using the term “Indigenous” is because they use it themselves, multiple times in the piece.
They also specifically acknowledge the impracticality of referring to specific nations at all times, writing, “We could not be “The Hopitu-Oceti-Sakowin-Kanien’kehá:ka-Powhatan-Chahta-Annishnawbe-Beothuk,” and acknowledge there is some use in catch-all terms such as “Indigenous” to acknowledge shared/similar experience across groups as a result of the last 200 years or so.
The suggestion, as I read it, is simply to strive for the most accurate terminology possible when referring to Indigenous people: “Indigenous” works when referring to people from different nations, but if you’re speaking about an individual, find out which nation they belong to– how they self-identify– and use that.
It’s precision in language and it’s something I personally think is worth striving for.
Elliott has said she doesn’t feel the title accurately reflects the purpose of the piece. ↩
Note: I keep reminding myself that although Twitter and Facebook are great I should remember to put stuff on here. It’s a heck of a lot easier to go back through a blog and find some old post or idea you were playing with. Anyways, here’s one from Twitter, July 23.
So there’s been some talk about statues recently and I took a look at the ones we have in Prince George. The first is of Terry Fox, because before he did his famous cross-country trek he ran in a marathon here.
“In 1964 the provincial government suspended her, along with four other social workers, for their public criticisms of child welfare services, including an open letter to Premier W.A.C. Bennett (Social Credit party).”
And one of her books is described thusly on Amazon:
“An engrossing look at the investigation into the hit-and-run death of Coreen Thomas, a young Native woman in her ninth month of pregnancy, at the wheels of a car driven by a young white man in central BC. The resulting inquest into what might have been just another small-town tragedy turned into an inquiry of racial tensions, both implicit and explicit, that surfaced not only on country backroads but in the courtroom as well, revealing a dual system of justice that treated whites and aboriginals differently. First published in 1990, Judgement at Stoney Creek has been hailed for its moving and deeply personal depiction of a controversial subject that continues to make news today?how the justice system has failed Canada’s aboriginal people.”
Prince George has its problems but I’m pretty cool with the fact our statue honours a woman fired for standing up for children’s rights and then in retirement worked to expose racism in the justice system and society at large.
Last year I was interviewed by a really cool project called The Tale of A Town which consists of a small group of people dropping into a Canadian community, talking to a ton of people and then putting together a story about that community through a short-run interactive show (which I really wish could be replicated on a permanent basis) and a series of short audio clips on their website.
My clip has gone live, and they chose me talking about something I still feel is true: downtown Prince George needs a publicy-accessible building that gives people fifth-storey-or-higher views of the city, something that I realized when I visited someone’s office on the fifth floor of the Royal Bank building. As I said:
“You look out and you see this beautiful view of the Nechako River and the cutbanks, you see the downtown, you see the Crescents, you see how the city fits together… and that’s the first time in my life that I ever saw that view from downtown Prince George.
“And the thing that I realized is unless you are staying in one of these hotels, or happen to work beyond the second floor in one of these buildings, that is a view of the city you don’t have access to. So the vast majority of the people who live in Prince George don’t have this perspective.”
In just about any major city you visit, taking a trip up some sort of tower or another is on the list of quintessential tourist experiences. It gives us perspective on where we are and lets us see the character of the place in a way that you can’t quite capture on the ground.
I really do believe it would help alter people’s views on Prince George.
This is the Canada I grew up in:
Across the street from my house there was a forest that I could (although wasn’t supposed to) walk through to get to my school, where I had kind teachers who looked out for my well being.
I had friends of different backgrounds and origins and we bonded over shared interests and video games.
I was taught police were a source of safety and in my few personal interactions with them, have never had reason to believe otherwise.
I was taught everyone is equal and deserves to be treated with respect.
I was loved.
* * *
Over the past decade or so, I’ve learned that my Canada is not everyone’s Canada.
Or worse, that my Canada is at the expense of other people’s Canada.
That the park where I go to celebrate Canada Day was home to the Lheidli T’enneh, whose homes were burned to make way for the railway that led to the creation of the city I call home, the city where I’ve been able to lead such a blessed life. A city where, looking back, my diverse group of friends didn’t include a single Indigenous person despite having a higher-than-average proportion living here.
A city where it wasn’t until university that I learned anything more than a cursory knowledge of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people and until after that that I learned the original name of the land I grew up on.
* * *
I feel no guilt for this, but I don’t take pride in it, either. If I don’t deserve blame for residential schools or forced relocations why should I take credit for Suez or the 1972 Summit Series? I had nothing to do with any of it.
What I do have are my values and the ability to choose how I move forward with the knowledge I gain from my every day on earth. I am grateful I was born here, but I’ve come to realize that the mere act of being born here does not afford you all the blessings I’ve been given.
A great many other factors beyond my nationality have shaped who I am and what I’ve been given. And some of the factors that produce good outcomes for me create bad outcomes for others no less deserving.
“Canada” is not some magical entity that is automatically virtuous and good; indeed, there is a great deal of evidence to the contrary. Like any country, the extent to which Canada deserves praise rests at the feet of individuals who fought and struggled for something better than what was already in existence, often with the consequence of being accused of being ungrateful for what they already have.
* * *
The other day I had a group of elementary school kids visit my workplace. On my wall I have a poster with the image of the park I go to celebrate Canada Day and the words “Lheidli T’enneh” on it. The kids recognized the words and what they meant– something I had no knowledge of when I was their age.
That knowledge was achieved by people asking for the original name to be restored, asking the rest of us to confront some truths about this city’s past. For their efforts, they endured racism, accusations of asking for handouts, accusations of being stuck in the past, accusations of not being grateful for what they have.
It wasn’t comfortable.
Now these kids are growing up in a different version of Canada than I did. Unfortunately, we already know their version is not universal, either. Across the country there are still stark gaps in the way the Canadian story plays out depending on where you’re born and who you’re born to.
* * *
I wish the Canada I grew up in were the same Canada everyone grew up in. It’s tough to imagine a better life and I am extremely grateful to have it. But I won’t mistake my good fortune for the good fortune of everyone. I won’t let my own personal happiness cause me to demand everyone else shut up and be happy, too.
If you believe something is perfect or even good enough, you have no incentive to make it better. Being dissatisfied with the status quo is a necessary component for improvement.
The challenge is whether we can live up to the ideals we set ourselves up for. The real challenge is whether we have the strength to admit when we aren’t, and are ready to take the steps to change that even- or especially- when it’s uncomfortable to do so.
* * *
Today, I plan to canoe down a river to the park where we go to celebrate Canada Day. I’m going to eat some food prepared by the multiculturalism society and get some bannock and then watch a band that combines bhangra, hip-hop and Celtic music. I’m going to be grateful for the Canada I have, and to the people who struggle to make some version of my childhood and my life something accessible to everyone. I’ll reflect on what part I play in that struggle, as a help or hindrance, on my values and whether I live up to them, and what I can do better – even if it’s uncomfortable.
* * *
I know this isn’t especially revolutionary or original thinking but it’s where I’m at in my understanding of the country. As I’ve gotten older I’ve treated birthdays as times for reflection as much as for celebration and I feel Canada Day can be the same. Canada doesn’t have feelings. Canada doesn’t care if you celebrate it or not. Canada is another trick of the human imagination, conceived of and sustained by stories- “this is who we are, this is what we stand for.” It’s about a community of people coming together and saying they belong to something bigger. So let’s think about how we can live together better.
Have a good day.
I think about the urban-rural divide in Canada a lot. I think there are big implications to the fact that, as pointed out in the Globe and Mail:
“There are more people in Greater Vancouver than in the rest of British Columbia. Half of Quebec’s population lives in Greater Montreal; more than half of Albertans live in Edmonton or Calgary. The Greater Toronto Area has as many people as the three Prairies provinces combined.”
For all the talk of Canada as a northern country it is actually a country primarily of people in large cities, the rest of us are outliers. And we are declining. From Sean Speer and Jamil Jivani in Policy Options:
- “Data from the 2016 census show that Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver now represent more than 35 percent of the national population. This share has been steadily growing over the past 30 years”
- “These cities are home to Canada’s richest communities, highest levels of immigration and considerable economic dynamism as seen in their many start-up firms and burgeoning industries. They are increasingly the principal locales for economic opportunity.”
- “These three cities now have more than 60 federal parliamentary seats, and the number is even higher if one counts surrounding areas such as Brampton and Mississauga in Ontario, Langley and Surrey in BC or Laval in Quebec. But with a narrow definition of the cities, they still represent nearly 20 percent of all federal ridings and are thus larger than all provinces but Ontario and Quebec. These cities therefore make up arguably the most important voting bloc in the country.”
Their piece also points out that this divide is actually more pointed than the United States, whose population is more evenly distributed and whose recent electoral politics have very much centred around urban-rural divides.
The real question, I suspect, is whether or not Canadians outside urban areas wind up feeling resentful of cities in a way that translates to the way they vote– and if that even matters, given the electoral clout urban areas have over the rest of the country.
Over the last few days, I have seen a lot of journalists sharing stories reporting on a study purporting to have found that journalist’s drink too much, are bad at managing emotions, and have lower-than-average brain function:
Mostly it’s self-deprecating, with people adding little comments like “explains a lot” or “I didn’t know they were studying me!” But just because it rings true and makes you laugh, doesn’t mean it should be reported on as science. And that’s exactly what’s happening when a bunch of journalists with blue checkmarks start sharing the study uncritically and adding words like “science” and “can’t argue with facts!”
So let’s take a look at where this study came from. Is it a peer-reviewed journal? A well-respected academic institution?
No, it’s a joint release from the London Press Club and “Tara Stewart: Neuroscience. Leadership.” The actual study is in on her personal website.
When you get into the study, you find it was originally going to be on 90 members of the press club. But:
“Ultimately, failure to complete all the elements in the required time limit meant that a total of 21 participants completed every element, and a further 10 completed some elements of the study.”
I’m no neuroscientist, but 21 self-selected individuals does not seem like a great sample size to be drawing wide-ranging conclusion on journalists around the world who have different work environments, cultural norms and backgrounds that can also affect your resiliency, sleeping patterns and “CEO part of the brain” (a phrase that comes up in this study a few times).
A little further on, we learn journalists are dehydrated because in this self-reporting study, most didn’t drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. Never mind that there have been numerous scientific studies indicating that benchmark is an old wive’s tale.
As for the control group placing journalists “below average”? Turns out it’s bankers, telecom groups and sales teams that the author has run as part of the paid services she offers to corporate groups hoping to “to achieve a competitive edge by understanding and improving the physical condition of their brains.”.
I looked for the section indicating the weaknesses in the methodology, areas for further review and comments about how we shouldn’t take this as gospel– standard fare for any actual scientific piece. There was none. No warnings, no cautions, just a nicely packaged piece ready for distribution to media.
A standard question I’ve been taught to ask whenever presented with a study, survey or research is who stands to gain from this? So let’s ask a few questions about this one.
The study came from the personal website of it’s author. What’s on offer there?
And what does the press release about the study say about her?
If I were to be cynical, I’d point out that by putting out a study on the minds of journalists, Swart has managed to get her name in numerous media organizations with a story that is being shared onto the personal Facebook and Twitter pages of countless journalists around the world.
Again, haha, I get it, we drink too much coffee and alcohol and are stressed out! And now science proves it!
Except it doesn’t.
Journalism is the primary way most scientific information gets disseminated to the general population, be it through quick news articles recounting study highlights or more in-depth areas like Popular Science or Quirks and Quarks.
Even when it’s for something ~fun~ and ~silly~ we should turn on our skeptical minds and try to educate both ourselves and the general public about how to tell the difference between good and bad science and studies, their shortcomings, and ways to properly evaluate information. That includes asking questions about where information is coming from, whether it was peer-reviewed, sample size and whether something is being sold.
As journalists, we need to avoid confirmation bias- even if it’s about ourselves.
For a while now, but especially over this past week, I’ve been thinking about the free labour I and others in the media ask of people in what can broadly but inelegantly be defined as “diverse communities”: Indigenous, LGBTQ+, Muslim — basically members of traditionally underrepresented and/or marginalized populations.
Here’s what happens: something affecting or involving that community occurs and journalists across the country start flipping through our memory banks of smart people with an informed perspective to talk about it. Often this isn’t to promote a passion project. This is to defend their own humanity.
In arenas of politics or business or the arts there are often people who are paid to think about these things and occasionally talk to media on behalf of articulating their perspectives.
Broadly speaking, that’s not the case when it comes to groups like those I mentioned above, and that’s the result of a whole host of systemic issues that stretches beyond just the media, but definitely includes the media. And so the people who are representing those groups in the media might pop up again and again, but still have to have another job to actually put food on the table.
When I or anyone else reaches out to them to talk, we’re asking for free time and free labour. This is, of course, what I do for anyone I want to interview, but when it’s someone that gets turned to again and again and again simply because they are willing to speak on behalf of who they are — as opposed to the company they represent or the political party they are trying to get elected — it feels like more of an imposition.
Of course, the tradeoff is if we *don’t* call, those sorts of voices don’t get heard when they should because, factually speaking, they are underrepresented in traditional positions of power and visibility.
So there’s some thoughts I’m having. If you are a person in media or one who is frequently contacted by media, I’d be interested in hearing yours.
In some writing spaces, there’s an actual physical list of clichéd words and terms on a wall- phrases that have been overused to the point of being meaningless. It’s a good practice to remove crutches and help sharpen writing.
One of my personal crutches that I’ve been thinking about lately, which is “for those who don’t know.” I use it when we have an expert guest on and I want the host to prompt them to give a basic explainer on the topic at hand. For example:
“For those who don’t know, what is the first-past-the-post voting system?”
“For those who don’t know, why does the U.S. think Canada is unfairly subsidizing softwood lumber?”
“For those who don’t know, what is geoengineering?”
It’s a way of making the topic accessible while demonstrating that we, the journalists, already know all this stuff. This is for the benefit of the listener, not us.
I’m wondering if that’s necessary. If a host were to start a conversation with “What is first-past-the-post voting?” would listeners at home throw their hands in the air in frustration at their ignorance?
Or would it be pretty clear that this is being done for the benefit of establishing the basics before moving on to the more nuanced portions of the conversation?
Interested in your thoughts.
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