My Canada includes rights of Indigenous Peoples.
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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Journalists fail First Nations

By Christopher Clarke

News, by its very definition as an event outside of the ordinary, runs contrary to the best interest of First Nations people because it perpetuates well-established negative stereotypes of Aboriginal Peoples. And because this basic tenant of journalism is contrary to First Nations interests, and because journalists are, in the most part, ignorant of the historical and sociological contexts of First Nations issues, journalists have failed in providing adequate and complete coverage Aboriginal Peoples and their communities.

The situation in many First Nation communities is dismal, to say the least. We have all heard the stories of unsafe water, higher than average rates of suicides, alcoholism, drug addiction and abuses to numerous to mention. This is considered "ordinary" by most Canadians because it is what they are used to hearing about native peoples and their communities. It therefore takes an event bordering on catastrophe for a journalist to cover an issue within "Indian country." Of course, this steady stream of near catastrophic events only serves to reinforce the negative stereotypes that already exist of Aboriginal Peoples in the minds of Canadians.

What is not reported is as important, if not more so, than what is reported. As a student of journalism and a card-carrying Indian, I am constantly at odds with my chosen profession. While more native journalists working within mainstream media would help provide more complete and truthful coverage of aboriginal communities, simply having more native journalists will not solve the basic problems that exist with journalism as a whole. Journalists need to educate themselves as to the history and societal context in which First Nations exist, and they have failed to do so. This is not a failure only of journalism, but of mainstream society as well.

Journalists, while charged with reporting as an impartial observer of events, are still a product of the society that educated and informed their way of thinking. Even aboriginal people themselves are sometimes held hostage by the negative stereotypes perpetuated by mainstream society and its institutions.

The responsibility of a journalist is to recognize this and work to remedy the negative stereotyping of "the Indian". For too long, journalists have concentrated almost solely on the third world conditions of our communities, without reporting the positives. There are First Nations people who have, despite the conditions of their environment, succeeded in bettering their own lives, and the lives of those around them. There are communities that are socially, economically and politically healthy, but seldom receive any coverage for the progress they make. What is needed is a sustained, conscientious focus by journalists on the people who are our First Nations, and the successes that have they have enjoyed.

There is also more to the media's responsibility to Aboriginal Peoples than simply what is reported. There is also the question of how. Because non-native people are so far removed from the reality of aboriginal life in this country, sometimes the only perspective of First Nations people comes from mainstream media. Without reporting the historical and sociological context in which these stories exist, it is impossible to adequately, even truthfully, tell the stories of First Nations people.

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My Canada includes rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Two Row Wampum Treaty

Two Row Wampum Treaty
"It is said that, each nation shall stay in their own vessels, and travel the river side by side. Further, it is said, that neither nation will try to steer the vessel of the other." This is a treaty among Indigenous Nations, and with Canada. This is the true nature of our relationships with Indigenous Nations of 'Kanata'.