Debwewin – Speaking the truth through creation of Naotkmaegwanning community newspaper

By: Karli Zschogner

Despite widespread online connectivity and short attention spans, physical papers remain for many the most comforting way to sit, read and enjoy their news.

In the first days of meeting with staff at Baibombeh Anishinaabe School in Naotkamegwanning First Nation, inquiring about opportunities to provide journalism training to the students, it was recommended that I speak to Ian Crow, a community member now employed as the school’s “grad coach”.

Introducing ourselves, I learned that he had experience helping to set up a newsletter in Naotkamegwanning in his youth, had been President of the Oshki Anishinaabe Student Student Association at Confederation College in Thunder Bay and had received some training through Wawatay News. We realized that we had the potential to complement each others insight and skills.

Gathering information about the current landscape of community communications, we were able to identify gaps in communication, including in informing the community of upcoming events, community politics, and low levels of community engagement.

Ian Crow, also a member of the Naotkamegwanning Hanisha Singers at Winnipeg MMIW Pow Wow Photo Credit: Karli Zschogner

After Ian showed me some possible templates that could be used for a paper and what momentum he could help build within the school, facilitating a community paper became the most logical first step for the program. While people have expressed interest in radio and podcasting, barriers in resources became evident in shyness in speaking, and lack of access to editing software. We got to work with the resources and skills we had available.

Although, we may not have been able to successfully help launch the newspaper without another community member, Damon Hunter, by our side as an assistant organizer and writer for the paper. A quiet, soft-spoken teen, with the level of follow-through and commitment Damon is offering, I am grateful to have him on board.

Hayzn Tom enthusiastically takes on a film project from start to finish on a snow day Photo Credit: Karli Zschogner

After having first met him at a contributor meeting I organized, he said he was not doing much, not being in school but looking for more ways to get involved, looking for community hours.

Shy and unsure but curious about storytelling, I invited him to take a more formal roll. With roles that combines writer, editorial assistant, assignment and production editor, he has helped with gathering information on upcoming events, checking in with contributors, and helping to decide on the layout.

When he agreed to take on a sports story covering the community’s annual fishing derby, he maturely came in the late hours to meet a tight deadline and to learn on the job about the research and information gathering process of writing and interviewing.  

Damon Hunter, in white, at first radio & newspaper planning meeting Photo Credit: Karli Zschogner

He coordinated an interview with the event organizers as I guided him on paraphrasing and choosing quotes. Back and forth we worked together going through the editing process in person and virtually as I helped suggest structure and final details. 

The night before our printing deadline, I ordered us dinner at the school and Ian, Damon and I organized and finalized the paper. Discussing the differences between news and opinion, and how to include consistent Anishnaabemowin content, we decided on the layout. 

We used a Facebook poll to get community input on the newspaper’s name and Damon created a logo for Naotkamegwanning Mazina’igan, which means ‘paper’ in Anishinaabemowin.

Having found out the high school teachers and students had just started up a Travel Club to organize an end of year trip for the school and with my personal experience of the importance of travel, I suggested that distribution of the papers, which were to be printed at the school, could be used as a fundraiser for the club.

Damon Hunter interviewing Arena manager Photo Credit: Karli Zschogner 

Finally, after some tribulations, we successfully figured out how to print and Damon and I stapled the copies in magazine style.  

The teachers happened to have a meeting following school that day. While I was out on a call, Ian and I received a standing ovation from staff as they flipped through the 28-page magazine-sized paper.

Damon and I dropped over 50 copies off at the local stores. Within the week we had to reprint more.

In the days after, people have come to Ian and I curious and excited. The principal of Baibombeh Anishinaabe School came to me saying he had an idea for bringing the talent of the young esthetician profiled in the paper, and her workshops “Beauty for the Soul”, into the school as part of a series of self-esteem workshops.

Teacher and artist Roland White interviews organizer of the Winnipeg MMIW Red Jingle Dress Pow Wow following the days of the Inquiry Photo Credit: Karli Zschogner

Furthermore, the principal and multiple teachers have expressed that Okima Paypompee, one of the newspaper’s contributors and a student who has struggled in school, has drastically improved in goal setting and participation.

Community members have come to me with positive feedback. Ian said the paper was added to the agenda for the following band meeting to discuss the potential it holds. Multiple individuals have come to me about wanting to initiate a historical archival project of Naotkamegwanning.

Throughout the next weeks, Damon has spent hours sitting beside me beyond completing the community hours he needed, creating a website for the paper, uploading media and content. It was his first time doing so!  

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