Including Indigenous Perspectives: How JHR is Working with Journalism Schools

Written by Miles Kenyon, Program Manager of JHR’s Indigenous Reporters Program

 

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its full report. in December, Canadian journalism schools received a failing grade.

 

Of the 94 recommendations, three were specifically aimed at the media: increase funding so CBC can more effectively report on Indigenous issues of national concern, continue support of APTN’s initiatives to educate Canadians about Indigenous cultures and train non-Indigenous journalism students to better tell Indigenous stories.

 

Indigenous education aimed at reporters, editors and broadcasters is all but missing from the curricula of Canada’s major journalism schools.

Angela Sterritt and Michael Champagne facilitating a workshop in CTV Winnipeg. Photo Credit, Angela Sterritt
Angela Sterritt and Michael Champagne facilitating a workshop in CTV Winnipeg. Photo Credit, Angela Sterritt

This paucity of instruction puts everyone at a disadvantage. If journalists aren’t able to effectively, ethically and accurately report on complicated Indigenous issues– often requiring an understanding of cultural practices, alternative historical narratives and legal structures– how can readers be expected to understand these issues, let alone hold leaders and institutions to account? Stories without context are toothless at best and damaging at worst.

 

This attempt to bring about substantial change is at the heart of JHR’s Indigenous Reporters Program.

 

The aim of the initiative is to increase the quality and quantity of Indigenous stories and voices in Canadian media. Given the work that went into building the program– including dozens of interviews with Indigenous journalists, leaders and community members– it’s no surprise that we’re working to address all of the TRC’s three media concerns.

 

One specific vein of the program has us partnering with educational institutions to make sure emerging journalists are armed with the necessary knowledge to report on Indigenous issues before then even enter the field.

Miles Kenyon facilitating a workshop in a journalism class at the University of Western Ontario
Miles Kenyon facilitating a workshop in a journalism class at the University of Western Ontario

Ryerson University, one of the country’s premier journalism schools, is working with JHR to develop material to incorporate Indigenous education into its 2017 curriculum. Modules from our curriculum will be adapted to core courses, and a more in-depth elective will focus on representation in the media, proper use of terminology, cross-cultural practices for building and strengthening community relationships, as well as an analysis of complex legal and financial frameworks.

 

These modules will not create experts of journalism students but, like many undergraduate courses, will provide a baseline of knowledge which can be built upon. Some of the largest stories to grace headlines in recent years, including missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, water shortages in reserve communities and even the release of the TRC’s findings itself, has shown that this baseline of knowledge is missing. Further, and somewhat to JHR’s surprise, the TRC quoted from Buried Voices, our findings on the lack of coverage of Indigenous issues, in its final report. All of this indicates that there is much work to do.

 

The good news here is that Canadian media is enthusiastic about changing.

 

During the first year of the program, JHR trained 214 working journalists in 22 newsrooms and 279 journalism students in 9 schools in Ontario and Manitoba. These workshops– one-off versions of the scaled programs Ryerson will implement in the coming years– provide introductions to the basic tenets of Indigenous reporting, influenced heavily by Duncan McCue’s Reporting in Indigenous Communities and explored issues that have been unreachable for far too long.

 

Aside from the recommendations made specifically for media, the TRC shares an important mandate with journalism: both are centred on uncovering uncomfortable truths. To quote the final report: “Getting to the truth was hard, but getting to reconciliation will be harder.”

 

However, if all who have a vested interest in moving forward enter into this process with open hearts and open minds, we will.

 

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