J-Talk: Beyond Missing and Murdered Women, Covering Indigenous Communities

CJF/JHR J-Talk Panel
CJF J-talks panel from L to R: Duncan McCue, Karyn Pugliese, Tanya Talaga, Connie Walker and Lenny Carpenter. Photo credit: Chris Young/Canadian Journalism Foundation.

By: Hannah Clifford, Program Manager

Moderator Duncan McCue, host of CBC Radio One’s Cross Country Checkup, asked a panel of Indigenous journalists: “Has coverage of Indigenous issues shifted from niche to mainstream?”

The answer from most of the panelists? Coverage of Indigenous peoples, cultures and issues is appearing more and more in mainstream Canadian media.

That said, and importantly, mainstream coverage still only engages with a handful of topics – Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, residential schools, the related Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to name a few.

The question came up during the “Beyond Missing and Murdered Women: Covering Indigenous Communities” panel, held on Nov. 3 as part of the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s j-talks, and hosted in partnership with Ryerson University and JHR. The panel featured Lenny Carpenter, JHR’s program manager on the Indigenous Reporters Program; Karyn Pugliese, Executive Director of News and Current Affairs for Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN); Toronto Star reporter Tanya Talaga; and Connie Walker, lead reporter for CBC Indigenous.

While it remains a narrow view of Indigenous stories in Canada, coverage of the aforementioned topics was almost entirely absent from mainstream coverage 10 years ago. The presence, albeit only a handful, of stories on Indigenous culture, peoples and issues is an improvement.

JHR recently published Buried Voices: Changing Tones, a follow-up to its inaugural report from 2013. The latest report showed that there was a marginal increase of Indigenous stories in Ontario media outlets from 2013 to 2016. But there was significant shift from negative tone to positive in those stories.

While it is vitally important to continue this momentum, accurate coverage is not possible without a deeper understand of Indigenous histories in Canada. As Karyn Pugliese so aptly noted “ are a part of Canadian history. You can not effectively cover things without knowing the history behind it.”

As the evening was wrapping up, the floor was opened to questions. A young Indigenous student who is finishing up her last year of a post-secondary journalism program took the mic. She became overwhelmed with emotion as she asked a fairly simple question: “How do we make people care about these stories?” She had experienced some resistance for getting pieces she was writing on Indigenous stories into print. The surge of support in the auditorium was palpable. Through the following reception, I watched many of the seasoned journalists in attendance tell her how important her stories are, to keep going, and offered support on how to get it out there. It is that kind of attitude that the media, and wider Canadian populace needs to adopt.

There is still a very long way to go and much work to do, but with events and conversations like those that stemmed from the panel, an increasing number of individuals both in and out of media are beginning to have a deeper understanding of the importance of covering these stories of success, challenges, prosperity, hardship and frankly, everyday life. For Indigenous stories, truly, are not niche pieces. They represent far reaching connections and truths that affect us all.

For more coverage of the event, read Kathy English’s, the Public Editor at the Toronto Star, piece ‘Listening for Truth and Reconciliation.’

Or watch recorded live stream of the event, as provided by CJF.

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