By: Lenny Carpenter, Indigenous Reporters Program Manager
I was a reporter with Wawatay News when I first heard of Journalists For Human Rights’ project aimed at sending journalists to remote First Nations to train local community members on journalism skills and practices.
At the time, it was called the Northern Ontario Initiative – a pilot project that eventually led to the Indigenous Reporters Program (IRP) – and I was intrigued by its scope and ultimate goal: to empower Indigenous people to tell their own stories.
That was three years ago. In May, I took on the role of being the IRP manager to find there has been a changeover of staff – at head office and in the field alike – since the program’s inception. All had moved on to other endeavours or for personal reasons.
So it was up to me and Hannah Clifford, Program Associate, to began preparing for the second year of the three-year program. Hannah herself had only joined on after the first year was well underway. And there has been a lot of live up to with the successes IRP has had in the past.
And while there have certainly been some challenges in the changeover, it has also provided us with the opportunity to put our indelible mark on the program.
From community selection to hiring the trainers, it was an exciting process to go through and it all culminated in the week of pre-departure training in Sioux Lookout, Ont., in the week of July 4-7.
I was curious as how our new team – all strangers with various training and experience – would mesh during the week. But from the first night, after we all helped our new Field Coordinator Melody McKiver unload her car after her cross-provincial trip from Ottawa, it was evident this group would get along more than fine.
Throughout the week, in between training sessions on the program’s background and expectations, human rights, and life and issues in remote First Nations, the trainers took in the sights and local culture – all the while excited about being together to work towards a common purpose. During the first day, they had already created a Facebook group by which they can support each other from their respective communities – support in either delivering the program, or support in being a fellow newcomer to a small, isolated community.
For two nights, we were also joined by Freddy Mata Matundu, JHR’s country director in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who happened to be in Canada for business. He greatly inspired the trainers after discussing the challenges and success in his native country while also providing another cross-cultural exchange in the way of dancing.
Members of our media partner, Wawatay Native Communications Society, also spent time with the trainers, educating them on the organization’s 40-year history and inner workings of the radio and newspaper departments.
By the end of the week, the group began to part ways to their respective communities for eight months. Sara Mai Chitty of London, Ont., made her way to Kasabonika Lake First Nation. Brandon MacLeod – a trainer returning from last year and so is perhaps IRP’s current longest-serving member – flew up to North Spirit Lake after being based in Edmonton. And right now, Leigh Nunan of Toronto, is making her way to Eabametoong First Nation, also known as Fort Hope.
With the new team in place, it will be exciting to see what stories emerge from these communities. See more details on the team below:
Melody McKiver is the new field coordinator based out of Sioux Lookout. Melody is an emerging Anishinaabe musician, media artist, and arts educator of mixed ancestry from Obishikokaang Lac Seul First Nation and Scottish/Lithuanian origins. Within media arts, Melody works with digital video and photography to capture images of Indigenous resurgence, and uses this footage both editorially and within video and sound art. Melody was previously the co-host of The Circle on 89.1FM CHUO Ottawa, a weekly radio show devoted to Indigenous music, news, and events.
Looking to reconnect with her Lac Seul roots, Melody made sure to bring a canoe from Ottawa so she can take part in the annual tradition of harvesting manoomin (wild rice). She can also be found on the powwow trail in the Treaty 3 region. Be among her 3,900 followers on Twitter: @m_melody.
Sara Mai Chitty is the community journalism trainer in Kasabonika Lake First Nation. She is joining the team after recently completing her Master’s in Journalism from Western University and working for non-for-profit and student media organizations. She is an Anishaabe multi-media journalist who likes to report on just about anything, from music to community and scene development, to Indigenous culture; bringing a wealth of knowledge (and good taste in music) to the project.
Sara Mai is excited for the opportunity to experience a different Indigenous culture and community than her own and looks forward to learning the different teachings, stories and histories. While being excited and ready to dive into any project or community she is a part of, Sara Mai also meticulously and beautifully documents her experience on social media. Follow her adventures on Instagram: @saramaimai (while you’re at it – follow JHR too: @jhrnews).
Leigh Nunan is travelling to work in Eabametoong First Nation as a community journalism trainer. She is a Franco-Ontarian writer, photographer and filmmaker, holding a Bachelor of Film Production from Ryerson University. In all her work, she is committed to telling stories from perspectives that are underrepresented in mainstream media and creating opportunities for others to tell their own stories.
It is this commitment that drew her to the program. Leigh is excited to be working on a project that focuses on encouraging and helping individuals tell their own story. Her wealth of knowledge in photography and film production brings an invaluable and new set of skills to the program. Her top notch photography skills have already been appreciated as she captured many candid moments throughout pre-departure training.
Brandon MacLeod is our one returning trainer from last year. Brandon is coming on board after spending eight months in Weenusk First Nation (Peawanuck, Ont.) with the Indigenous Reporters Program in 2015 with a short interlude of freelancing in between. He is a poet, journalist and teacher based in Edmonton, Alta., when not living in northern Ontario with the Indigenous Reporters Program.
This year, Brandon is off to North Spirit Lake First Nation where is has already been out on a few fishing trips, facilitated workshops and jumped right in preparing Klik sandwiches for the community feast. He is truly passionate about the program, and we are excited to have him back on board.