As a content writer for an Indigenous owned, led and majority-staffed public relations agency, we talk with our clients extensively about what the future could look like if reconciliation and decolonization are present in newsrooms communications worksites and how we can go about Indigenizing those spaces in a positive way.
Before diving in to that dialogue, it’s important that I place myself as an Indigenous person. I’m from Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, as well as White River First Nations on my mother’s side – both Nations are located in the Yukon where I grew up. I’m a descendant of a residential school survivor.
My father attended the Choutla Indian Residential School where there are similar stories of abuse, neglect and death as those in other residential schools across Canada. The abuse that he endured in effect stripped my father of his language, culture and community and as a result, I too have been stripped of these elements of my Indigeneity. I’m only one generation removed from attending these schools, and I’m not immune to the effects of intergenerational trauma, though I am relearning our traditional ways.
It’s important to understand this history and the effects of colonization in order to fully appreciate the importance of reconciliation and decolonizing media newsrooms and communications spaces. Without understanding the history or the truth of residential schools, and other government-led initiatives meant to eradicate Indigenous worldviews, it’s impossible to meet at a place for true reconciliation to occur.
I’m no expert in terms of reconciliation, nor do I claim to have all the answers. But, what I can share is my lived experiences as an Indigenous woman in the field of journalism and communications and what I have learned while navigating this settler-colonial dominated institution.
I began my media career at SAIT while taking the journalism diploma program. I was pulled to the program because it married my passion for writing with my interest in Indigenous issues. I knew Indigenous People were highly under- and mis-represented in the news and I wanted to share their stories from an Indigenous perspective rather than through the colonized lens of which they’ve been covered in the past.
When I attended school at SAIT, it became evident that my voice was needed. There were only a handful of us that identified as Indigenous in a cohort of about 100 students. I stepped into the program knowing that my main focus was on Indigenous issues and I received encouragement from my teachers to follow that path, and that confidence in me allowed me to feel that my voice mattered and that what I was doing was important. These little confidences add up over time and tell me that people actually care about Indigenous Peoples and their stories.
After school, I interned within various news organizations and magazine publishing houses. In these environments, I had support and was given agency to use my voice as an Indigenous person to tell Indigenous stories. I worked alongside many amazing editors and journalists and essentially gained my writing chops through these channels. But I couldn’t help but notice that I’d often be the only Indigenous voice in the entire organization. Or, one of very few. This presented its own challenges, because though the support for honing my craft was present, the cultural support was lacking. This is not because the companies or organizations don’t care about Indigenous issues, but because we currently live and operate within a colonized system and we don’t know any other way to interact.
For instance, Indigenous Peoples are collaborative. We collaborate with community and try to come from a place of understanding as opposed to instilling our ideologies onto others. In order to come to a place of understanding, we need to spend time together. From a journalistic perspective, news moves fast and the story needs to be covered now. In Indigenous societies, it’s important to sit and visit for a few hours to really get to know one another. Time moves a little slower on the ‘rez.’ But for journalists working under tight deadlines, the two worldviews clash and find it difficult to coexist.
It is possible, though. For the journalism world to work alongside Indigenous processes, but it will require a new way of doing things. That’s what reconciliation is about. It’s about actively working to understand other worldviews and implementing them into our current systems. Now, for the journalism world and Indigenous processes to coexist, we’ll have to think of it as an exchange.
Indigenous stories are crucial to our ways of being, and when we share stories, we’re essentially sharing a part of ourselves. Who wants to share themselves with a complete stranger? That’s why it would do journalists some good to create a relationship with community leaders and members before even thinking about what stories they want to cover. It’s through this relationship building that trust is established, and through this trust, Indigenous Peoples will feel comfortable about opening up to the journalist. The exchange here is of one community – the journalists – collaborating and equally prospering alongside another community – Indigenous leaders and community members.
This is just one example of how reconciliation and understanding can occur. It doesn’t have to be huge sweeping steps like government policy changes (though those are important too), but effective change happens in smaller steps like spending a day with community to build trust. Reconciliation can be a slow and gentle process.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’m no expert in terms of reconciliation. But, I do know that if we work at decolonizing all aspects of our worlds, including media and communications, that we will come out the other side with a better understanding and acceptance of each other. By actively dismantling the current systems, we’ll be making space for other worldviews to develop and flourish. Change and the unknown is scary, and I do appreciate that people may be feeling anxiety around the idea of reconciliation. However, it simply means that we better work at understanding one another on a deeper level and create a world based on that understanding. Ultimately, reconciliation is beautiful.