By Candis Callison, Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Journalism, University of British Columbia and Mary-Lynn Young, Associate professor, Graduate School of Journalism, University of British Columbia
What can the events surrounding Colten Boushie’s death, the trial verdict and its media coverage tell us about the role of journalism and journalists in relation to Indigenous concerns in Canada? All too much.
There is a well-documented history of Canadian newspapers’ complicity with colonialism and state-sponsored violence against Indigenous people from pre-Confederation forward. And despite the last several decades of front-page coverage that includes the uprising in Oka to Idle No More and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission , mainstream media are only doing marginally better than they have before. Why race matters
Instead, Indigenous scholars, activists and community members are largely doing the important work of situating Colten Boushie’s life and death within the colonial context, answering not if race was a factor, but how and why it matters.
For those countering more than a century of journalism in Canada, the work requires looking at news media’s embedded and interwoven relationship with colonialism. In their book, Seeing Red: A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers , Carmen Robertson and Mark Cronlund Anderson argue that Canadian media have — since before Confederation —continually reproduced stereotypes in which Indigenous people are found wanting morally, physically, mentally, historically.
This “othering” helps to “promote a nation,” an “imagined community” of Canada, in Benedict Anderson’s terms, in which Indigenous people are seen as on the margins and the brutality of settler colonialism is seen as natural and normal.
Indigenous journalists and public intellectuals do this work on social media, where trolls attack freelancers and not-for-profit media outlets, and the legal and institutional supports afforded to mainstream media are limited or unavailable.
This work entails articulating over and over the impact of white supremacy, colonialism and the indifference of Canadians about Indigenous peoples, and the enduring injustices and structural inequities they experience.
Some of these issues include: Missing and murdered women, youth suicide, poverty, lack of safe drinking water, inter-generational trauma from residential schools, lack of access to high school education in northern communities — a right of all other youth in this country — and the resilience required in the face of these and many other injustices.
With all of the rhetoric around journalism as a public service , it is a wonder that journalists haven’t produced more reporting and analysis that might work towards transforming the systems that continue to be stacked against Indigenous people, including youth like Colten Boushie. Public interest in Indigenous issues
Despite a surge of reporting on Indigenous issues over the past five years as a result of both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Idle No More movement, as well as the broad public interest in Indigenous issues as newsworthy, mainstream media are often late to coverage or they don’t show up at all.
Recent coverage of the trials related to the killing of Tina Fontaine and Colten Boushie illustrate exactly how problematic mainstream media can be when they do show up. That’s in part because Canadian journalists are largely abdicating their role in both understanding and articulating for their audiences “what happened” about an event involving Indigenous concerns in a way that accounts for colonialism and structural disparities.
Common critiques of media inlude: Persistent racialized stereotypes, lack of Indigenous voices and experts, an over-emphasis of conflict between two parties instead of multiple parties and perspectives, a lack of complexity and historical context and ignoring fly-over or rural communities. Enduring whiteness of Canadian journalism
As researchers and journalism educators examining and teaching the relationship between journalism, […]
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