Supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe rally in opposition of the Dakota Access oil pipeline in front of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin) Mainstream media in North America continues to cover indigenous peoples only sporadically, and based on stereotypes
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Not a single person I interviewed argued against my premise. Everyone agreed our coverage was “lousy,” and got worse throughout the province, the further away from the city you were. Most gave me the usual excuses: We didn’t have enough time or people to do better, given tight deadlines; didn’t have adequate resources or people, given tighter budgets; and we worried about accusations of racism if we did a story about the problems, and accusations about racism if we painted over the problems.
One producer in TV news said something different. She didn’t agree with what she called easy excuses. She said it was about money — advertising. Poor people in poor neighborhoods didn’t buy advertising, as a rule. Indigenous peoples, often the poorest of the poor, not only didn’t buy ads, but didn’t pay attention to ads or buy newspapers, a major source of stories and ideas for local broadcasting newsrooms. To her, indigenous peoples got the coverage they paid for: no money, no coverage. Put simply — we weren’t considered part of the audience or readership. Most journalists also said we didn’t bother to cover indigenous peoples because there was no journalistic payoff. We, reporters, preferred to do stories to improve situations and conditions, by pointing out things that didn’t work properly. We looked for bad guys, stories about corruption or inept business owners, government administrators, politicians, cops, for example. Yet similar stories about indigenous communities never went anywhere. Things never changed. Also, by telling these stories, we faced accusations of concentrating on the negative. (See comment above about racism.)
In my opinion, things haven’t changed much in the last 25 years in Canadian print and broadcasting, with the exception of APTN News , now in its 18th year of broadcasting a national newscast by, for and about Indigenous peoples. CBC News, to its credit, has played catchup, creating its own unit called CBC Indigenous . There are a handful of reporters and opinionators at other major news organizations, print and broadcasting, with a working or better knowledge about Indigenous peoples, histories, politics and lives. Notable is Doug Cuthand , a Cree and a columnist at the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.
Otherwise most journalists continue to rely on old stereotypes and stubborn prejudices, and on superficial and erroneous stories, as they helicopter into and out of “Indian Country” to report on complicated issues. Take the mainstream media’s coverage of the TransMountain oil pipeline in Western Canada and the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines through the United States. The legacy media covered these stories in one of two ways: as protests against oil pipelines, citing damage to health of people and the ecology; or as paramilitary and police forces used by governments to suppress peaceful protest. Basically, good guys vs. bad guys, depending on your point of view, with the spirit of “cowboys fighting Indians” the underlying narrative. True, but nowhere near the whole and much better story.
In both Canada and the United States, anti-pipeline protests galvanized indigenous activists, creating broad alliances with non-indigenous activists and turning scattered voices into emerging political movements. For example, Idle No More , often described by the mainstream media as a fading social media phenom, found traction with people fed up with the inaction or lack of support from Indigenous politicians over […]
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