For one journalist, telling Indigenous stories the right way is in her blood
- Alex Kozroski | January 26, 2023
Journalists are trained to find stories; but Francine Compton knows if you are patient and respectful, stories will come to you.
Compton, a member of the Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation in Manitoba, has a family history of telling stories.
“When I was 15, I was looking for where to go for high school,” she said. She talked to her father, Jim Compton, who was “one of the first visibly native journalists on TV in Canada.”
Her father worked for CBC from 1983 to 1993 and was a founding member of the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN).
“My dad said, ‘You can study broadcasting because we’re going to have our own network one day’,” said Compton. “And I just thought, ‘there’s no way we’re ever going to have our own network. He’s dreaming’ (But) he was right.”
On Sept. 1, 1999 APTN hit the airwaves.
It was also the same year Compton graduated high school.
By Feb. 2000, she was part of the APTN studio crew, then moved into a research and writing position and eventually became the executive show producer.
Compton said the station had an impact on other broadcasters.
“APTN’s storytelling helped the industry evolve,” she said. “Nobody was covering this stuff like we were. (Such as) doing the first federal election covered by an all-Indigenous news outlet. We were really leading in a few areas.”
While at APTN, she got involved with the Native American Journalist Association (NAJA) because she wanted to be part of “a network of Indigenous journalists.”
Compton eventually became the first Canadian to be elected president and is currently in her third term.
In 2021, she left APTN to be a national assignment producer for CBC Indigenous.
“I saw a big difference right away,” said Compton about the move. “I was going from a little network with a big Indigenous team ... to an enormous network with a tiny Indigenous team.”
Despite the change, she never forgot her roots.
“One of the things that’s important to know when going into communities is ... you don’t need to go in there and be aggressive, and run around sticking microphones in people’s faces,” said Compton.
While covering the papal visit in July, she approached the news coverage differently. “I walked around and took it in,” said Compton. “I knew, if I sat anywhere, someone would talk to me. I just knew that. I had that feeling. And it happened ... I sat next to a Survivor and I waited for him to start talking to me.”
She went in with no camera or microphone.
“He turned to me and started talking,” said Compton.
After a while, she asked him for an interview.
They spoke then he posed for some photos.
Compton said he wanted her to see the back of his vest.
“We always take pictures of people facing us, but he had this vest where his clan was on the back and he wanted to turn around and show me,” she said. “That was a really special moment for me, for him to share his story with me, for him to want to show me his clan on his vest.”
She still keeps in touch with the Elder.
As a journalist, she believes it’s important to break down colonial borders and sometimes it means doing things her way.