Indigenous Media, Critical Storying
- Merelda Fiddler-Potter | October 03, 2023
What makes a journalist a legitimate journalist?
This is a critical question in our country, and even the world, today.
But, it’s even more critical for Indigenous peoples. Let me explain why.
The rise of social networking channels and other content-sharing platforms, like Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube, and Google, has changed the way audiences can and want to interact with content.
Before this, people waited for a newspaper to be delivered, a radio show to go live, or the evening television newscast to hear the news of the day.
Now everyone wants instant information.
And that’s the difference.
News and content are not the same thing.
Content is everything from a video of puppies interacting with goats, to someone livestreaming an event, to news coverage and opinion pieces.
News stories, journalism, that’s different. Let me explain why.
This fall, I started my dream job. After working through a PhD., and countless hours of research, I am now an Assistant Professor at the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv). I have a joint appointment in both Indigenous Communication Arts and (INCA) Indigenous Business and Public Administration.
As I write this, I am preparing to teach my first INCA class.
The difference is, the way we teach and what we teach. There’s been an epic shift in the media landscape since I first became a journalist.
Recent moves by FaceBook, and potentially Google, to block Canadian news is creating a significant problem, not just for the major news outlets in this country, but more specifically for Indigenous peoples.
For decades, inquiries and commissions, like the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, noted the way in which Indigenous Peoples were portrayed and how this affected us.
As Indigenous peoples entered both mainstream media outlets and launched their own, this began to shift.
Social networking platforms like FaceBook, Twitter, even Google, run on algorithms.
These curate things to your liking. They show you ads for products that you hover too long over, people who fit your worldview, and content you might find interesting. They create online bubbles for you to live in indefinitely.
Ironically, the media played a significant role is making social media popular.
We posted our stories on these platforms. But, perhaps more importantly, we covered every single interesting blip and made people want to be on these platforms.
I’ll give you an example.
When I was still working in the media, an editor came to me and said – let’s cover this video. It was of a girl filming her sister while she was driving. Let me be clear, the girl driving was also filming – so there’s a problem for another story.
The girl hit the brakes hard and her sister, who was drinking from a disposable cup using a straw, gagged hard on her drink and straw. The video had over a million likes. And my editor thought it would be a funny story to cover.
I was shocked. But it did get covered – by EVERY media outlet. “Sask. video gets over a million likes in less than 24 hours.”
Journalists also loved the instant feedback they could get from a story. Good, bad, or other, audience could come to you directly.
When the large media outlets in Canada decided they wanted to be paid by these platforms who profit off sharing their content, it was easy for those giants to fight back.
They deleted their pages on the platforms and now prevent the sharing of this content. First FaceBook and Instagram, but soon Google and YouTube could follow.
So why is this such a serious problem for Indigenous peoples in this country?
In most newsrooms, the inclusion of Indigenous voices is at the very least part of the conversation. To reach a wider audience, diversity is key.
This is not the case on social networking and search platforms. The algorithms want you to see you and your circle to advertise and sell. That’s it.
As we work towards self-government and greater Indigenous inclusion, economic reconciliation and closing the gaps in education and health, how do we have conversations with Canadians?
If newspapers like Eagle Feather News cannot share on these platforms, how to we break out of our silos and talk to each other?
A few years ago, a student of mine said her grandfather, who farmed near a Saskatchewan residential school, used to have students hide on his property. He knew something was wrong, but because the administrators and others kept things quiet there was no way to confirm it. His questions were never answered, and he was unable to press for information.
Until 1950, First Nations people were not allowed to leave their reserves without a pass. How could anyone tell a story about someone they are not allowed to meet? How can anyone share those stories or press for change without breaking out of their own circle?
Online news coverage and story sharing is essential, I would say, critical, to policy change and reconciliation in this country.
If our news outlets, our journalists, and all media is not allowed to share their content, it feels like a fundamental human right is being broken.
I know we don’t always like the stories, or the way journalists cover them. And we don’t have to.
But content and journalism are not the same thing. A rant on FaceBook or some angry tweets does not replace the crucial role journalists play in curating stories, fact-finding, or research.
Citizens can share content. And that’s great, it adds to the landscape. But it’s not journalism. And we need journalism.
The point is there is a difference between someone who streams a protest and a journalist who interviews different people who support and may not support something and tries to create context.
We need to step outside our bubbles to see the change. Or, we are consenting to being placed in a sphere with no contact.
This is moving backward for our people.
I do not know what the future holds for online new sharing on these giant online platforms.
But I do know, silos create a void of information, this leads to people constructing false images of Indigenous peoples and dangerous assimilation policies.
Remember, Duncan Campbell Scott convincingly argued we must ‘kill the Indian in the child’.
Our provincial government set up a Métis Rehabilitation Community in Green Lake, Saskatchewan and forced families from the Lebret area to move there – shipping them on rail cars as they burned their Road Allowance homes to the ground.
Journalists brought us these stories.
Mainstream and alternative, as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous publishers, shared these stories in spaces where everyone could see them.
In this country, we are going to have to decide if we want these platforms and networks to dictate what we see. Or if we will demand that our stories and voices be shared with everyone.
This is part of our right, our sovereignty.
They profit in the billions off our data and information. In turn, we should get to decide what we see, read, and share.
We should be able to use this to ensure we never repeat the atrocities in our history.