Eagle Feather News has helped many journalists find their wings
- Kerry Benjoe | March 29, 2022
The rise in the number of Indigenous journalists entering mainstream media, particularly here in Saskatchewan over the past 20 years is no coincidence.
“Eagle Feather’s contribution to the world of journalism has been huge,” said Shannon Avison, assistant professor of Indigenous Communications Arts (INCA) and Fine Arts at the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv).
John Lagimodiere, the founder of Eagle Feather News (EFN), has stepped away from the publication, but before he did he made certain the new owners would continue to provide opportunities for up-and-coming journalists.
Avison has worked with Lagimodiere for more than 20 years and, together, through the INCA Summer Institute, they have helped introduce the world of journalism to many Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
The pair met in 1999 when a group they were part of traveled from Regina to the U.S. for an Indigenous journalism conference.
Although the trip itself was memorable for various reasons, Avison said what began was a partnership between INCA and EFN that she could not have predicted.
She said, for many students, the INCA Summer Institute is their first introduction into the world of journalism because they receive a crash course in all storytelling mediums.
Since 2000, Lagimodiere has been a print journalism instructor. As part of the course, students pitch a story and write an article, which is then published in EFN.
For some, it’s the only article they ever write, but for others it’s just the start of their career.
Including Creeson Agecoutay, a parliamentary correspondent for CTV National News. “My first cheque paying me for my writing was from John and EFN when I was still in university,” he said. “It was such a great opportunity at that age and, as an INCA student, to have the story published and sent out to the community for everyone to see.”
Agecoutay went on to intern at CTV Regina and The StarPhoenix before returning to university to complete his journalism degree.
He returned to CTV Regina where he worked for several years as a video journalist and host of Indigenous Circle.
Agecoutay has since spread his wings and is now working in Ottawa. However, he still remembers that sense of accomplishment he felt seeing his byline.
“My mom was the most excited,” said Agecoutay. “We cut out my first article and we still have it today.”
In 2000, Sandra Ahenekew was the paper’s very first intern and still looks back on her time there fondly.
Although she was newly diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, Lagimodiere was supportive and took the extra time to help teach her the business and many new skills.
“EFN provides a place for Indigenous storytellers to change the narrative and share our stories and make connections with our readers,” said Ahenekew. “It provides opportunities to teach, influence and inspire EFN readers to learn about Indigenous culture and issues. Stories about us - by us - for us. I am so thankful for my time at EFN and to John for his mentorship and friendship.”
Unlike many, Avison was not surprised when Lagimodiere announced his intention to hand over his newspaper to another team, nor was she surprised at the team he selected.
“He wanted to make certain Eagle Feather not only maintained that relationship with INCA, but continued to provide opportunities for aspiring journalists,” she said. “He did that when he chose you.”
I am also an INCA alumni who met Lagimodiere in 2002 during the INCA Summer Institute.
Like Agecoutay, I published my first article in Eagle Feather News and seeing my byline in print for the first time was what hooked me on journalism and storytelling.
I was a stay-at-home mom at the time and Lagimodiere periodically gave me story assignments, which I used to slowly build a portfolio.
In 2006, I took my portfolio of EFN clippings into an interview at the Regina LeaderPost and was offered the position two hours later.
I worked there for 13 years before returning to the University of Regina to pursue a master of journalism. Once again, I freelanced for the paper but this time it was to supplement my student income.
When Lagimodiere announced his decision to step away from the paper, I was concerned because I know how valuable this publication is for the province but, most importantly, I know its potential.
I will forever be grateful to Lagimodiere for not only giving this little rez girl a chance all those years ago, but for continuing to believe in my abilities and trusting me with his legacy. Ekosi, kinanaskomitin.