‘The status quo is unacceptable.’ Canadian media must listen to Indigenous voices to help build truth and reconciliation.

By Kathy English for the Toronto Star

I am not without my own thoughts on the role of media in the critical work of building truth and reconciliation with and for Canada’s Indigenous people.

But, on this vitally important subject, I am learning that what matters is not what I have to say, but how willing I am to listen. To listen, in order to understand, is the first step in doing journalism that does a better job of telling the stories of Indigenous people and indeed, of all of the people of our country.

To that end, I am turning much of this column over to the voices that matter — Indigenous journalists who are standing up and speaking out about journalism’s role in building reconciliation.

“It is always worthwhile to listen,” the Star’s Tanya Talaga said at a recent Canadian Journalism Foundation “J-Talk” on covering Indigenous communities. The event, held in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights and Ryerson School of Journalism, featured a panel of Indigenous journalists who shared their experiences and insights on coverage of Indigenous issues.

“I have been covering Indigenous issues for quite a while and for a long time I couldn’t get that story on the front page,” said Talaga, who believes there is now much more interest in news about Indigenous people — both within the Star’s newsroom and among Canadian audiences.

Talaga, who is of mixed ancestry (her grandmother is Ojibway, a member of Fort William First Nation), was part of the Star’s team that won the National Newspaper Award’s Project of the Year last spring for “Gone,” an investigation into murdered and missing aboriginal women. The considerable resources devoted to that outstanding project underscores Talaga’s view that the Star now has deeper understanding of and more commitment to covering Indigenous issues.

The Star has taken some notable steps to greater understanding on this file. Last winter, we invited JHR to conduct a newsroom training session on covering Indigenous issues in the era of truth and reconciliation. The most important lesson: to fulfill the media’s responsibility in building reconciliation, we must understand the painful and shameful past and listen better to Indigenous people throughout the country. To that end the Star’s editorial board this week welcomed Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who spoke to a group of Star journalists about the importance of “closing the gap” in the quality of life for First Nations people living on and off reserve.

“The media landscape in Canada is finally changing,” says Lenny Carpenter, program manager of the groundbreaking Indigenous Reporters Program for JHR, Canada’s leading media development agency, in its recent report on media coverage of Indigenous issues in Ontario entitled Buried Voices: Changing Tones.