There are many nuances to covering Aboriginal issues that a lot of journalists aren't aware of, but now there's a new resource that can help solve that problem. Eric Mark Do has details on a terminology guidebook for reporting on Aboriginal topics designed to give instant access to information and help build ties to First Nations communities.

By Eric Mark Do

Journalist Waubgeshig Rice is a First Nations member, but that doesn’t automatically mean he can answer every question about Aboriginal issues.

“I have been asked how to pronounce the name of a community in Nunavut, whereas I’m Ojibway. I’m not Inuit. I don’t know how to speak Inuktitut,” he said. “But a (former) coworker would assume that I had that knowledge just because I’m another Indian, I guess.”

Rice said while awareness of the differences between Aboriginal nations, languages and cultures is spreading, many people are still uninformed.

That’s where the Strategic Alliance of Broadcasters for Aboriginal Reflection’s (SABAR’s) Key Terminology Guidebook for Reporting on Aboriginal Topics can help. It’s available in both English and French as a hard-copy, PDF as well as an online searchable database. Terms are conveniently grouped by topic: identity and citizenship; culture and traditions; governance; rights, policy and politics.

The guidebook was created in collaboration with Stanford University after years of consultations and after a study found great interest for it among non-Aboriginal journalists across Canada.

While SABAR’s core mission is to improve Aboriginal representation and portrayal in the media by promoting more Aboriginal participation, the organization also “wanted to ensure that what is currently being aired is accurately and sensitively nuanced,” said SABAR chair Brenda Nadjiwan.

An example of a term she sees used in the news often is the expression: “the Aboriginals.”

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Misusing a term such as this is about more than just grammar. “I think it really [obfuscates] the diversity in the Aboriginal community across Canada,” said Nadjiwan. When various indigenous groups speak up about issues affecting their particular territory, viewers can be confused if the groups are all branded as “the Aboriginals” because the issues they raise might be different, she said.

“I think people imagine there’s this one big lump of Aboriginal people instead of looking at the diversity amongst Aboriginal groups.”


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Rice said while some might see pointing out improper grammatical usage of a term as nitpicking, he thinks “it’s important to really know that there are specific rules around these terminologies that can mean different things just by saying them differently.”

Knowing the correct usage can also help reporters connect with Aboriginal communities better. Rice noted there’s understandable apprehension from the community toward the media if they are there to cover a tragedy, as is often the case. And parachute reporting isn’t beneficial to anyone involved with the story or the story itself, he said. But going in knowing the history and terminology may create a better level of comfort between the reporter and the community, allowing for a more effective story to be told.

“I just think if this resource was required reading in newsrooms across the country there would be a much better relationship between First Nations people and the media because it is a great resource that a lot of people can learn from,” said Rice. “There’s a lot of potential there to really create and foster that understanding.”

For hard copies of the guidebook, contact Marta Young (Marta.Young@sjrb.ca) to arrange a courier (receiver pays costs) or free, in-person pick-up at 181 Bay St., Suite 4210, Toronto, Ontario. 

This story was updated from its original version on Oct. 29, 2013.