Anna McKenzie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse
Every day after she gets off work, Angela Sterritt goes for a walk.
“It’s not for anything other than just to release. A release from screens, a release from the work, and a way to touch base with myself,” she says. “For me, being in touch with nature is so important. Just touching the land, whether it’s a forest or the ocean … [or] even just, like, my neighborhood.”
For the award-winning Gitxsan reporter and CBC News columnist, walking helps her to process her thoughts and the more challenging stories she’s working on.
Sterritt started working for the CBC in 2003, and over the span of her career with the broadcaster, she’s drawn attention to some very heavy subjects, such as violence towards Indigenous women and girls, the overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth in care, and systemic racism.
“I cover these stories … because these are the stories that are brought to me, and I think they centre on concerns with Indigenous people in institutions and the child welfare industry that have stemmed from the long history and trauma from colonialism,” she says.
IndigiNews spoke with the gifted storyteller about how she cares for her spirit as she brings stories of hardship and healing to light.
Bringing Indigenous stories to the newsroom
Early in Sterritt’s career, “Indigenous people’s experiences with colonization were unknown and not believed,” she says.
”There was a time when we weren’t allowed to use the term ‘survivor,’ in reference to residential school survivors. There were many people in the public who did not believe residential school survivors — that they were abused there. Some people even questioned if they even existed.”
Sterritt says she noticed a big shift with the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report.
“That was just, like, a bang. I remember it was just such an epic moment,” says Sterritt, who remembers covering the release of the TRC’s report from Toronto in 2015.
“We were watching Roméo Saganash talk about the final recommendations,” she says.
“It was like a 30-minute hit and I came off the set, and there were all these reporters — national reporters — kind of in a semicircle around the set, in tears, and being like, ‘This is so important. This is so important. We needed to hear that. Thank you.’
“And I was just kind of, like, ‘Whoa, what?’ Before in my career, people didn’t care, right? And there was so much pushback.”
Sterritt has since been widely recognized and awarded for her work. In 2020, she was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award in the ‘best local reporter’ category for her investigative series Unbroken, which focused on Indigenous child welfare. Later in 2020, Sterritt was named one of Vancouver Magazine’s Power 50.
Her reporting continues to delve deep into the heart of community, uplifting stories that matter to Indigenous people, and she’s adamant that Indigenous storytellers need to keep “pushing those boundaries.”
Covering Indigenous child welfare
For more than three years, Sterritt’s been producing a biweekly column called “ReconcileTHIS,” in which she aims to, “explore the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in British Columbia.”
Many of her stories have focused on the child welfare system and its impact on Indigenous people”.
Sterritt estimates she receives 1-10 emails a week from people pitching child welfare stories.
She says requests for coverage come from Indigenous people who are “struggling to either regain custody of their child or their grandchild or their niece or their nephew.” Or from folks who are “having deep concerns” about the child welfare system. She also hears from foster parents in the United States, and youth who used to be in government care.
“To be honest, I find them one of the most challenging stories to do,” she says. “There’s just so much trauma because of the link of the child welfare system to residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.”
In October 2020, Sterritt covered a story about a Cree youth who died while living in a government-run group home in Abbotsford, B.C.
“I feel like with the work that we do, especially these really hard stories, two hours of just having a breath and just being calm is so critical,” she says.
‘Your ancestors alway have your back’
Although newsroom cultures are changing, Sterritt says that she still sees pushback.
“Even today, there’s pushback from [editors and producers] about how we should cover Indigenous issues and I’m still getting called an advocate,” she says.
“When you have a culture in a newsroom that’s created by white people and non-Black people and non-Indigenous people, you … coming into that space is potentially going to be uncomfortable for people.”
Sterritt draws strength from her ancestors and her culture. In addition to being a journalist, she’s also an artist.
“I have a painting called ‘First Contact’, and it’s of an Indigenous woman, and her hair is tied into her culture,” she says.
“We always have our culture within us and we carry that wherever we go”.
Sterritt says she’s passionate about encouraging other Indigenous women to “take up space.”
“Let’s not be afraid of that and let’s be our true selves in these spaces,” she says. “Your ancestors always have your back and are always within you.”