If reconciliation is dead, the media should reflect on its own role

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Action in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en Nation has been examined, torn apart and regurgitated by the media.  Politicians have called for everything from the Prime Minister to intervene to a renewed commitment to reconciliation.  Economists have broken down the fiscal impacts of time off the tracks.  Some leaders have suggested Indigenous peoples check their privilege.

One of the more compelling messages seems to have been ignored.  Yet, it has some of the most dire implications for the future of Canada.

“Reconciliation is dead,” I heard Indigneous youth say at a press conference at a sit-in at the Justice Ministry Building.  Strong words, with stronger implications.  Without Indigenous peoples, and especially Indigenous youth, we will never achieve reconciliation.  If we are at a point where Indigenous youth are not willing to engage in reconciliation, we need to start reflection.

The Liberal government was elected, in large part, thanks to an agenda that was defined by reconciliation.  That was later muddled by a few cabinet shuffles and the ouster of Canada’s first Indigenous Attorney General.  Later the Prime Minister would offer some snark to an Indigenous protester trying to keep the pressure on about mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows.

Despite it all, reconciliation was included in the mandate letters to each of his cabinet ministers last year.  It would be easy to say only our government has a role to play but we have all contributed to the current stateless of reconciliation.

How we report matters

As members of the press, our first mandate is to the truth.  Accurate, truthful reporting will always win the day but that standard is fluid.  We have changed the language we use when reporting on Indigneous peoples, we have expanded our use of pronouns and we use resources like Informed Opinions to diversify our set of sources.

The media is mentioned at length in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.  This includes training from journalism programs and schools.  While I’ve noticed some of us struggle with names like Wet’suwet’en and Tyendinaga our problems run deeper.

We must deliver unbiased coverage in all of our reporting but that doesn’t mean we need to treat sources with disregard.  I covered a movement largely led by youth and I am concerned over how my fellow colleagues treated young people.  When a press conference started late, journalists tried to push in.  We were expressly asked not to.  I have to wonder if journalists would push into a caucus meeting because the Prime Minister started a presser 15 minutes late.  I also saw journalists pressing young people on mundane questions like they would our Prime Minister.  There is a difference between how we should hold a group of young people and our national leader to account.

The day after, we were treated to a different press conference.  Youth and their allies didn’t want to take questions.  We had to wait outside.  A cameraperson attempted to push their way in.  At one point, I heard someone else ask how they could cover a press conference with no questions.  Every single day we cover press conferences where there are no questions but we always manage to find a story.

The bare minimum we can offer Indigenous youth and sources is that we at least cover their actions, questions or not.  Beyond that, I wonder how differently that press conference might have gone had we not been cajoling a group who had essentially been up for 30 hours.  Why are we throwing hardballs at youth that we don’t seem to aim at our own leadership?

Journalists cover all sorts of stories that are emotional, technical and necessary every single day.  I’ve seen it come from nearly every single outlet in the country, and that includes reporting by non-Indigenous journalists about Indigenous stories.  Current and regular training would go a long way and I know that is not an option for every understaffed and overworked newsroom but I also know we are a resourceful bunch.

If we can become experts on USMCA, the Iowa caucuses and the finer points of parliamentary procedures, we can take a few extra minutes to learn about the Indigenous lands where we are reporting, the Royal Proclamation and the difference between hereditary chiefs and Indian Act chiefs.  It is the very least we can do.

Photo Credit: CBC News

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