Page 1


First Nations Beat By LAURA GRANDE

On July 11, 1990, Dan Smoke and

his wife, Mary Lou, were at home in London, Ont., watching the CBC news coverage of the Oka Crisis unfold. “The media portrayed the Mohawk as terrorists, warriors, renegades and militants,” he recalled. “With that kind of representation, it painted all native people in the same way.” The Mohawk population in Oka, Que. had taken a stand against the Sûreté du Québec over the expansion of a golf course and residential area on Mohawk land, which included a sacred burial ground. “We were watching how the reporters ‘reported’ on the Mohawk people,” Smoke said. “No one ever asked them why they were there

and the answer was that they were protecting their ancestors. That was a bad day for journalism.” That news coverage spurred Smoke and his wife into action. As a result, they were inspired to create their radio program, Smoke Signals, broadcast from the University of Western Ontario’s CHRW studios. Smoke, of the Seneca Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, believes that the misconceptions presented by the mainstream media in Canada is due to a gap in education, history and investigative research. “We have a responsibility, as journalists, to try to understand the historical context of why a lot of these stories, which at first just seem like uprisings, are breaking across the land,” he said. “We have this huge dichotomy going on where people


MEDIA don’t understand the history (behind the story).” Veteran journalist and publisher, Lynda Powless, created the print and online newspaper, Turtle Island News, in 1994. She started the publication in the basement of her house in the Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario. With more than 30 years of journalism experience, Powless realized that both mainstream media and the people in her hometown were in the dark about aboriginal news stories. “I took a personal interest in the fact that the people of my community had a right to know,” she said. “And they didn’t know that.” Her hometown doesn’t even receive copies of the Globe and Mail, which essentially left the community isolated from global news, prior to her publication. “It was walking into a coffee shop in my own home community and nobody knowing what the issues of the day were,” she said. Powless echoes Smoke’s sentiments on the importance of educating nonaboriginal Canadians about misconceptions and stereotypes. “We’ve been able to play a very important educational role in providing information to the world about First Nations people,” she said. “We’re filling a niche market …and providing what I don’t think anyone

32 Roots and Shoots

Photo Credit, TVDSB-Media Services

Dan and Mary Lou Smoke.

else can provide.” Since 2006, Smoke and his wife, Mary Lou, have taught a course at the University of Western Ontario called, “Representations of First Nations Issues in the Mainstream Media.”

Smoke said he thinks journalists in Canada should take a course on aboriginal history. “(It’s) so they can write the historical context when they frame their stories,” he said. “We know that most of the time (journalists) have pressure from their senior editors over deadlines, but it’s important to note that the context needs to be provided.” Donna Smith, a Toronto-based reporter with Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) since 2002, was inspired to become a journalist at the age of nine. That’s when she noticed there weren’t many aboriginal role models on television. “I asked my mom, ‘Why aren’t there brown people on TV?’ she laughed. “That’s where my seed of journalism started and it grew from there.” Smith earned a journalism degree from Humber College and soon became one of the top reporters on APTN. “A lot of aboriginal people feel they don’t have a voice,” she said. “We are a group of people who were never called upon for their stories. But, now they have a voice through APTN.” Smith recalled reporting on the

2006 standoff she covered in Caledonia, Ont. She said required historical context involving land claims. The land dispute involved approximately 40 hectares of property, which Henco Industries Ltd. planned to turn into a residential subdivision. “(Many) Canadians don’t know about these treaties,” she said. (Caledonia) is this little tiny piece of land and …I took the opportunity to educate and inform people about truth and misconceptions about aboriginals and treaties.” The importance of fair media representation and contextualization is something Smoke stresses, both in the classroom and on Smoke Signals. “We are all about culturally bridging the two worlds,” he said. “We are all about trying to educate the public about a perspective they’ve never seen before. “It’s about moving into the 21st century and …bringing forward the teachings of our culture, our ancestors.”

Media 33

First Nations Beat  
First Nations Beat  

First Nations journalists weigh in on mainstream media traps