Media

Symposium tackles reporting in Indigenous communities

Stereotypes rampant in news stories on Indigenous people

Duncan McCue speaking with journalism students   Geordie Summers-Lubar

Duncan McCue is tired of seeing stereotypes about Indigenous people in the news.

“Some aboriginal people are heroes,” he said on Saturday, to an audience of about 50 people at the Halifax Central Library. “Some are jerks, some are doctors, some are hockey fans and some are even journalists.”

McCue, who is Anishnaabe, hosts CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup and teaches at the University of British Columbia’s School of Journalism. He was speaking as part of the Joseph Howe Symposium, an annual event covers a contemporary journalism issue in memory of Joseph Howe, a pioneer for freedom of the press in Canada.

As McCue spoke about the stereotypes he sees in media, he relayed a story he heard from an elder. Upon learning that McCue was a journalist, the elder told him there are four ways an Indigenous person is portrayed in the news: “drumming, dancing, drunk or dead.”       

Another speaker, hereditary Mi’kmaq Chief Stephen Augustine, closed the symposium with a discussion of Mi’kmaq culture and history.

“Read, learn, share,” he told listeners. “It’s free.”

Indigenous law expert Naomi Metallic also spoke at the event. She said that white people are slowly becoming more aware of Indigenous social issues — but the stereotype that First Nations people get constant handouts from the government persists. She said that a lack of understanding of treaties and Indigenous rights are part of the problem.

Metallic said that all Canadians are “treaty people” because the treaties are agreements between Indigenous people and the rest of Canada. She said all Canadians are responsible for starting and maintaining good relationships between the two groups, and she wants journalism students to “make space for this narrative.”

While journalism students scurried around getting photos of the speakers and quotes for class assignments, McCue told The Signal there was another change he hopes to see.

“In the future, I hope Indigenous people see the mainstream media as an outlet for their stories,” he said.


Disclosure: Geordie Summers-Lubar is a journalism student at the University of King’s College, the university that organizes the Joseph Howe Symposium.