Be Sensitive

And other suggestions for reporting on Indigenous issues

Photo: Wikipedia

THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION Commission’s final report, released in 2015, called for media coverage more representative of the plurality of Indigenous communities, access to opportunity for Indigenous journalists, and education on Indigenous history and law in journalism schools. Editors and reporters at Ricochet Media’s Indigenous Reporting Fund (who, between them, have worked at outlets like APTN, CBC, and Indian Country Today) share their collective knowledge on improving Indigenous story reportage.

1. Decolonize the language

“Indigenous people protecting their unceded territory from resource development projects they didn’t consent to aren’t ‘protesters’ and their actions are not ‘protests.’ Decolonizing the language in the media landscape and considering the meaning behind words is so crucial.”

2. Use the right terms

“Remember that the term ‘First Nations’ does not include Inuit or Métis. If you’re referring broadly to Indigenous communities as a whole in Canada, don’t refer to reserves; Inuit and Métis peoples don’t have them.”

3. Listen more than you talk

“Be respectful and attentive. Listen more than you ask questions. You may also want to tell a story of your own. By sharing a piece of yourself, you are giving instead of just taking, which builds trust. This reflects Indigenous concepts of reciprocity.”

4. Sensitivity

“One of the most important considerations when working with Indigenous people is that smaller communities have a lot more to deal with interpersonally; there are complex relationships, responsibilities, and vulnerabilities. If, at any point in developing your story, someone wants to be taken out of it, you must heed the request. An outsider may not understand the impact, risks, or long-term consequences that publication could have on the person’s life.”

“Remember that Indigenous cultures are based on face-to-face communication; sometimes phoning and emailing doesn’t work, so you need to show up at the band o ce. It’s not always comfortable, but hard work and reputation-building are part of the beauty of Indigenous journalism. It’s up to journalists in many ways to break down long-standing barriers like these.”

Nahka Bertrand and Leena Minifie (editors with Ricochet Media’s Indigenous Reporting Fund) as well as Ossie Michelin, Cara McKenna, and Jerome Turner (writers supported through the Indigenous Reporting Fund) contributed to this guide. Ricochet Media is a multi-platform media outlet, and its Indigenous Reporting Fund aims to improve the representation and coverage of Indigenous people in the media.

Additional Resources

Reporting in Indigenous Communities

This online guide by CBC reporter Duncan McCue assists journalists in pitching, researching, and presenting stories on Indigenous peoples.

“Reporting in Indigenous Communities: 5 Tips to Get It Right”

CBC’s Angela Sterritt, who’s worked with Journalists for Human Rights to facilitate a newsroom-based course for journos, presents five tips (with examples) to get it right.

Native American Journalists Association

The association offers infographics and guides for specific reporting situations (for example, how to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline) on its website.