I never had a big view of the world when I was young. As a Native person from an isolated community on the James Bay coast, I never really thought much about the outside world. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have a lot of access to mainstream television, radio or newspapers. My parents did not have a lot of knowledge about the outside world. The only information that seemed to filter down to us in our remote community of Attawapiskat had to do with some crisis or other reported via the little media we had access to.
For news about our own people we could always turn to Wawatay Native communications society. They provided us with a newspaper that connected our northern First Nations. They also aired a radio station with announcers that spoke in our Cree language and talked about subjects that we were concerned with. The Timmins Daily Press made its way up the coast and represented our mainstream media in print. We also watched CBC and CTV television programming but it was basic and did not have much if any content about Native people. CBC radio was also available and at times we could tune in to stations from the U.S. to listen to the latest hit songs.
As I grew older and ventured out of the community I noticed that the only time I ever saw or heard anything in the mainstream media about First Nation people, it was mostly negative. The only time any of us made it into the news was when somebody died, was murdered or in some crisis.
I am happy to see that today the mainstream media is providing a more realistic view of First Nations rather than just reinforcing old stereotypes and negative images. Native organizations, agencies and political bodies are communicating with the media on an ongoing basis to make sure that all types of stories dealing with my people are featured.
As a matter of fact, the news for Native people and for all minority groups is changing a lot these days. In this day in age, with the Internet so widely accepted and accessed First Nation online news services are developing with information about issues that are important to Native people.
The way we read, watch and hear news has changed a lot since I started writing more than a decade ago. The way we communicate has expanded to the point that many people with the proper skills can become citizen journalists and set up blogs. It is time consuming and requires a lot of knowledge and patience but it is possible.
With this new-found freedom in Internet media we also have access to news that the mainstream press does not report on. It may just be a matter of time before this type of freedom disappears as governments and media corporations are trying to figure out how to dominate this technology.
In the case of the mainstream media things changed after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The ability to speak out on world events, government or war became more difficult for journalists in an atmosphere of fear. Most of us did not even notice the change but many who are part of this industry and who follow these trends noted that for the first time since the McCarthy era of the 1950s, free speech and an open and investigative media had become compromised. It became unpatriotic to question the government, the war and the changes in law and order.
These changes happened mostly in the U.S. but they also affected us here in Canada. There seemed to be a new fear evident in our media also and progressive programs I liked to watch on CBC suddenly disappeared. I like to read and the Internet provides all kinds of opportunities to do so. In my research on the World Wide Web, I have come across many alternative websites that are very adamant about questioning the power structure in North America and in fact the world. I have learned that in the U.S. under a new law a journalist can be charged with espionage and treason for reporting on an issue or in a way that the government does not approve of.
Recently, I had the opportunity to view “The End Of America”, a documentary based on the work of Naomi Wolf, a journalist and advocate for gender equality, social justice and civil liberty. I was surprised to find how many of the events in the past few years paralleled the histories of other countries that lost their freedoms. I am not saying that this documentary is the most brilliant or interesting ever made but it is based on fact and the facts that are presented are enlightening.
As Native people we are just recently finding our voice and standing up for ourselves so I know very well the importance of doing so in this society. It is even more important and patriotic to do so in times like this where freedoms are slipping away in a climate of fear of terrorism and a crashing economy.
I am proud in many ways to be a Canadian and most of that has to do with our freedoms in this country. I am also very proud of the fine news services, television networks, newspapers and journalists that help us make sense of things. It bothers me that our government is not assisting our media more in these difficult times. It is my hope that all the bright and skilled people who are privileged to work in the media continue to feel the strength and commitment to ask the hard questions and do so without fear of losing their jobs or being intimidated in any way.