Since 1991, our taxpayer-funded broadcast network has been mandated to “reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada.” Success can be measured in different ways, but there are more women, people with disabilities and aboriginal people working at the CBC; certainly more than we see on the private networks. Over 90 aboriginal people now toil for the network. You don’t often see them reporting on the daily news shows, though there are three aboriginals who have not only broken onto the reporting scene, but have become news anchors. And they’re all women.
Carol Morin, the host of Canada Now/Northbeat in Yellowknife, became the first aboriginal anchor back in 1989 when CBC Newsworld went on the air. Her name was Carol Adams then, and she has a Cree and Chipewyan background. Carla Robinson became an anchor for the CBC morning newscast in 2001. Robinson, from BC, is of Haida and Heiltsuk ancestry. The third is Kristy Snell. While not currently a permanent anchor, she often fills in for Dennis Trudeau right here at CBC Montreal. Snell is a product of Sioux and Cree ancestors.
Snell knew she wanted to be a journalist by the fifth grade. At 18, she approached the Moose Jaw Times Herald to ask if she could be their arts reporter. She laughs now as she remembers the princely 52 cents per column inch she earned for her copy. The next year she went to the local radio station asking for a tour, bombarding them with questions. Her curiosity piqued their interest and she was asked to do a voice test, and read a copy of the local news and the weather. The station offered her a job on the spot, doing the overnight shift as a DJ playing the “favorites of today and yesterday.”
After completing one year of a broadcasting diploma and an internship, she finally landed a radio news-reporting job. She was even part of a trio billed as “Tom, Jeff and Kristy in the morning.” Snell soon discovered that to be her toughest job because, she says, “I’m just not a funny person.” A co-worker suggested she apply to CTV Regina, ending up at CTV Saskatoon, where her first television news report was about the local fair. At 22, Snell became one of the youngest journalists to anchor the news for CTV Saskatchewan. After making the move to CBC Saskatchewan, she co-hosted the evening newscast while completing a B.A. in English. She came to CBC Montreal in 2001, which is where you can find her these days, filing reports for the daily news and current affairs, and filling in on the anchor desk.
Snell is from the Sioux community of Standing Buffalo in Saskatchewan. Her grandfather is Cree. She is also an adoptee, with an adopted Cree brother and an adopted metis sister. She has reestablished ties with her biological family and her community. “Being aboriginal is something that is hugely important to me,” she says, especially as she is ready to give birth to her first child.
She’s proud to be one of the few aboriginal reporters in the mainstream news arena. Snell does worry about exploiting the situation though, and does not want to be seen as a token native reporter. She has works hard at being a good journalist. Snell says that she isn’t given more than her share of Native content stories, nor does she specifically ask for them. Still, her aboriginal heritage has had its advantages in the sense that when she meets and interviews native people, they feel much more at ease talking with her when they learn she is native.
It has also allowed her to pitch some stories that otherwise would not have made the national news and she has worked with people at CBC North to bring some stories to the rest of Canada. In the spring of 2002, her documentary on a deadly disease afflicting the Cree (Cree white matter disease) was even submitted for a Gemini nomination.
Snell recognizes the pressure to do well, because there are native people across the country who see her and might identify with her. She also brings a native face to the rest of the country, challenging negative stereotypes.
Snell says that the most difficult part of the job is “when you see people die, or people suffering. These scenes are horrendous, you realize that it could be you. It really makes you aware that everything is special.” She says that the best part of the job is meeting people who inspire her, “the average person who is just so powerful, you get to see the power of the human spirit which is always uplifting.”
For all those aspiring journalists, she offers these words of wisdom: “Just believe in yourself. There is so much in this world. If you just believe in yourself, you’re going to be fine.”