Writing is an integral part of my life, whether I am doing it creatively for myself or it is for the various First Nations news outlets that I write for. As a First Nations freelance writer, I have covered some very interesting events throughout my career and especially in the past year.
It is a very well known fact that mainstream media tends to sensationalize stories and portray First Nations people in a negative light. All you need to do to witness that is to pick up a copy of a mainstream paper such as the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star or the National Post, or turn on a television news channel, where grim prospects seem to be the norm when they are reported on. As a member of the media, and as a First Nations woman I find that I usually have to tread very carefully when I am at an event, because there is often a palpable mistrust when you see someone standing at your event, writing notes and gathering evidence of the event that is going on.
I take my role as a public writer very seriously because much like a researcher in the field of academia, I must be completely cognizant of the ethics that surround writing a story and how it is relayed to the public long after the event has finished. This involves being aware of protocols surrounding certain ceremonial events such as a pow wow, or the opening of an event that involves drumming. There is nothing worse than taking a picture of an individual and then having it pointed out to you later that you should have waited until after the song was sung or the drumming had stopped. Thankfully, as I have come to understand my culture and its traditions, I rarely make those mistakes now, and when and if I do, I am quick to correct myself.
Ethics are an integral component of writing, whether it is for the media or for academia. I would like to think that following the 7 Grandfather teachings- Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility and Truth can help me to adhere to the ethics surrounding the events that I have often had to cover.
I view myself as holding a dual role when it comes to the area of writing and also being a visible First Nations woman writer in the Toronto community. As a writer, my ‘tool’ of literacy is putting pen to paper and making sure that my words and what I produce from that make a difference instead of hurting my people.
I believe that in order for me to gain trust and keep the trust of my people, I must stick to my own personal mandate of contributing to the media in a positive light, and in doing this help to dispel those glaring stereotypes and assumptions that mainstream media put out there.
I cover many different events, but the ones that have resonated with me the most in the last year are the political events/rallies. There is something about standing within an event, witnessing strength and resiliency and feeling pride run through my bones, when I see community members, young and old gather and march together in support of a particular cause. It is this that makes me want to say, “I am proud to be First Nations, and I am part of these people.”
In November of 2010 I covered a Child Welfare Rally where community members and elected Chiefs from various communities gathered to voice their concerns over the issues of child welfare and the negative role that they feel the Children’s Aid societies have been playing in First Nations communities. I sat in the audience at the Arts and Letters Club in downtown Toronto to listen to an Ethics at Ryerson University Speaker Series where issues that were brought forth were about “Closing the Gap: Perspectives on Aboriginal Education” and “Indigenous Experience, Identity and Aspiration: The Importance of Belonging,” and lastly I sat in on the Indigenous Writer’s Gathering that was put on by our Writer-in Residence at First Nations House, Cherie Dimaline, and learned how each writer approaches their work in a manner that is conducive to them.
The issues presented at all these events, whether it is questioning identity in an urban setting, child welfare rights and self determination, treaty rights regarding education, or questioning what role literature plays in a First Nations individual are very prevalent for First Nations people. These issues bring First Nations people together, young and old, gives a voice to those who may not feel they can make their voices heard, and as a writer, a First Nations woman writer, I make the conscious effort to portray my people in a positive light, so that there is a continued hope amongst everyone for our future as a people and a nation.