I shot out of the bed in my hotel room, my heart beating so hard that I could hear its own echo outside my body. It takes me a few seconds to realize that I’m not about to die, that this is the recurring nightmare I’ve been having for two and a half years, the details of which I don’t always remember. I run to the toilet and splash water on my face, taking deep, slow breaths until I calm down.
This is the norm for me when I go out to cover stories about indigenous peoples. It got to the point where I have to carry a bottle of prescription sleeping pills to help in case I end up with adrenaline and stress to the point where I can’t sleep. Sometimes, I don’t sleep for days when I’m on a mission, I get fed up with the intimidation of the police, fearing that the person who sent me a death threat might follow through.
Every time I go out, I feel like I’m heading into a war zone. A war of oppression, shock, and brutality against those whose stories I fight to capture the world’s attention; In the hope that the world cares about them and stands with them to demand equality and justice for them.
However, I struggle a lot to make my voice heard in the same field that I work in.
There was a time when indigenous voices were completely silenced. The media played a huge role in this, both in Canada and around the world. Several years ago, I decided to tell these stories after realizing that much of Canadian society had become indifferent to the plight of indigenous peoples.
When I became a storyteller over a decade ago, I was hungry to research and share my Aboriginal stories.
It was only two years into my career in journalism that I began to focus solely on Indigenous stories after realizing that they were often told in a discriminatory and biased manner by the mainstream media.
I am what some would call mixed blood, French Canadian on my father’s side and Cree/Iroquois through my mother’s family.
While reporting, the face of every native elder I looked at reminded me of my grandmother, who died in 2008. She was a survivor; From colonialism and abuse of boarding schools and her fight with alcoholism, but she was a fighter; Proud of her original roots and loved her family from the depths of her 74 years of existence on this earth.
Seeing the displaced families, the trauma they experienced and the addiction they were dealing with, brought back memories of my family’s suffering. Each of us has been affected, across several generations, by the colonial violence, the horrors of boarding schools, and the devastation that followed.
Meanwhile, the media has been helping perpetuate this violence by not reporting on rampant injustice. And when, on the rare occasion, the media reported on our communities, they mostly got it wrong. All this – our people, our culture, our history, our constant struggle.
I was insulted and sad. Therefore, this work became the mission of my life. But it required determination because going where little went before isn’t easy. You have to get your hands dirty, do hard work on the floor. It’s hard to earn the trust of people who are still often hurt by trauma, build relationships, and do justice to their stories. And learning the culture, protocols, and traditions of each sovereign nation is just the first, but important, step in this process. All this extra effort should be made without any expectation or guarantee of paying for it.
These stories often have strong connections to people’s lives, and require a deep dive to explore and expose multiple layers of abuse and systematic brutality. The mainstream media’s storytelling model does not begin to do them justice because it only allows journalists, who are often parachuted, to barely scratch the surface.
To further complicate this, the relationship between Indigenous peoples and those working in the media and government—most of whom are non-Indigenous—is turbulent. Our stories are interpreted and presented from the white colonial mentality, which dominates the mainstream media. It is the system that I believe must be challenged and dismantled.
Indigenous journalists are now taking steps to decolonize the media, telling facts that have not been told before. They are thus challenging historical lies. For a long time, there were imbalances of colonial power within the media, allowing the colonial narrative to be brought forward.
We as journalists have the power to amplify the voices of the marginalized, to bring about social and political transformation, and to improve the lives of those who bear the brunt of widespread abuse.
However, media decolonization is a foreign concept in media circles.
It will take a major shift in traditional power structures so that the reins can be returned to the people whose stories are told. As an Indigenous journalist, I understand the importance of sharing these stories through an Indigenous lens, presenting their struggles based on their lived experience and worldview. It is a critical step toward restoring the narrative.
Doing this work is also about reconciliation, and that requires two aspects. Editors and people in positions of authority who make key decisions about content need to support and invest in Indigenous storytellers and BIPOC – so our journalism isn’t dismissed as ‘activity’ or accused of being too close to the story.
After all, non-Indigenous journalists are never categorized as activists when they tell stories about and from their communities.
This is just one step towards easing the burden on indigenous peoples. There is a lot that needs to be changed in order for their problems to be resolved.
But there appears to be a lack of political will to take the necessary steps to address the challenges that Aboriginal peoples face in Canada – drinking water crises, missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, land plunder, abandoned infrastructure and housing, Aboriginal over-representation in prison systems, and the list goes on.
I think the reason for this is that the government and the authorities don’t care and are afraid to find out. Canada promotes its vision of reconciliation to the world as a correction of past mistakes. But the errors still persist. Canada is not ready to face this fact on its own and does not want the world to discover its scope. Hence it uses delays and bureaucratic tactics to downplay this “race-genocide”, which leads to apathy in the media.
But our voices are now being heard and the veil of secrecy lifted.
The graves of Aboriginal children were shown to the world this summer.
As an Aboriginal journalist, I have covered countless harrowing stories of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. I stood in the places where their bodies were dumped like rubbish. She held loved ones while they were grieving. I have cried with survivors of abuse in the residential school system, those battling ongoing land displacement, and forced poverty, as well as the families of those lost to this epidemic of violence. I shared the pain of their iniquity.
The living and the lost
In a country like Canada, which is admired by the world as a bastion of human rights, I often wonder how they have managed to get away with such atrocities for so long.
I’m tired of collecting corpse stories. I am done treating myself as someone who can threaten and intimidate the perpetrators and the authorities because they want to continue to stifle these facts.
I will no longer be silenced or intimidated. I am determined to resist to stop violence caused by racism and political, economic, institutional and societal oppression.
All over the world, the lives of our people are at risk every day. Threatening, stealing, beating, harming and killing.
We are all in this together. Our women are the life aides, the daughters, the sisters, the custodians of this earth – as vulnerable as our Mother Holy Land. Our mother is tired of abuse and destruction. She snarled in rage – earthquakes, wildfires, storms, floods, death, chaos. These are the cries of Mother Earth – demanding honor and respect – like so many of our Mothers on this earth who yearn for honor and respect.
I add my voice to those who call for justice – the living and the lost.
I believe we will hear, we will see, and we will kindle the fires of justice across these lands, for generations to come. We will not stop until the world is ablaze with hope, peace and love.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.