Exploring Conciliatory and Collaborative Methods of Research-Creation with Indigenous Communities
Volume 1 Issue 1, Research Note
Aphrodite Salas, Department of Journalism, Concordia University
Samantha Stevens, School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies, Carleton University
Journalism Education and Call to Action 86: Exploring Conciliatory and Collaborative Methods of Research-Creation with Indigenous Communities
Alternative models of journalism like conciliatory, autonomous, and reconciliation journalism act to move the profession away from the traditional conflict models of storytelling. This is an important move concerning the coverage of Indigenous peoples and issues, which under the conflict model are typically depicted negatively and stereotypically. Given the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 86, which calls on journalists and journalism schools to better educate themselves on Indigenous peoples and issues, these alternative models present an opportunity to meet Call to Action 86. In this research note, implementation of these models by journalism schools is explored. This research note focuses on a particular initiative by Concordia University’s journalism department in partnership with Indigenous Clean Energy Social Enterprise and several Indigenous communities that uses alternative models of journalism to report on clean energy initiatives by those same communities. It is hoped that this work will foster long-term, reciprocal relationships built on trust between Indigenous communities and journalists.
Keywords: journalism education, reconciliation, clean energy, social enterprises
Éducation journalistique et appel à l’Action 86: Exploration des méthodes conciliantes et collaboratives de recherche-création avec les communautés autochtones
Des modèles alternatifs de journalisme comme le journalisme conciliant, autonome et de réconciliation agissent pour éloigner la profession des modèles traditionnels de narration de conflit. Il s’agit d’une avancée importante concernant la couverture des peuples et des problèmes autochtones, qui, dans le modèle de conflit, sont généralement décrits de manière négative et stéréotypée. Compte tenu de l’Appel à l’action 86 de la Commission de vérité et réconciliation, qui appelle les journalistes et les écoles de journalisme à mieux se renseigner sur les peuples et les enjeux autochtones, ces modèles alternatifs offrent une opportunité de répondre à l’Appel à l’action 86. Dans cette note de recherche, la mise en œuvre de ces modèles par les écoles de journalisme est explorée. Cette note de recherche se concentre sur une initiative particulière du département de journalisme de l’Université Concordia en partenariat avec Indigenous Clean Energy Social Enterprise et plusieurs communautés autochtones qui utilisent des modèles alternatifs de journalisme pour rendre compte des initiatives d’énergie propre par ces mêmes communautés. On espère que ce travail favorisera des relations réciproques à long terme fondées sur la confiance entre les communautés autochtones et les journalistes.
Mots-clés : éducation au journalisme, réconciliation, énergie propre, entreprises sociales
RESEARCH NOTE / NOTE DE RECHERCHE
It has been six years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its final reports, filled with disturbing accounts of systemic racism, abuse, and marginalization of Indigenous peoples (TRC, Final Report, 2015). The Commissioners issued a total of 94 Calls to Action, including a section on media and reconciliation. In this section, the Commissioners noted that coverage of Indigenous peoples and issues often perpetuates negative depictions and stereotypes (TRC, Calls to Action, 2015). This failure of mainstream non-Indigenous Canadian journalism organizations to consistently produce in-depth, contextual stories on Indigenous issues has created considerable damage to people and communities. Furthermore, such a lack of conscientious journalism has contributed to the ongoing racial profiling of Indigenous peoples and systemic oppression (Anderson & Robertson, 2011; Harding, 2006; Fleras, 2014; Fast and Drouin-Gagné, 2019).
The Commissioners wrote that the process of change in the media involves hiring more Indigenous reporters and news managers and increasing news coverage on Indigenous issues. However, this point was only directed at the CBC/Radio-Canada and not to Indigenous media or to privately owned news networks. Instead, the full report focuses mainly on the role of state-owned media (TRC, 2015c) and only indirectly refers to Article 16.2 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which contends:
States shall take effective measures to ensure that State-owned media duly reflect Indigenous cultural diversity. States, without prejudice to ensuring full freedom of expression, should encourage privately owned media to adequately reflect Indigenous cultural diversity. (UN, 2008, p. 8)
Additionally, the Commissioners called for greater education of current and future journalists, notably on the searing impact of colonial narratives in journalism, about the diverse cultures of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities, and on the specific, individualized issues that Indigenous communities face (TRC, 2015a; TRC, 2015b).
This forms part of the reasoning behind the TRC’s Call to Action 86 for journalism programs and media schools to “require education for all students on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law and Aboriginal-Crown relations” (TRC, 2015a, p.10). When the report was written in 2015, very few journalism schools included any level of in-depth instruction on Indigenous issues. Notably, the University of British Columbia was first to offer an entire course on reporting in Indigenous communities in 2011 (University of British Columbia, 2011). Implementation of similar courses in other schools has proven challenging for a variety of reasons including scheduling, funding, and employing suitable faculty (Elliott, 2016; Rodrigues and Raby, 2018). Still, there has been progress as programs across the country take steps to create comparable courses and to include Indigenous pedagogy, knowledge, collaboration, and involvement in their curriculum (Baker, 2016; Todorova, 2016).
Conciliatory journalism…can only operate after acknowledgement and atonement have been reached and deemed satisfactory by the Indigenous people affected.
With this goal in mind, researchers at Concordia University have developed a project to explore methods of slow, collaborative journalism as a response to Call to Action 86, with the final aim of creating coursing and curriculum around its findings. Researchers will investigate and evaluate how using elements of conciliatory journalism may improve journalism education and challenge the problematic representations of Indigenous peoples in Canadian mass media (Fleras, 2014; Fast and Drouin-Gagné, 2019; Harding, 2006). The first phase of the project involved extensive consultation and relationship building between researchers and key members of Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek-Gull Bay First Nation (KZA), a community located about 200 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, on the western shores of Lake Nipigon.
In this context, the word “reconciliation” is used as it was during the TRC hearings and refers to a process of coming together in a spirit of healing. Notably, the TRC rejected notions of “reconciliation” based on the return to a conciliatory relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, because they argue that one never existed in the first place (TRC, 2015c). Instead, according to the Commission:
[…] reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country. In order for that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, acknowledgement of the harm that has been indicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behavior. (TRC, 2015c, p. 6-7)
It is within this movement towards action to change behavior that conciliatory journalism exists, but it can only operate after acknowledgement and atonement have been reached and deemed satisfactory by the Indigenous people affected. As such, the research project endeavoured by Concordia University is timely in its efforts to further reconciliation.
The project with KZA was launched after permission was requested and granted by Chief and council to share their story of climate leadership, and a corresponding research plan was developed. This process was undertaken with three objectives in mind, all of equal relevance. The first objective was to collaborate to produce strong journalism with members of KZA and a group of non-Indigenous students who were hired as research assistants (by a non-Indigenous principal investigator). Three trips involving six students and a production period of approximately seven months resulted in the publication of an award-winning multimedia project called “from shore to sky: a reconciliation story” (Salas et al., 2019), created in collaboration with the people of KZA, students, and CTV Montreal as a media partner. The second objective was to examine the learning experience of each student research assistant, especially as it pertained to working in the context of a remote, Indigenous community with added social, practical, and technological challenges. Through a series of semi-structured interviews, student journalists were asked about their motivation to take part in the project, their overall experience and if they had a better understanding of Indigenous issues in Canada because of their participation. The third objective was to explore how KZA community members felt about their experience with the Concordia team, including their impressions on working with the student journalists, their opinion of the final journalistic project and their perception of how it addressed TRC Call to Action 86 through a series of semi-structured interviews during a follow-up visit to the community. In order to conduct the research involved in the second and third objectives, the principal investigator submitted an application to the Concordia University Human Research Ethics Committee, outlining a series of minimal risk protocols. The application was subsequently approved, and the research deemed acceptable on ethical grounds.
At the start, the multimedia project was meant to focus solely on sharing a positive story of Indigenous-led climate action. The people of KZA were building a unique solar-powered microgrid which would integrate battery storage and solar panels to create a steady supply of solar energy to reduce their reliance on diesel. It was the first construction of its kind in Canada, and the community was eager to share with researchers and an even broader audience. However, over the course of two visits in the autumn of 2018, it became clear that the story was rooted in environmental racism.
Not only did the shoreline erode by approximately 60 metres, but burial grounds close to the shore were flooded.
From 1918 to the 1950s, the Ontario power authority built a series of hydroelectric dams along the Nipigon River, but officials did not inform the community that the work would be ongoing and would drastically affect water levels. Not only did the shoreline erode by approximately 60 metres, but burial grounds close to the shore were flooded. Members of the community spent months re-burying loved ones, all the while not understanding why water levels were rising so rapidly. Elders shared devastating stories of loss and destruction. The dams would eventually help power up to 290,000 homes on the provincial power grid, but KZA was never connected and was forced to use diesel energy for decades. The new solar project was part of an apology and effort towards reconciliation by the current provincial power authority, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) (Salas et al., 2019). The formal apology from OPG followed a settlement agreement in 2014 for grievances related to the construction of the dams along the Nipigon River. In its official apology, OPG noted:
We recognize that the people of Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek were disregarded by our company’s predecessors. We neglected to provide your community with the opportunity to participate in meaningful project discussions. We are truly sorry for our failure to directly hear the concerns of your ancestors and for not resolving these past grievances sooner. (Ontario Power Generation, 2014, par. 3)
The solar grid was constructed in partnership with OPG, and full ownership was transferred to the community upon completion. (Salas, et al., 2019). Conducting the project within this context led researchers to investigate alternative, more constructive methods of journalism aimed at decolonization and reconciliation.
Such conciliatory and collaborative movements will provide the framework for the second phase of the Concordia project which will involve co-creation with three more communities, alongside the help and guidance of experts at Indigenous Clean Energy Social Enterprise. The new projects will be developed in partnership with Heiltsuk First Nation in British Columbia, the Métis community of Île-à-la-Crosse in Saskatchewan, and the northern Quebec Inuit community of Inukjuak. Each of these initiatives will work towards fostering mutually beneficial Indigenous/non-Indigenous relationships built on reciprocity and documenting the efforts of each community to establish a clean energy future.
The projects will be conducted in two phases. First, researchers will seek to build trust and a sense of true collaboration with community members, using elements of conciliatory journalism during the creative process of producing and sharing stories of climate leadership with a wider audience. Second, researchers will investigate the impact of the project by conducting semi-structured interviews with those involved in the creation of the journalism, including community members and students. A grounded theory-based analysis of transcripts of qualitative interviews will identify prominent themes of the process of reconciliation and the media, how deep that concern is for community members/student journalists and how conciliatory journalism might contribute to the improvement of journalism education and the process of reconciliation.
As to the theory informing the initial journalistic approach and resulting research project, some direction was found in scholarship on conciliatory journalism, which has been described as a new method of “socially responsible” journalism (Hautakangas & Ahva, 2018). Conciliatory journalism calls into question the tendency for journalists to negate values and worldviews from a variety of groups, and the propensity to influence the polarization of specific issues when they do so (Hautakangas & Ahva, 2018). The main elements of conciliatory journalism include:
- Critically examine and clarify tensions that are causing conflicts, instead of just reporting them as disputes;
- Encourage listening and dialogue in journalistic endeavours and public discussions;
- Create and support a trusting environment in which all relevant actors could feel safe enough to address issues that may be delicate or conflict-prone, and rely on the role of journalism as a facilitative moderator of such discussions. (Hautakangas and Ahva, 2018, p.742)
It must be noted that journalists using conciliatory reporting methods are not trying to solve problems, rather they are facilitating the “co-presence of different voices and people’s ‘right to be understood’” (Husband, 1996, as cited in Hautakangas and Ahva, 2018, p. 753). Research into the relationship between Finnish journalists and the Indigenous Sámi peoples in Finland further suggests that journalists can use this method to develop alternative ways of framing stories that avoid a narrative of conflict or negative portrayals of Indigenous peoples (Leukumaavaara, 2017). For instance, Finnish researcher and journalist Jenni Leukumaavaara (2017) found that while some Indigenous Sámi peoples reported good experiences with Finnish journalists, they were still often portrayed negatively in the news media. Of those people interviewed, many felt that journalists simply didn’t understand or care to understand the perspectives and realities of the Sámi peoples related to issues of conventions, agreements, and land rights (Leukumaavaara, 2017). While Leukumaavaara (2017) doesn’t explicitly mention conciliatory journalism, she advises journalists that engaging in small talk, avoiding “parachute journalism” (p. 93), and fostering long-term relationships built on trust with the Sámi peoples will develop a sense of mutual understanding and respect. According to Leukumaavaara (2017), such an approach will work towards undermining power imbalances and negative stereotypes within the news media.
Conciliatory journalism follows on the trend of other alternative approaches to journalism that have emerged in the last ten years in light of social justice struggles and societal divisions. For example, research on autonomous journalism has found that reporting on events and people outside of a journalist’s direct experience acts to increase feelings of solidarity in social justice efforts (Jeppesen & Media Action Research Group, 2018). Another approach, constructive journalism, operates within the core functions of journalism while calling on a shift for greater focus on productive and positive storytelling, a reliance on positive psychology interview techniques, and an inclination towards a solutions-oriented, not problem-based approach (McIntyre and Gyldensted, 2018).
In the scope of Indigenous issues, Taylor Blewett (2017) proposes a type of “reconciliation journalism.” This approach requires journalists to attend specialized courses focused on covering Indigenous issues. Blewett also advocates for inclusion of greater context in Indigenous coverage, the inclusion of Indigenous voices, and verification with sources before a journalistic piece is produced (Blewett, 2017). Indeed, Blewett’s approach echoes elements of the seminal guide Reporting in Indigenous Communities, created by Anishinaabe CBC journalist and scholar Duncan McCue (McCue, 2011) as well as toolkits and advice created by Indigenous groups for journalists (Journalist’s Toolkit, 2016; Swiftwolfe, 2019). As an example, The Discourse, a Canadian publication that emerged in Vancouver in 2014, has been praised for strong, successful collaboration with communities that have been traditionally underrepresented or misrepresented using such models of inclusion, collaboration, and verification (Habib, 2019).
According to a survey completed by Environics Institute for Survey Research (2019), Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in Canada between the ages of 16 to 29 want to work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable future, including a profound consideration for the continued steps towards the creation of suitable university courses. As such, education philosophies have been in flux to reflect this demand and there are teaching approaches in line with the aims of conciliatory and reconciliation journalism, including cultural competency (Abdi, 2012; Allen, Craft, Waddell, & Young, 2014; Champagne & Stauss, 2002; Steel, Carmichael, Holmes, Kinse and Sanders, 2007; Stewart et al., 2012). Such approaches have proven successful, as evidenced by the reportage of two University of British Columbia (UBC) journalism students Rachel Bergen and Stephanie Kelly (2013) who were invited to a sacred Stó:lō spiritual tradition by being patient, building trust, and ensuring transparency in their work.
One area where journalism educators can apply the same principles to work towards creating deeper partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is through the documentation of Indigenous-led clean energy initiatives. Candis Callison has written extensively on the need for Indigenous perspectives, expertise, and journalism particularly in environmental reporting and climate change (Callison, 2014; Callison & Young, 2020). According to Callison, focusing on this space, where Indigenous people are showing leadership and resilience in the context of colonialism and its devastating legacy, can produce widespread societal benefits (Callison, 2019).
Space is made for new partnerships, and the amplification of Indigenous voices.
For example, given Canada’s movement towards a role as an “energy ‘superpower’” and the complexity governing energy policy (Doern, Auld, and Stoney, 2015, p. 3), Indigenous-led initiatives, and effective reporting on such initiatives, will become crucial in maintaining amicable relationships that benefit all involved. Such moves towards clean energy can aid in autonomy and self-determination of remote Indigenous communities throughout Canada (Henderson, 2013; Lowan-Trudeau, 2017; Schultz, 2017; Stefanelli et al., 2018). However, future media coverage will have to ensure movement away from problematic Indigenous frames in the coverage of Indigenous people, as some researchers have found that even concerning clean energy initiatives familiar stereotypes, tropes, and narratives negating Indigenous perspectives persist (Walker et al., 2019).
By using collaborative approaches such as those outlined above, within the context of journalism education and research-creation, space is made for new partnerships and the amplification of Indigenous voices concerning the implementation and impact of clean energy within their own communities. When these projects are absorbed into the curriculum of Canada’s journalism schools, such works can improve the education of new journalists in a holistic land-based, community-based informed pedagogy. Thus, in a concerted effort, journalism schools can work more effectively towards addressing TRC’s Call to Action 86 by using alternative forms of journalism, like conciliatory journalism, to challenge the problematic norm of damaging negative and inaccurate representations of Indigenous peoples.
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Cite this article
Salas, A., & Stevens, S. (2021). Journalism education and Call to Action 86: Exploring conciliatory and collaborative methods of research-creation with Indigenous communities. Facts & Frictions: Emerging Debates, Pedagogies and Practices in Contemporary Journalism, 1(1) 55-63. http://doi.org/10.22215/ff/v1.i1.04