On any beat, journalists and their sources may have differing ethical or cultural codes. This is particularly true when covering First Nations or Métis events and issues. The history of oppression has led many Indigenous people to mistrust official institutions such as the media. Long-term, successful storytelling will require you to educate yourself, build relationships and approach stories with humility.
Here is a rough guide to respecting your sources, maintaining your journalistic principles and accomplishing what’s ultimately beneficial for you, your organization, your sources and the public – better reporting of Indigenous issues.
This information is gleaned from several sources, including CBC reporter Duncan McCue’s Reporting in Indigenous Communities. For a more in-depth perspective, see his section on Aboriginal Customs and Protocols at riic.ca/the-guide/in-the-field/aboriginal-cus- toms-and-protocols.
- If unsure about anything, ASK.
- If entering a First Nation, make every effort to contact the chief beforehand and request a meeting as the first point of contact.
- Some Elders’ stories or responses can be lengthy, part of a long and respected oral history tradition. This can be difficult for jour- nalists accustomed to sound bites. Explain your preferred format in advance, but once the Elder begins, do not interrupt.
- Time can be a fluid concept. You can minimize frustration by building more time into your schedule, asking what time the key announcement will take place rather than attending the entire event or politely emphasizing your deadline. Realize there are times, how- ever, when you’ll just have to accept it.
- Go in person if possible. If not, call. Minimize email and other impersonal communication on all beats, but particularly this one.
- It’s obviously not necessary at news conferences, but bring a pouch of tobacco for a feature interview with an Elder. Cigarettes are an acceptable alternative. The tobacco is often burned rather than smoked. Accepting food or gifts is usually okay if the value is minimal and you’re confident it’s not seen as a bribe (that’s almost never the case).
- Be clear on your own ethics, and those of your newsroom. It will never cover all scenarios, but it’s good to discuss any issues with colleagues or experts before, during and afterward.
- If speaking to a source unfamiliar with media, explain that once the interview and recorder starts, anything that is said is on the record. If there is something they don’t want the public to know, politely but clearly ask them to not say it.
- When covering feasts, sweats or other ceremonies, participate if invited and comfortable. If you want to take photos, audio or video, ask the person in charge of the ceremony in advance. If told no, respect that wish. Put away recording equipment or at least point the camera at the ground.
- Words are important. For example, don’t use the term “Indian” unless talking about the Lac la Ronge Indian Band or other institutions. Will you call it the events of 1885 a rebellion or a resistance? If you’re a broadcaster, have you practiced accurate pronunciation of unfamiliar people and place names?
- Again, the key points are to be respectful, build relationships over time and ask, ask, ask if unsure.