I got involved in journalism over 20 years ago because I was lucky enough to meet a seasoned journalist who convinced me that I should put my writing talents to use by producing a column and articles for Native publications. As a teenager growing up in northern Ontario, I dealt with low self-esteem as my peers and I felt marginalized and isolated in our tiny First Nation of Attawapiskat. Whenever my people happened to be featured in newspapers, television news or on the radio, it was focused mostly on some terrible tragedy. Very few Native people were involved in media production.
More than 20 years ago I decided to produce a regular column devoted to Native issues and stories about my people. I was happy to discover that there were Native newspapers and magazines that were interested in running my column. The Nation, a regular biweekly magazine servicing the northern Quebec Cree communities on the James Bay coast, was one of the first publications to pick up my writing.
My first year of publishing my column meant typing out my work on an old computer, printing it and then faxing it to The Nation office where the staff would have to retype everything again at their end. I was excited back then to talk to editors and writers like Will Nicholls and Neil Diamond as they encouraged me and made me feel that my writing as a Native person was important and had value.
The Nation is now celebrating 25 years of publishing their magazine, which started in 1993. It is a great achievement to have weathered many political storms over those two and a half decades. Native publications over the years have constantly had to struggle to keep their doors open. They continually have to battle with governments, businesses and corporations that would rather not see Native people representing themselves in their own media. It is far easier to control the narrative of a story, an event or a political issue if you have your own media. The federal government, provincial governments and businesses are well represented in all the mainstream media. For many years, Native people historically and in terms of resources and expertise were not represented in any media. Stories and news were always written in those days by non-Natives and did not express our views.
Native magazines such as The Nation have helped to bring forth the voices of the Cree people in the north for everyone to hear. If any government official or business leader ever wonders how northern Cree communities feel about any issue all they have to do is read an issue of The Nation.
There is a great sense of pride in having a magazine or newspaper represent your area because you know it is giving you a voice. My people fly Air Creebec on the James Bay coast which features the Nation on all their flights. Whenever my family and friends read my column during their flight they enjoy being able to identify with someone they have grown up with and they are happy to know that their stories are being told. I’ve also met many of our Eeyou neighbours from Quebec in Ontario who encourage me to keep writing for the Nation as we Cree on both sides of the Bay have a shared language and we struggle with many of the same issues.
On the Ontario side of the Bay, we also have Wawatay News, a newspaper that has been in production since 1974. It also provides good media coverage for my people in Ontario. Both of these publications give the northern Cree a voice and I am proud to be associated with them.
We live in a time where media and news is being turned on its head, propaganda is pushed by the far right and real factual news is marked as being “fake”. Most media in this country and in fact the world is controlled by huge corporations that support the will and views of very powerful and wealthy people. Small independent media and publications representing minorities have a hard time to exist and gain wide circulation. Right-wing governments and corporations often do not want to hear and promote views from Native people on controversial subjects like Native rights, treaty rights, resource development and environmental and conservation subjects. The mainstream media often does the bidding of their bosses and that puts us at a disadvantage.
However, we have publications like The Nation and Wawatay News that continue to survive. We also have many others including Windspeaker, Turtle Island News and Two Row Times to give us a voice. All of these publications are having to develop an online presence to ensure their survival and gain a wide-ranging audience. At the same time, more and more young First Nation people are taking journalism programs and writing for First Nation and mainstream media. This is making a difference.
I am grateful to The Nation for keeping their doors open and for allowing me to grace their pages over the years. I wish them another quarter century of success. Chi-Meegwetch Nichis (Thanks very much my brothers and sisters).