Racism and Misrepresentation in News

By Lenard Monkman, edited by Jennifer Doerksen

News coverage of indigenous issues is one example of how marginalized populations are inadequately represented, leading to a broader acceptance of racist tendencies. In the last year, the news has covered the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry, the numerous suicide crises in reserves, the conflict between Indigenous leaders and corporate interest, and occasionally the successes of a specific few indigenous people. But national news was the inquiry and crises, primarily.

These ongoing stories fall into the stereotypes of the “4 D’s” — Drunk, dead, dancing or drumming.

The following is an analysis of news coverage following the murder of Colton Bushie, an Indigenous boy living in North Saskatchewan, written by Indigenous journalist Lenard Monkman.

The Murder of Colten Boushie Coverage

The murder of Colten Boushie happened near Biggar, Saskatchewan. A group of youth with a flat tire stopped for help at a local farm. An argument ensued, and the farmer Gerald Stanley fatally shot Boushie. The courts charged Stanley with second-degree murder, and he was released on bail one week later.

The incident set off a larger conversation on race relations in Saskatchewan, and in Canada. In the days following the following the incident, racial tensions were strong enough that the premier of Saskatchewan Brad Wall had to make a public plea. He denounced the racism occurring in the province, quoted in a CBC article saying, “This is a province full of wonderful people. We have the Saskatchewan values and the Saskatchewan character. It’s built on tolerance, actually, if you consider our history. We’re good neighbors and we need to remember that.”

There are 2 things in this quote that are important to look at —his tolerance argument, and the part about being good neighbors.

History of Betrayal

Saskatchewan has numbered treaties, like Manitoba. Treaties are an important part of Canadian history. They’re legal documents that agree to share the land. The meaning of these treaties meant Indigenous and non-Indigenous people would settle and co-exist peacefully.

If the treaties were implemented properly, we would live in a different country.  However, the country remains ignorant to the intention of the treaties that were signed and essentially gave Canada its “sovereignty”.

The latter part of Brad walls quote says to consider our history. If we take history into consideration, we see a dark past between settlers and Indigenous people that doesn’t pertain to the “Saskatchewan values” Premier Wall mentioned. Saskatchewan has a history of colonization that damaged many First Nations and Metis communities.  In the book “Prison of Grass”, Howard Adams talks about the Northwest Mounted Police and the history of policing on the prairies. This history includes how the NWMP were created to monitor Indigenous people on the prairies and make way for settlement in Canada. This dark history brings the issue of private property to the forefront. It was the duty of the NWMP to protect settlers and their property from Indigenous peoples. This notion of private property is what allows a farmer to feel justified in shooting an unarmed boy on his property.

Online Comments from the Public

The murder of Colten Boushie caused a lot of people in Saskatchewan to make incredibly racist comments on social media. News media is part of what fuelled this racism. The first couple days after the shooting, news outlets reported the victims were being questioned for theft. These reports fit existing negative rhetoric in the news around Indigenous people — mainly that Indigenous people are criminals. So people started giving the farmer the benefit of the doubt, and saying the shooting was justified.

The incident also caused a controversy for a Saskatchewan Reeve councilor by the name of Ben Krautz. Krautz, a councillor with the rural municipality of Browning, left a comment on a Facebook page called the Saskatchewan Farmers Group saying, “His [Stanley’s] only mistake was leaving three witnesses.”

This attitude has persisted in elected officials throughout Saskatchewan’s history. But it also highlights the hatred of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Krautz’s comment suggested the shooting was not only justified, but didn’t go far enough to protect the safety of the farmer.

Krautz’s fellow councillor, Brian Fornwald, said he  “thinks he should be able to remain on council.” If this happened in any other political realm, or to another race, people would call for Krautz’s resignation immediately. Krautz’s words on social media are part of a larger problem, and highlight the double standard that exists in this country. Canada has this image of being a peaceful and multicultural country, but that notion does not hold true for Indigenous people living on the prairies.

Coverage

In the last half of this article from the Canadian Press, the author allows for a pacification of what the councillor said.

The author then gives others a chance to justify the councilors comments. To quote Fornwald “I think everybody says something sometimes that they regret 10 seconds after…I don’t think you’re human if you haven’t.” This type of commentary allows for the hatred of Indigenous people to continue. Fornwald then said farmers in Saskatchewan are affected by property theft, shifting the conversation to a position sympathetic to the farmer. This creates bad optics for the CBC. Although the public broadcaster is widely seen as a progressive media outlet, allowing this type of commentary often causes more harm than good for Indigenous peoples.

The sense of relationship to each other, and to the land, will help Indigenous people battle against racism. Rhetoric in news media has a tendency to create fear of Indigenous people, and those narratives were born during the founding of this country. In order to shift the narrative, and the public perception, Indigenous people are speaking up and being critical of institutions such as the CBC.

Conclusion

I think that it’s important to highlight the racism that is perpetuated against Indigenous peoples on social media, mainstream news media, and the comments sections on news stories.

In the last year, the CBC has chosen to disallow comments on news stories relating to Indigenous people. The racism that Indigenous people face today is part of Canadian history and should be understood as such. Aside from letting readers know that we live among hateful ignorance, there is no benefit to having online anonymity when it comes to commenting on media stories regarding Indigenous people and issues related to them.

Context

Monkman is a journalist at CBC Aborignal. He is wary of the comments sections on news articles, because people can spout racist comments unimpeded, which brings out more racist commentary. He is part of a generation that is taking control of Indigenous representation in the news.

I now challenge you to follow news articles relating to Indigenous issues from outlets other than the CBC, and see what general trends appear. Can you spot the 4 D’s?