Nisga'a citizen Noah Guno tried to start an independent press that would inform his people. But with no resources or training, the initiative was short lived. An independent press in B.C.'s new treaty First Nations is important for the same reasons as it is non-First Nations communities: to inform, raise awareness and monitor leadership and government decisions.
Urban Nation

Newsletter: Time to encourage more independent press in First Nations

Wawmeesh Hamilton May 8, 2018

When I think about World Press Freedom Day (which just passed last week on May 3) I think about Noah Guno, the Nisga’a citizen in northern British Columbia who tried to establish a news service in his First Nation.

I wrote about Guno as part of a multi-part series in 2016, when I documented the state of press freedom in First Nations with a particular eye on the Nisga’a nation, the recipient of the province’s first modern-day treaty. The Nisga’a included the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — with its provision for press freedom — in its constitution.

The then-39-year-old Guno operated a small online news publication called Aboriginal Press in his village of Gitlaxt’aamiks. Guno tried to inform other Nisga’a citizens of what was happening in their community, including decisions made by the nation’s legislature that impacted Nisga’a citizens.

Guno had no journalism training, though, nor resources or support, and he ultimately closed his news service in 2017. While the nation’s government has a communications department, its media releases are from the decision makers’ perspective with no other context or diversity of views. To be fair, the Nisga’a don’t refuse journalists access to their legislature. But with the nearest community paper more than an hour away, reporters rarely come to cover them.

The absence of an independent press in Nisga’a is set against a larger backdrop. Reporters Without Borders publishes an annual index that ranks a country’s press freedom based on such things as the diversity of opinions presented in coverage, media independence, transparency, and abuses of journalists. This year, Canada ranked 18th out of 180 countries. The rankings don’t indicate whether measuring press freedom in Indigenous communities is considered.

While Guno’s attempt at an independent media outlet was short-lived, the landscape isn’t barren of independent media outlets in the Indigenous space. CFNR produces news on the radio and online in northern B.C., but is still an hour away from the Nisga’a nation. Windspeaker newspaper has been a mainstay striving to cover Indigenous stories from coast to coast since 1983. Ku’ku’kwes is a gutsy little online news outlet covering Indigenous news from the Atlantic provinces. And the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) sets the gold standard along with CBC Indigenous (which is part of the public broadcaster but covers its own stories).

An independent media that produces reliable, balanced and accurate news enables people to make informed decisions, and monitors government officials and their decisions. One study not surprisingly found that people in the U.S. who are civically engaged are more likely to follow local news coverage. The 65 First Nations in the queue of the B.C. Treaty Process should consider how they can encourage the development of a free press in their communities.

What independent Indigenous news sources do you follow that provide accurate news coverage? How important are these news sources to you? I’d like to hear from you. Contact me via Facebook, Twitter or email. Finally, if you enjoyed reading this newsletter, please ask your friends to subscribe.

ICYMI

  • Did you know that sports has often been used as a tool in the assimilation of Indigenous people? Read more about it at the University of Manitoba website.

  • Land acknowledgments are done out of respect for the people who have lived on the lands since time immemorial, as well as to recognize the country’s colonial history. But this didn’t sway the Ontario Medical Association, who have declined to do it. Globe and Mail columnist Andre Picard wrote about it here.

  • The University of Saskatchewan library has assembled a resource guide with residential school books, learning guides and lesson plans — a handy reconciliation tool.

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