Indigenizing Media with Kim Wheeler

A Q&A with award-winning producer and writer Kim Wheeler

On Feb. 4, The Uniter Speakers Series partnered with Red Rising Magazine on Indigenizing Media, an event putting a spotlight on Indigenous media representation. We asked some of our speakers for their insight into the evening’s discussions.

Here’s what award-winning CBC producer and writer Kim Wheeler had to say.

What drew you into work in media?

I have always been interested in writing since I was a young child. I graduated from MacEwan College, now a university, in 1995. Being a journalist was a way to tell stories that I was interested in telling. I went into journalism with a goal of being a freelance writer of celebrities; I came out wanting to tell the positive stories of the Indigenous community.
 

Why does this event speak to you?

It is important to recognize the people who have laid the groundwork for Indigenous media in this country, the people who came even before me, and to recognize the history of Indigenous media – both in the mainstream and our own communities.

Not long ago the media used terms like “aboriginal in appearance” and “drinking party.”  Those terms were railed against by Indigenous journalists working in mainstream newsrooms…

Kim Wheeler

What are the most important issues surrounding indigenous representation in the media?

The most important issue is being able to tell our stories our way without non-Indigenous gatekeepers filtering our voice.
 

What can we learn from projects like Red Rising Magazine?

That they are one in a long line of Indigenous media who continue to tell our stories and give a platform to the community to share our stories.
 

What do we as writers, publications, or consumers of media need to stop doing?

This is a difficult question to answer because there is no black and white answer – or in this case brown and white answer. I think we need to stop using patriarchal language, as in “Canada's aboriginal peoples.” We do not belong to Canada and writing it this way suggests ownership over us.  

We are not aboriginals -- we are aboriginal peoples but more so we are Indigenous and many prefer this term and the media should reflect this. But even more so when talking to or about an Indigenous person, it is best to find out the person's nation ie., Cree, Mohawk, Dakota, etc.
 

What are we as writers, publications, or consumers of media doing right?

Not long ago the media used terms like "aboriginal in appearance" and "drinking party."  Those terms were railed against by Indigenous journalists working in mainstream newsrooms and thus helped our non-Indigenous counterparts understand the importance of language and descriptors that are racist.

Some media have moved forward by actively hiring Indigenous journalists and giving us a national platform to tell our stories. Forums like this one, hosted by The Uniter, are also a step in the right direction.

I have seen how the media reports on Indigenous stories have changed over the past two decades. I have been a part of the fight to bring positive Indigenous stories to mainstream audiences.  Why is this important? Because non-Indigenous audiences will not seek out Indigenous media sources, but if story and language changes on a mainstream platform, it will help to change this in the collective public psyche.

It has been a slow change but the fight Indigenous journalists began long before I came along has continued on my watch and will continue as more Indigenous people seek out jobs in the media to share our voices and our stories the only way we as Indigenous journalists can. And hopefully, non-Indigenous types will see the importance of this and continue to hire more diverse employees.

 

See what our other speakers had to say:

Billy-Ray Belcourt

Michael Champagne

Andrea Landry 

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