Aboriginals Are Clichés in Canadian Media

Does an aboriginal Canadian need to be “drumming, dancing, drunk or dead” to make the news?

By Duncan McCue, j-source –  An elder once told me the only way an Indian would make it on the news is if he or she were one of the 4Ds: drumming, dancing, drunk or dead.

But then I started looking more closely at aboriginal people in the news. Those 4Ds sure do show up an awful lot (if that repatriation event has some drumming and dancing goin’ on, the reporter is bound to squeeze both into the story).

In fact, if you take that elder’s four “Ds,” and add a “W” for warrior, you could make it a rule: The WD4 Rule on how Indians make the news.

1. Be a warrior

It’s a photo so iconic, it has a title. “Face to Face.” A baby-faced soldier staring down a masked warrior. Shaney Komulainen’s snapshot during the Oka Crisis in 1990 so perfectly captured longstanding racial and national tensions that The Beaver magazine named it one of the top five News Photos That Changed Canada.

Yes, protests often meet the test of whether a story is “newsworthy,” because they’re unusual, dramatic or involve conflict. Yes, aboriginal activists, who understand the media’s hunger for drama, also play a role by tailoring protests in ways that guarantee prominent headlines and lead stories.
But does today’s front-page news of some traffic disruption in the name of aboriginal land rights actually have it’s roots in a much older narrative – of violent and “uncivilized” Indians who represent a threat to “progress” in Canada? Are attitudes of distrust and fear underlying our decisions to dispatch a crew to the latest aboriginal blockade? Is there no iconic photo of reconciliation, because no one from the newsrooms believes harmony between aboriginal peoples and settlers is “newsworthy”?

2. Beat your drum

It’s easy to laugh, these days, at those ridiculous Hollywood Indian stereotypes of yesteryear: Indians wearing feathers, grunting in monosyllables, “circling the wagons”. But contemporary news stories continue to reproduce the mainstay of those old Westerns – the Indian drums.

Even if you’re not a fan of cowboy movies, you probably learned that “Indian” beat in the schoolyard—BMMM bmmm bmmm bmmm BMMM bmmm bmmm bmmm BMMM bmmm bmmm bmmm. Indians about to ride over the hill, on the warpath. Indians doing a rain dance. That sort of thing.

3. Start dancing

The dancing thing goes hand-in-hand with drumming. Indians in traditional regalia fit a popular but superficial interpretation of Canadian multiculturalism. Please, share your entertaining costumes and dances and, yes, we’d love to taste your exotic food!

4. Get drunk

No question, alcohol is at the root of many stories reporters cover in aboriginal communities—car accidents, murders, assaults, and the like. But does that age-old stereotype of the “drunken Indian” have any basis in reality?

No, asserted the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), after examining several studies that show abstinence is twice as frequent among Indians as it is in the non-aboriginal community. “The widely held belief that most aboriginal people  consume excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular basis appears to be incorrect,” RCAP concluded.

5. Be dead.

Go to news search engines such as Google News and search “dead” and “First Nations” (or synonyms such as “native” or “Aboriginal”). Newsrooms have this thing for death, anywhere it’s happening. “It bleeds, it leads,” right? Sadly, in Canada, there’s a disproportionate amount of death happening in aboriginal communities. Maybe that explains why we see so many dead Indians in the news.

But, what does this constant barrage of dead Indians tell our audiences about aboriginal communities in Canada? That aboriginal life in Canada is, to quote Thomas Hobbes and one infamous judge in British Columbia, “nasty, brutal and short”? Or, nefariously, that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian”?

For the complete story and discussion, see the j-Source original article.

Duncan McCue ( @duncanmccue ) has been a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver for 12 years. His award-winning news and current affairs pieces are featured on CBC’s flagship news show, The National. McCue’s recent honours include a Jack Webster Award for Best Feature, and a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University. Duncan is Anishinaabe, a member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation in southern Ontario.

From Stephen Pate, NJN Network

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