Oscar Baker said he received no Indigenous education while he studied journalism at St. Thomas University in Fredericton.
Baker, a Mi’kmaw with the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, said Indigenous issues barely came up in the curriculum while he took courses to earn his arts degree in digital journalism and new media in 2016.
“There is such a lack of knowledge in regards to Indigenous peoples throughout Canada,” Baker, who currently works with CBC New Brunswick in Fredericton, said in a phone interview.
“I think if newsrooms want to cover Indigenous issues correctly, they should have at least a working knowledge of the treaties with the Indigenous people,” he said.
“Right now several of the schools are looking into it but it does seem a little slow,” Baker added.
Commissioners with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released 94 Call-To-Action in 2015 to address the damaging effect Indian residential schools had on Indigenous peoples’ culture and language.
Call-to-Action No. 86 specifically calls for journalism and media programs at post-secondary institutions to teach its students about Indigenous history, law, the treaties, residential schools and Indigenous-Crown relations.
The University of King’s College in Halifax and St. Thomas University in Fredericton are trying to implement the call-to-action by encouraging faculty to bring in guest speakers and materials into their curriculum. They’ve also hosted events around Indigenous issues and communities.
“They could all benefit from learning just a little more about the history, the treaties and the law surrounding it (Indigenous issues) but also learning not to be afraid to go into those communities,” Baker said.
“You shouldn’t just be seen as an outsider trying to gather information to smear that community.” “You should be an active listener in that community and try to highlight stories from that community,” he added.
Julian learned to report on Indigenous on the job
CBC Nova Scotia reporter Jack Julian graduated from King’s one-year journalism program in 1998. He said he only learned about covering Indigenous issue while on the job.
“In journalism school, I was taught everything I needed to know to function as a journalist: how to quote people, how to structure stories, how to manage sources, how to not get caught breaking a publication ban in court, but (Indigenous) issues were never touched on,” Julian said.
Julian said he didn’t know about Indian residential schools until he started covering news stories related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the federal government’s public apology and the lawsuits relating to the residential school system
Through those stories, he said he gained contacts and an interest in Indigenous issues and communities.
“(It’s) something that I learned as a reporter and only learned through reporting,” Julian explained. “It was not in my education in high school, or in university or in journalism school,” he said.
Julian said that basic things like learning the difference between a band and a First Nation was never taught in school but taught to him by Indigenous communities members.
“I think it’s absolutely essential that journalists learn about First Nation’s issues,” says Julian.
“I mean, to learn about First Nation’s governance and history in the same way that we learn about non-native government and history, I think that’s essential,” he said.