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Indigenous Perspectives and Representations in the Media

By Alessandro Marcon on November 25, 2012


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On Saturday, November 17th at the Media Democracy conference, an abundance of workshops and discussions were provided into which participants could sink their inquisitive teeth.  Focusing on National as well as International topics, dynamic and intelligent presenters illustrated issues relevant to critical alternatives to mainstream media, and illuminated new avenues of both interpretation and participation.

One such panel discussion that took place at 10:30 a.m. included Jennifer David, a media consultant and one of the founders of the APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network), Jocelyn Formsma, a filmmaker and host of CHUO’s ‘The Circle’, and Howard Adler, a writer, filmmaker and co-director of Ottawa’s Asinabka Film Festival. Together they discussed topics of Indigenous perspectives and representations in the media and stressed the importance of Aboriginal media made by Aboriginal peoples.

“There wasn’t enough coverage,” said David, referring to the lack of Indigenous voices in mainstream media pre-APTN. “We could see Aboriginal people on T.V, but only the stereotypes.”

“Stereotypes are huge in mainstream media,” added Adler, illustrating how Natives are typically portrayed as one of “victims, drunks, or angry warriors.” David, expanding on this notion, expressed how Natives are usually grouped into one of the 3 V’s: Victims, Villians or Vanguished.

And it’s for exactly these reasons, that there needs to be professional, expansive and accessible Aboriginal-made media that can work at recasting perspectives, shaping identities.

Breaking down stereotypes is a process of “decolonizing” which, explained Formsma,”brings an Indigenous perspective” and tells stories from people “who aren’t going to be heard.” Her radio show, which airs once a week on Tuesday evenings from 9 – 10 p.m, has fleshed out a wide range of a topics such as the controversial use of the “Indian” as a Halloween costume and the initiative made by Ian Campeau to have the Nepean Redskins change their football team’s name and logo.

“Ian felt that (in mainstream media) his voice got whittled down to the soundbite,” she explained. On her show, she explained, “he had a full hour to talk about the issue. It was a safe space for him.”

Having the creative control proves essential. Being able to tell one’s own story with one’s own means in the style one wants, ultimately grants the ability to illuminate desired perspectives.

“The Indigenous are generally not blatantly racist against themselves,” noted Adler.

The differences between Aboriginal and more traditional mainstream Western media are salient not only in respect to content but also to form. David comments on how the very pace of APTN contrasts with that of the “fast, flashy” mainstream media, as she describes content which has included long and slow pans of people working in a landscape. “We want this network not only to tell our stories, but our own way to tell them.”

With even the basic knowledge concerning the workings of media conglomerates, the fact becomes clear that news is a business and that feeding the masses predesigned opinions and sensationalized images – “lazy thinking” as Adler had called it – garners a viewership, and in turn makes a profit. It takes a diligent effort to build up resistance.

David, as well as Farmasma and Adler are happy to see new spaces emerging – thanks in no small part to the internet – that can combat these forces in the simple act of projecting another reality. “We need to produce media,” stated David, “to infiltrate the traffic.”

Throughout the session, the panel enthusiastically reflected on numerous examples of constructive media, and provided an extensive list for engagement, including:  the radio show, Revision Quest, webpages, Windspeaker, and Isuma TV, films such as The Lesser Blessed, Babakoureria, and Reel Injun and film festivals such as ImagiNative.



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