Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/11/2018 (592 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Do you know the one about the Walking Eagle?
Walking Eagle News presents: The Walking Eagle Lectures
Thursday, Nov. 29, 8 p.m.
West End Cultural Centre
Tickets: $20 in advance at wecc.ca or $25 at the door
"It’s a very old, corny joke," says Tim Fontaine, the founder and "editor-in-grand-chief" of Walking Eagle News.
"This name is bestowed upon some historical figure, like an American president or something, and he’s all proud of it. Some aide comes and asks the tribe or the Indigenous group that gave him the name what it means. It means ‘a bird so full of crap it can’t fly.’"
It’s also the perfect name for his popular satirical Indigenous news site, which Fontaine founded in 2017. In the tradition of the Onion, the Beaverton or Manitoba’s own Mennonite-focused the Daily Bonnet, The Walking Eagle skewers the way traditional media covers Indigenous issues.
Sample headlines: "Security guard who doesn’t see colour finds creative ways to racially profile Indigenous shoppers"; "Canadians unable to just get over it, move on, report finds"; and, my personal favourite, "Hipsters blamed for Indian Affairs Glasses shortage."
In celebration of the site’s first anniversary, Fontaine is taking his gallows humour to the stage. On Thursday, the West End Cultural Centre will host The Walking Eagle Lectures, which Fontaine describes as a cross between standup comedy and a TED Talk. He’ll be joined by comedians Ryan McMahon and Elissa Kixen, podcaster Rick Harp and filmmaker Sonya Ballantyne.
Fontaine, who is a member of the Sagkeeng First Nation and grew up farther north at Hollow Water First Nation and in Winnipeg, began Walking Eagle News after leaving a career in serious journalism. He was burned out by the gravity of the job.
"There was always the reward of, ‘I’m doing something, I’m telling a story that may have not been heard, or I’m amplifying an issue,’" he says. "But after a while, the heaviness was outweighing the feeling of being rewarded.’"
Beyond that, "I missed creative writing and writing what I felt, as opposed to writing news articles," he says. He wanted to explore his dark sense of humour and love of satire and parody.
So, it shouldn’t come as much of a shock that what he ended up writing was... satirical news articles.
Walking Eagle News was an instant hit on Twitter, which Fontaine didn’t expect. See a few of their recent tweets.
Otter Liberation Front claims responsibility for latest strike that leaves one koi eaten https://t.co/g9Cc933cOw— Walking Eagle News (@TheEagleist) November 26, 2018
Indigenous communities delighted as Maple Leaf announces new Klik flavour potato chips pic.twitter.com/KZVU8BTEuU— Walking Eagle News (@TheEagleist) November 23, 2018
News from our expansive archive: ‘No, honestly, guys, this one is different’ say authors of new Indigenous health study https://t.co/2dgxMag89y— Walking Eagle News (@TheEagleist) November 12, 2018
Developing story: Johnny Depp in talks to play SKODEN water tower in planned biopic pic.twitter.com/zBmOjA8bcr— Walking Eagle News (@TheEagleist) November 9, 2018
Walking Eagle News was an instant hit on Twitter, which Fontaine didn’t expect. "I thought some journalists I know might like it. I didn’t tell anyone it was me, and the things I was talking about were so inside baseball, I thought. But it just took off. The other thing that surprised me was that people immediately thought, ‘Is this real?’"
Fontaine didn’t put his name on Walking Eagle News until people became suspicious of who was behind it. "If this is a non-Indigenous person, it might not be as funny," he says. "So, I thought I better come out and say that it was me."
While the site has only become more popular in the first year of its life, Fontaine has been struggling with it, and where online satire fits in the era of fake news. The more people read it, he says, the more people are fooled by it.
"I grapple with whether I’m helping or hurting things with the site," he says. "I hate that word, fake news, but we live in this age where everybody is trying to sway someone. Neither side is going to do it. The left keeps trying to do it, the right keeps trying to do it, and what happens is people are in the middle and there’s all these conflicting views.
"Then, you have me, one of the people in the middle, who is twisting things around in ways that I think are funny. But is this helping people understand Indigenous issues, or is it just making fun of everything?"
That said, Indigenous people are never the punchline in Fontaine’s pieces, which is why both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people find the humour in it.
"It’s poking fun at the absurdity of the relationship between Canada and Indigenous people," he says.
"That’s the biggest takeaway, and there’s two sides to that. I’m not punching down at Indigenous communities. It’s punching up or sideways at the media; I make fun of how the media covers Indigenous issues, too. So, I feel OK when non-Indigenous people get it.
"I get a lot of non-Indigenous people saying, ‘I didn’t know what this was about, or why it was funny, because I don’t understand the issue.’ So, they do a bit of research and it’s like, ‘Aha, now I get why he’s saying that.’ That educational effect, while not my intention, can’t be bad."
Fontaine isn’t sure what the future of Walking Eagle News looks like, but he wants to see it evolve — whether that means more events like Thursday night’s, or perhaps a book or a podcast.
"We’ll see where it goes," he says. "For now, I’m just having fun with it."
email@example.com Twitter: @JenZoratti
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
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