July 11, 2020

Winnipeg
20° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

Close this
Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Subscribe

Punchlines with purpose jump from internet to stage

Founder of popular satirical Indigenous news site hits West End Cultural Centre

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?

Event Preview

Click to Expand

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."

Tim Fontaine, founder of Walking Eagle News, is hosting a live event at the West End Cultural Centre on Nov. 29. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Tim Fontaine, founder of Walking Eagle News, is hosting a live event at the West End Cultural Centre on Nov. 29. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

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 on Twitter

Walking Eagle News was an instant hit on Twitter, which Fontaine didn’t expect. See a few of their recent tweets.

 

 

 

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?"

Tim Fontaine began Walking Eagle News after leaving a career in serious journalism. He was burned out by the gravity of the job.  (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Tim Fontaine began Walking Eagle News after leaving a career in serious journalism. He was burned out by the gravity of the job. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

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.

Fontaine describes Thursday's event 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 describes Thursday's event 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.

"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."

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

Read full biography

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.