Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 11/11/2011 (2140 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers
By Mark Cronlund Anderson and Carmen Robertson
University of Manitoba Press, 336 pages, $28
THE uproar surrounding Air Canada's decision in September to pull its crews out of downtown Winnipeg hotels, blaming "instances of public intoxication" from "1,000 displaced people from rural Manitoba" — code for aboriginals — might lead you to believe that we've progressed beyond negative representations of First Nation peoples in the mainstream media.
In their informative history of how aboriginal subjects are treated in Canadian newspapers however, University of Regina professors Mark Cronlund Anderson and Carmen Robertson assure you that we have not.
Over 12 concise and well-written chapters, examining a range of stories in Canadian newspapers, Anderson and Robertson document a history of native representation from 1869 to the early 2000s.
The researchers find that Canadian print journalists have continually and consistently perpetuated a myth of native inferiority by creating stereotypes of un-evolving and exotic savages, supporting racist and violent policies and practices, and framing native peoples unfairly and inaccurately.
They provide many detailed examples from the pages of history, including those that encouraged Canadians to celebrate the post-Confederation dispossession of First Nation territories, consider treaty-making and residential schools as just, and use the death of leaders like Louis Riel for political purposes.
Utilizing more recent articles, the authors show how the media situate native peoples as criminals and terrorists, frame native women as sex and material objects, and construct a "common sense" ideology that ignores treaty responsibilities, defines native people as exploitative and ungrateful children, and demonizes those who speak otherwise.
The media, the authors argue, have primed Canadians to "see red" when they see red.
Unquestionably, Seeing Red is a remarkable contribution to this country's political and social history. Joining a niche market of texts examining the misrepresentations of First Nation peoples, it sets a new standard for archival research and critical thinking that hopefully will shake the Canadian media establishment.
It should be of interest to historians, those interested in indigenous issues, and every person who has ever read a Canadian newspaper. For anyone who believes that the Canadian print establishment has progressed beyond some fundamentally racist beliefs, stereotypes and political views regarding First Nation peoples, this study is sure to be an eye-opener.
But Seeing Red is also, ironically, a bit one-sided. A chapter on the equally remarkable and brave work of native journalists in Canadian newspapers, not to mention the many sensitive non-native writers who strive to tell a counter-narrative, would have provided an important counter-balance to a heavily-fortified argument.
While the authors draw upon writers like Saskatoon's Doug Cuthand, many more who witnessed and wrote about the events represented in Seeing Red could be included. Everett Soop, Bernelda Wheeler and Richard Wagamese come to mind.
As shown in the media's coverage of the Air Canada memo debacle, the attention paid to the fact that it was based on inaccurate, stereotypical, and racist claims is hope that First Nation representations aren't as black and white as they once were.
They might even have a touch of red.
Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair is a journalist, assistant professor of native studies and English at the University of Manitoba, and an avid newspaper subscriber.