This list is inspired by the work of Families of Sisters in Spirit (FSIS), the REPRESENT project’s Media Toolkit on Media Representations of Violence Against Women in Canada with Colleen Cardinal and Sage Cree, and Femifesto’s Reporting on Sexual Assault: A Toolkit for Canadian Media. Additional tips can be found at the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) toolkit ‘Unlocking the Mystery of Media Relations’, which is a part of their Community Resource Guide: What can I do to help the Families of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls?.This list is intended to be complementary to other tip sheets for journalists reporting on violence against Indigenous women, recognizing that Indigenous women and girls face higher rates of violence due to colonization, widespread stereotyping, and racism.
Reflect on your knowledge and biases.
Ask yourself: What do you know about the history of Indigenous peoples/women in Canada? (1) Before you are on deadline, proactively do some research and think about how this information will shape your story.
Framing the story
When framing the story, remember that violence against Indigenous women is a Canadian human rights issue that is everyone’s responsibility. It is not “an Indigenous problem”. (2)
Make Indigenous women visible in your story.
Missing and murdered Indigenous women (compared to non-Indigenous women) receive significantly less coverage and have their photos included less often in coverage (or the photo is significantly smaller). (3)
Objectivity does not include racism.
You do not need to include sources that stereotype Indigenous people or are supportive of systemic racism to tell many sides of a story. Avoid portraying Indigenous women and girls as “hopeless or troubled drifters” (4). Instead, include multiple expert voices that can speak to levels of experiences of violence and its consequences: e.g. individual, community, societal.
Prioritize Indigenous women's voices in your story
Go beyond “including” voices of Indigenous women in your story prioritize them. Seek out survivors, community leaders, and grassroots organizations. Take to social media to find sources. Also, be sure to include information about culturally specific services for those who may need support.(5)
Ask your sources how they wish to be identified.
In addition to name and gender pronoun (e.g. she, he, they), consider the diversity of Indigenous cultures and follow your sources’ wishes on representing their identities and territories. For example, if applicable, ask which Nation each Indigenous person is from. Also, ensure you know the proper titles people wish to be known as or accredited as: e.g. Grandmother or Elders.
Convey the message that Indigenous women and girls are valued and not to be blamed for any of the violence they experience (6).
Femifesto’s (2013) Reporting on Sexual Assault: A Toolkit for Canadian Media reminds us that “focusing on a survivor’s clothing, lifestyle, sexuality, past relationships, citizenship, or involvement in the sex industry can imply that responsibility lies with the survivor for making poor decisions or that they were ‘asking for it.’” (7) Victim-blaming is intensified and exacerbated by racist stereotypes about alcohol, social assistance, homelessness, and sex work that are often used in media coverage of Indigenous peoples.
Paint a holistic picture of survivors and missing and murdered women.
Focus on the positive attributes of the survivor and/or prevention when talking to family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. Rather than asking people in her life about the incident of violence, ask them questions about the contribution that this person made to their lives and what can be done to prevent this from happening again. REMEMBER that everyone is a human being and be respectful of that. NWAC suggests including childhood memories, for example, as a way of focusing “on the life and humanity of Aboriginal women and girls.”(8)
Question the role of institutions in violence against Indigenous women and girls.
Many state institutions have been complicit and active in systemic violence and brutality towards Indigenous people, and thus limited in providing accurate historical and political context surrounding their victimization. Government and police should never be portrayed as the central voices in news stories about violence against women, but this is particularly critical in reporting on violence against Indigenous women and girls.
Recognize the strength and resiliency of Indigenous people.
Colonization, racism, and structural conditions have disempowered and victimized Indigenous populations, but this does not mean that Indigenous people are disempowered victims. Many individuals and grassroots organizations highlight the longstanding efforts of Indigenous women in challenging systems of oppression. See examples of these in works cited and additional resources.
- 1) REPRESENT project’s Media Toolkit on Media Representations of Violence Against Women in Canada
- 2) NWAC (2010), p. 5
- 3) Gilchrist, K. (2010).
- 4) NWAC (2010), p. 5
- 5) Families of Sisters in Spirit (FSIS); REPRESENT project’s Media Toolkit on Media Representations of Violence Against Women in Canada
- 6) NWAC (2010), p. 5.
- 7) Femifesto (2013), p. 12.
- 8) NWAC (2010), p. 5
Works Cited & Consulted
- Families of Sisters in Spirit. (2012). Retrieved from http://familiesofsistersinspirit.com
- Femifesto. (2013). Reporting on Sexual Assault: a Toolkit for Canadian Media. Retrieved from http://femifesto.ca/home/media-toolkit/
- Gilchrist, K. (2010). “Newsworthy” victims?: Exploring differences in Canadian local press coverage of missing/murdered Aboriginal and White women.” Feminist Media Studies 10(4): 373-390. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/14680777.2010.514110
- Media Action (2012/2013). REPRESENT Media Action Kit. Retrieved from http://representmedia.wordpress.com/
- Native Women’s Association of Canada. (2010). Toolkit: Unlocking the mystery of media relations. Retrieved from http://www.nwac.ca/sites/default/files/imce/NWAC_2A_Toolkit_e.pdf