Editorial: Journalism Department’s Hopeful Start at Teaching Indigenous Reporting

More Widely-Accessible Teachings Still Lacking

  • Graphic Carl Bindman

Steve Bonspiel, editor in chief of Kahnawake’s weekly-newspaper The Eastern Door, has been named Journalist-in-Residence at Concordia’s journalism school for next semester.

Students in the later stages of their degree who get into the class will get the chance to work as a team on an investigative story under Bonspiel’s direction. Though the exact topic of the investigation is currently unknown, Bonspiel said the class will focus on teaching students about what life is like in Canada’s reservations and in particular, what life is like for those living in Kahnawake, the Mohawk reservation just by the South Shore.

Head of the department, David Secko, said the department wanted to incorporate Indigenous reporting for some time now–in response to the call-to-action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that suggests that media schools find ways to incorporate Indigenous history in their courses.

He said that for the past three years, talks behind closed doors have revolved around how Indigenous reporting could be incorporated into the school.

In a past interview with The Link, Secko said he hoped “to fix, so to speak, things, between Indigenous peoples and the mainstream.”

We hope so too, and congratulate the department on their decision to invite Bonspiel into the department.

In a Link editorial from late January, we called on the department to find educators who could teach students how to report on and with Indigenous communities in a way that is respectful and defies the norm. Choosing Bonspiel can effectively make that goal a reality.

The journalism department’s decision shows that concrete measures are being put in place in response to the recommendations of the TRC report and its specific call-to-action to departments like it across the country. After their 2016 reinvention of the program curriculum which did not include a focus on Indigenous reporting, we are now seeing the first steps towards addressing this.

That being said, we hope to hear more announcements from the department about how Indigenous reporting will continue to be incorporated into the school, and similar announcements from other departments, as well.

It was announced at September’s Senate meeting, the university’s highest academic decision-making body, that Concordia is in the process of hiring an Indigenous curriculum developer: a person whose job it will be, among other things, to ensure that Concordia’s classes have less of a colonial angle to them. We look forward to hearing more about this.

While this class is a good start, it’s not open to all students. It’s only open to those who have taken at least 60 credits, and to students with the highest GPAs. As a result, those who want to learn about how to do Indigenous reporting will be only be able to do so if they can succeed at competing with other students to get into the class.

For now, this type of education, which The Link considers highly valuable, is inaccessible to many in the program. We hope to see it become a mandatory component in the curriculum, or if not, at least that it be a class that’s open to anyone already a student in the journalism school.

Bonspiel told The Link that on top of teaching, he is also hoping to host workshops that are open to other students not in the class. We appreciate that effort on Bonspiel’s part to make these important teachings more available to all students in the program, but unless Indigenous history is incorporated into the curriculum, many students will still be left out.

We hope that Bonspiel’s class will be a springboard for new opportunities for students to gain the necessary knowledge to report on Indigenous communities such as his own. This is the first step, but it can’t be the last. Now, we want to see the department continue to address the need for Indigenous history in the program.

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