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The CBC Must Decolonize its Reporting

Illustration of four indigenous women who co-wrote the article
From left to right: Michele Young-Crook, Sarah Pineda, Vanessa Lesperance and Ashley Richard | Illustration by Kal, Bearskin Designs

Who is Indigenous? Who is not? Who gets to decide? Apparently, the colonial gatekeepers at CBC think they do, rather than Indigenous people themselves.

In February, CBC-Radio published an online article about the virtual selling platform IndigiMall, founded by Michele Young-Crook. The article stated that Young-Crook “claims to have a grandmother from the Nipissing First Nation (but who is not registered as a member of this Nation with Indigenous Services).”

The word “claims” and the bracketed qualification suggests an untruthfulness — that Young-Crook is trying to pass herself off as something she is not.

During the interview for the story, the reporter, Delphine Jung, asked multiple questions about Young-Crook’s Indigenous identity. Young-Crook believes she was being intrusively questioned because of her pale skin colour. In a follow-up email, Young-Crook offered a full explanation of her Anishinaabe roots and leadership positions in the Indigenous community. Her grandmother was from Antoine First Nation but registered with a status card to Nipissing First Nation due to an agreement between the Nations. None of this was reflected in the article.

The other Indigenous women vendors mentioned in the story were never questioned about their Indigenous identity.

When the story appeared, Young-Crook faced an onslaught of personal attacks from both vendors and shoppers among the 50,000 Facebook followers. She immediately blocked 40 people who accused her of taking up Indigenous space, of pretending to be Indigenous. Racist comments posted on the CBC story popped up on her personal Facebook newsfeed. She blocked the CBC. She worried for herself and her children. Should she raise them in their Indigenous culture and subject them to criticism that they weren’t “Indigenous enough?”

Distressed, Young-Crook and her director of marketing for IndigiMall reached out to the reporter and CBC-Radio, asking them to retract the word “claim.” The journalist doubled down, stating “As she [Young-Crook] isn’t registered as Native, I can’t say she is.” They then asked the CBC to take down the article who also refused that request.

The CBC’s own journalistic principles state that “All Canadians, of whatever origins, perspectives, and beliefs, should feel that our news and current affairs coverage is relevant to them and lives up to our principles. We have a special responsibility to reflect regional and cultural diversity, as well as fostering respect and understanding across regions.” (CBC, “Who We Are”)

Frustrated by the CBC’s inaction, Young-Crook turned to us, her Indigenous women friends, for support. After a few discussions, we decided to host a townhall on May 1 called “Decolonizing the Media” to suggest routes of dismantling colonial power structures and educating journalists about colonial practices and harmful language that further marginalizes Indigenous folks. Some 25 individuals joined our talking circle. (If you missed this event and would like information or to join our mailing list, please e-mail sarah@indigimall.net.)

We expressed concern that people in media with an overt colonial mindset propagate misinformation about Indigenous folks and contribute to the oppression, marginalization, and discrimination of Indigenous people. It’s not the media’s place, and certainly not the place of a non-Indigenous settler, to dictate, police or play gatekeeper as to who is and who is not Indigenous.

The concept of “status” was established via the Indian Act in 1876 by a colonial government that was seeking forced assimilation (at best) and cultural genocide (at worst) of Indigenous peoples. The government’s ultimate aim was to “get rid of the Indian problem.” Conveying “status” has been problematic since inception and has nothing to do with Indigenous heritage.

The Indian Act itself is profoundly colonial, racist and sexist. It conferred “status” on some First Nations people while stripping “status” from approximately 117,000 others. For example, if an Indigenous woman married a white man, she lost her “status” under the Act. Whereas if a white woman married an Indigenous man, she gained “status.”

The Government of Canada now acknowledges that First Nations peoples include both “status and non-status Indians.”

To question Young-Crook’s Indigeneity because she is not status strips her of her voice, agency and erases her and her family’s deep-rooted history on these lands. This is the epitome of oppression — when someone in a place of power and privilege dictates who and how someone is or isn’t.

We implore the CBC to acknowledge, take responsibility and apologize for their harmful words.

We also stand to take back our collective identity and to stand up to the oppression, racism and marginalization that continues to bombard Indigenous communities.

Whether you are status or non-status, live on or off reserve, are of mixed heritage, light or dark skin, First Nations, Métis or Inuit, urban dwelling, grew up with your culture or not — you ARE Indigenous. Do not let anyone tell you differently.

Want to stand with us?

Here is a suggested reading list that will help you become an ally and stand against racism and discrimination in the media and CBC specifically.

To advocate that the CBC ensures journalists take Indigenous history training if they wish to write about Indigenous Peoples. please sign this petition, Prevent Media Gatekeeping: Protect Indigenous Narratives. 

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Allied Arts & Media

The Power of Love—and Trans (National) Collaboration

AVI & WARREN: TORONTO–“I haven’t had a severe panic attack in over a year since I got Warren. I used to get multiple attacks per day.”–Avi                               Photo: Jack Jackson

It’s not everyday that you find yourself at a party in a startup gourmet pet food store with 80 people and ten dogs. But in this case, at the launch of a new movement to elevate trans awareness, it made perfect sense.

Toronto-based and Canadian newcomer trans-preneur Jack Jackson and New York-based Deb Klein are both professional photographers and multi-skilled entrepreneurs with a passion for dogs and gender justice. They came together to create Don’t You Want Me (DYWM), a globally sourced photography project that showcases stories about trans and queer people whose lives have been transformed by the acceptance and unconditional love they experience from their rescue dogs. The startup photo-plus-stories project will leave you wondering, who rescued who?

The launch was held in Toronto, Canada at Tom & Sawyer, a socially progressive pet food store with an onsite production facility, doggy bakery, plus comfy couches and Wi-Fi. The exhibit opened on March 31st, International Transgender Day of Visibility, a global initiative founded by Human Rights Campaign, a 3M+ membership-based LGBTQ civil rights organization based in the United States.

Reuben and Luna in Brighton, UK

I do think that a part of me was trying to heal myself by taking care of someone else that was broken and forgotten, our new skinny, sick, terrified Lunie-bear.”           – Reuben

“I work 70 hours a week in my current venture but wanted to work on developing this project as well because frankly, I’m furious,” said project co-founder Jackson. “Why? Because discrimination causes so much harm. Let’s take Charlie over there, 22, who volunteered here tonight. His family has actually disowned him. Things are still really, really hard for [trans] people. No one is doing anything about it.” Recent research shows that 16-24-year-old trans kids who have supportive parents are far less likely to suffer from depression or attempt suicide.

Charlie and launch party participants

Jackson adds: “I think these kinds of stories need to be told. Because people still don’t get it. They think oh, you’re trans, and they think that is the issue, but being trans is not the issue, discrimination—society’s perception of trans people, is the real issue. Trans people have something really important to say. Something that doesn’t just affect trans people, but also women, effeminate men, basically anyone that doesn’t fit the heteronormative norm.”

At present, there is little data on the total number of trans people in Canada, or their experiences. However, qualitative research is clear that there are significant barriers to social and economic inclusion. TransPulse, an Ontario-based community research hub estimate in 2014 that “as many as 1 in 200 adults may be trans (transgender, transsexual, or transitioned).” And while Canada has recognized trans discrimination as a hate crime and illegal in its charter of rights and freedoms, trans people continue to face physical abuse, unemployment at three times the national rate, and high rates of mental health issues.

The pain experienced as a result of social exclusion and brutal discrimination, especially from those who at one point, loved you, were part of many stories shared at the launch event. T Thomason is a UK-born 23-year-old who was raised in Halifax. The “trans-guy” indie pop star was recently signed by Taylor Swift’s record label and performed an acoustic version of his latest singles, “Bliss” and “Hope”, the latter of which he says taught him a lot about being a trans person.

T. Thomason playing an acoustic version of his song “Bliss”

I just walk, and the farther I go

I am stepping with a changing shadow

I just walk and I hope I am getting close

Catching up with all the ghosts I would like to get to know

Past all your fears, you will find bliss

Hold onto this, move past your fears, you will find bliss.

— T. Thomason, Bliss Lyrics

Statistics show that over 43% of trans people eventually attempt suicide, yet Jackson is hopeful about the future. “Deb [Klein] and I were talking about trans people going swimming. In Brighton [U.K.] that is a real issue. For me, in Toronto, I was scared shitless about the first time I went swimming, just in shorts. And absolutely no one gave a shit — that was awesome.”

Klein, a New Yorker, scout for the “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” production company, bass player, and foster mom to rescue dogs, found Jackson on Instagram. She loved his idea and his photography, and quickly signed on to partner on Don’t You Want Me. Klein and Jackson plan to grow the project into a global movement. “This launch is just the beginning. We hope to see a thousand more photos and stories like this submitted to our project from around the world,” says Klein.

The DYWM “minimal viable project” exhibit will stay in east Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood at Tom & Sawyer until April 6th, and will then be moved to Black Lab Brewing for rest of the month. Tom & Sawyer co-founder, Kristen Mathews, a former forensic accountant whose love of animals led to starting her doggy bakery and pet food company three years ago, didn’t hesitate to host the exhibit. “T & S is very welcoming to the community. A lot of LGBTQ community members have dogs and cats who they consider part of the family.”

For those who can’t make it to the exhibit, don’t worry. LiisBeth has prepared a two-minute slide show of the event, including some of the featured photos. We hope you take a moment to watch and share, in support of equality and visibility for trans people in your community and everywhere. Enjoy.


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