In order to improve how the journalists of tomorrow approach Indigenous issues, Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communication believes its essential to introduce journalism students to the Indigenous territory they inhabit while studying in Ottawa and guide them in building productive journalistic relationships with Indigenous communities.

This year, the School is excited to offer its students a new and unique course taught by Professor Duncan McCue that will provide them vital opportunities for experiential learning in Indigenous communities in the city of Ottawa and Ottawa Valley region.

Students will be assigned in teams of 3-4 to cover three First Nations in the Ottawa Valley and urban Indigenous communities in the city of Ottawa (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit). All student teams will explore one theme (i.e. health, Elders) and will be responsible for researching and producing an enterprise news story with multimedia elements. 

Students will gain valuable skills in planning and carrying out reporting field trips by managing their own budgets and off-campus travel arrangements. 

Fundamental to the RIIC course are community partnerships with three First Nations closest to Carleton University – Kitigan Zibi (2 hr 10 min drive), Pikwàkanagàn (1 hr 40 min drive) and Akwesasne (1hr 15 min drive). Students will also report on the city of Ottawa’s growing urban Indigenous population (nearly 50,000 people).

Classroom learning will be enhanced by inviting Indigenous community members and scholars to lecture on Indigenous worldviews and histories. Students will also participate in a site visit of Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa, giving them access to behind-the-scenes perspectives on urban Indigenous governance.

The RIIC webpage on the School’s Capital Current website will be a public-facing showcase of both exclusive journalism material reported by students and their newsgathering experiences in Indigenous communities.

The Background

Here are Professor McCue’s reflections on creating the RIIC course:

“During my twenty-five year CBC career, I spent a lot of time sharing Indigenous stories and helping my colleagues learn best practices when reporting in Indigenous communities. 

Why? Because journalism in Indigenous communities matters. In addition to informing and educating, news stories have powerful impacts on Indigenous youth who consume the images and stories of their people, shaping their view of who they are and what they’re capable of. 

Unfortunately, Canada’s mainstream media have a poor track record when it comes to Indigenous stories.

That’s what Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission into Indian Residential Schools (TRC) concluded in 2015, after reviewing Canadian media’s long history of perpetuating negative stereotypes and underreporting issues of importance to Indigenous communities. The TRC drew attention to the role reporters have played entrenching inequities in Canada, citing contemporary media coverage of Indigenous issues as persistently fraught with misinformation and stereotypes. 

“To ensure that the colonial press truly becomes a thing of the past in twenty-first-century Canada, the media must engage in its own acts of reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples,” urged the TRC.

In keeping with the TRC’s viewpoint that the path to reconciliation in Canada would be achieved through better education, TRC Call to Action #86 pushed for journalism schools to educate the next generation of journalists on everything from the history of residential schools to Indigenous laws.

Since the release of the TRC report, more journalism schools across the country are taking steps to include Indigenous pedagogy, knowledge, and collaboration in their curriculum.

This is why I’m so passionate about launching the RIIC course at Carleton. We’ve come a long way since I started in the newsroom over two decades ago, but much more needs to be done to make sure Indigenous communities are treated with respect and journalists get the story right.”

The Rollout

Faced with rising costs and falling incomes, the last few years have not been easy for Canadian news organizations. One of the reasons Indigenous communities are underserved by mainstream media is that newsrooms have limited resources to support journalistic fieldwork outside of major urban centres. By supporting the production of in-depth local journalism, Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communication will play a crucial role in ensuring that voices from Indigenous communities in Ottawa and the Ottawa Valley reach the broader public.

The annual budget for the RIIC course is $9,000. The majority of the budget will fund travel expenses necessary to support student field work. Students need to pay for transportation to visit the partner communities, and in some cases, lodging or meal costs. RIIC students will also be allocated a small budget to pay for protocol gifts or honorariums for Elders, where necessary.

Funds will also be set aside to ensure guest speakers are presented with protocol gifts and honorariums. Several Indigenous guest speakers will be invited to speak in the RIIC course over the course of the term. This year, speakers include a widely-respected former grand chief from one of the RIIC partner communities, a professor of Indigenous political science/governance and an award-winning Indigenous photographer. The honorariums are more than mere tokens of appreciation, but ensure that the cultural value of our guest speakers’ time and expertise is properly acknowledged. Likewise, we will offer compensation to urban Indigenous organizations which host RIIC students for class visits, in recognition of the high demands placed upon their staff and resources.

In designing the RIIC webpage, we intend to commission a local Indigenous artist to create a logo which acknowledges both the historic and ongoing contributions of Indigenous Peoples in the city of Ottawa and the Ottawa Valley region.

The Impact

When Carleton launched its revitalized Indigenous initiatives strategy Kinàmàgawin in 2020, the University acknowledged the importance of relationship-building and partnerships with Indigenous communities.

By contributing to the RIIC course, supporters will help Carleton meet these Kinàmàgawin goals. 

The local First Nation communities of Kitigan Zibi, Pikwàkanagàn and Akwesasne have already expressed strong support for the RIIC course. In return, Professor McCue has acknowledged the reciprocal obligations this creates for the School of Journalism and Communication. 

On a simple level, it means that the history of these local communities will be woven into the framework of the RIIC course. However, there is much more that can and must be done to further build these relationships.

Students will graduate from RIIC understanding that the principle of reciprocity is fundamental to the practice of ethical journalism within an Indigenous context, and will be encouraged to have ongoing relationships with partner Indigenous communities by “giving back.” Examples include sharing their stories with story subjects, sharing research where appropriate, and volunteering in community-based programs.

Professor McCue also intends for the partnerships with local communities to grow over time, in such a way that benefits flow to the communities as well. Examples may include representatives from Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communication speaking at high school career days in these communities in order to promote and share the opportunities in media careers; establishing media training workshops for high-school students or radio stations in local First Nation communities; and commissioning local Indigenous artists for graphics or artwork for the RIIC website.

Support for the RIIC course will not only benefit journalism students, it will help Carleton contribute to capacity building for local First Nations.

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