Stories North came to life through a Carleton University teaching achievement award won by journalism professor, Kanina Holmes. It represents a unique study opportunity and an exciting experiment in collaboration, bringing Carleton students to Canada’s North for a month-long course anchored in experiential learning.
Stories North is a special topics Journalism course. It will be offered in the summer of 2017 and will focus on the theme of reconciliation. It will get students out of a conventional classroom. They will spend time in meadows, in the mountains, beside the Yukon River and in communities where they can learn from long-timer Northerners, indigenous leaders, elders and youth about the legacies of residential schools, indigenous ways of seeing and current social, cultural and political challenges facing Canada’s North and its peoples.
The course will combine traditional knowledge and emerging perspectives with new technologies. Students will create multimedia reflections and stories with images, sounds and text and present them on digital platforms, including Carleton’s cuPortfolio. One of the course goals is to share students’ work with the people and communities from and with whom they learned.
Students will build their storytelling skills and professional portfolios as well as work as potential mentors and collaborators with students and youth from other disciplines and backgrounds, brought together by a passion for creating compelling digital stories and an openness to learn from each other. Overall, the course will be designed to provide students with unparalleled opportunities to reflect and grow from their firsthand encounters with people and place.
In the spring of 2015, Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, issued a call to action. Sinclair had spent the six previous years listening to the wrenching testimony of more than 7,000 survivors of physical, sexual and mental abuse that took place at government-initiated residential schools across Canada.
As the commission (trc.ca) wound down, complete with more than 94 recommendations, Sinclair spoke of the chances Canadians now have to rebalance the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
Sinclair, an Ojibwe elder, Manitoba’s first Aboriginal judge and now a Canadian Senator, gently warned that, after seven generations of inequity, mistrust and pain, the path ahead would not be quick or easy. But a path, nevertheless, that begins with one step.
This course, this one step, is a response to this call for action.
The painful recollections of witness after witness at Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission made it clear there is a multi-generational legacy of residential school abuse. The wounds left by neglect, abuse and ignorance are still raw and they infect even those who never set foot in the state-sponsored and church-run institutions mandated with crushing indigenous culture. For decades, political and popular narratives have excluded or diminished the ability of many Canadians to see Aboriginal people as full citizens with equal rights. Those narratives are starting to change and this course could be one approach to convey different, more honest, more humble and more accountable stories.
Students will need financial support for travel and accommodation. It will cost each student $3,000-$3,500 to participate. As well, students will be giving up four weeks of summer employment to take the course. We would like to find ways to make this experience economically feasible, to open the doors of learning.
The initial goal is to raise $10,000 to get this initiative off to a great start. Professor Holmes is donating most of her award money to administering the course. The money raised through crowdfunding will go toward travel costs to the North and within the Yukon, the costs of accommodation in Whitehorse and field trips to Kluane National Park and historic Dawson City.
The chance to experience a part of Canada’s North first hand and the opportunity to meet people who can authentically speak about life in the North, the legacy of residential schools, the troubled history of indigenous-non-indigenous relationships, will likely be life altering for our students.
Experiential learning can be messy and uncomfortable, especially as we grapple with the still-raw wounds of our past. The hope is that the insights, humility and sensitivity that can emerge from discomfort will amount to a life-long openness and respect for indigenous perspectives and a love for the beauty and complexity of the North. This course represents a chance to dig deeper into what the North is and what it means and venture beyond the stereotypes.
Very few of our students have ever travelled to the North and yet it represents a key spoke in the ever-evolving wheel of our national identity. As an educator of the next generation of journalists and young leaders in their profession, it’s difficult to underestimate the impact a project like this could have. We expect it will change students’ outlooks, the kinds of stories they pursue in journalism and their approach to the people who inform these stories. It may also open them to the idea of returning and working in the North one day.
There is hope this initiative will also pave the way for Carleton to be seen as an post-secondary institution at the forefront of progressive responses to the calls for action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Chief Experiential Officer - Stories North
Over the course of my journalism career I’ve produced stories from the basket of a dog sled to the mud floor of a Tanzanian hut. I’ve reported from Prairie towns devastated by natural calamities and produced newscasts amid the hum of CBC’s national broadcast centre.
I teach from experience, as a student of Carleton's journalism program, (1987-1992), and as someone who worked through many of the same celebrations and challenges as our current students do. I teach as also someone who worked in daily journalism for about 15 years. My career, which like journalism itself, is evolving, has included stints in local and national radio (CBC Ottawa, CBC Whitehorse), local and national television (CTV in Ottawa, Global News in Winnipeg and CBC Ottawa and CBC North), as a foreign correspondent in East and Central Africa (Gemini News) and as senior correspondent for an international wire service (Reuters).
My time as a researcher, foreign correspondent and university instructor in East and Central Africa has taught me to encourage students to seek out big opportunities in small places, to travel and to remain open to learning from others.
I have built a reputation as an original, adaptable, enthusiastic and conscientious educator among my students and faculty peers. My teaching dossier includes thirteen different courses, ranging from first-year undergraduate to second-year master’s students, covering an introduction to journalism studies, the fundamentals of reporting, television news and current affairs, multimedia storytelling, international reporting, journalism ethics and newspaper publishing.
As you’ll see from the note on my office door as well as my office décor, there are certain themes that run through my life. If you ever wonder what makes me tick then here are my buzzwords: family; freedom; curiosity; travel; social justice; kindness, nature; photography; dogs; persistence. Respect also looms large in my personal mantra. It’s something we each earn through working together and it’s something we owe our audiences. When respect, in any form, is lacking you’ll see me get frustrated. As Tom Rosenstiel (American Press Institute) says, “journalism is collaborative intelligence.