Painting of Edward Cornwallis looking like a dinosaur journalist.

Dinosaur journalists and Idle No More

I challenge white journalists to tell us how much they know about about the history and relationship between settlers and Indigenous people.1 Judging by their Twitter feeds, recent articles and interviews, dinosaur journalists from the Globe and Mail and the National Post have strong opinions about First Nations governance, Indigenous land rights, the Idle No More movement, Attawapiskat, and Chief Spence.

That should mean that they have some expertise in these matters. The strength of their views means they should be able to tell us lots about colonization, ethnic cleansing, treaties, trials, bounties, wars, cultural erasure, British law, property rights and Canada. Right?

John Ivison on Idle No More

John Ivison tells Alfred Taiake what is up

Here’s a senior national political correspondent, John Ivison, complaining to Taiaiake Alfred by Twitter that no one from Akwesasne would meet with him to educate him: “I asked to visit Akwesasne to listen and learn, not pontificate. Sad no-one there will meet me and help break down prejudice.”2 This is a classic and well-worn move: make your ignorance of a marginalized community the fault of the marginalized community.

One fairly recent article by Ivison relies heavily on the views of Tom Flanagan.3 Ivison published on Idle No More most recently on January 7th.4 Unbelievably, his article leads with a distasteful joke about Chief Spence. Ivison further sets the tone by describing Chief Spence’s handlers as being prone to violence and dim witted. Ivison contends that the leaked audit “paints a picture of gross mismanagement at Attawapiskat.”

Ivison then quotes from a manuscript by Chris Burke and relies on Burke’s metaphor to draw his own conclusion. Ivison claims that Canadians are being manipulated by crafty hunters. Similarly, Ivison contends that Spence is manipulating Stephen Harper with the craftiness of a native hunter: “When it comes to negotiations, this is what is going on. You are being hunted with all the skills of the accomplished hunter, who has been at it for countless generations.”5

But John Ivison is not alone in his ignorance. David Akin, Jeffrey Simpson, Ezra Levant, Jonathan Kay and Christie Blatchford have all demonstrated that they think they’re experts on First Nations issues and Idle No More.

Andrew Coyne on the Assembly of First Nations

Coyne finally wrote a piece on January 7th, for the National Post, about Idle No More and the Assembly of First Nations. Prior to this, he would mostly tweet about the movement – and the tweets were mostly sarcastic and joking in nature. He is repeatedly alarmed by how often racism gets brought up by Idle No More supporters. He may believe that simply talking about race is racism: he appears to advocate for “colour-blind” legal and social practices.6 But more broadly he claims (repeatedly) that those who bring up racism offer no arguments and do so as a distraction. He chats with Rob Silver and seems to retweet David Akin, and articles in the National Post.

His article for the National Post tells us that the Idle No More movement explains why aboriginals in Canada are destitute: “If it does nothing else, the Idle No More movement of the past few weeks will have provided a valuable lesson in why so many aboriginal Canadians remain so chronically destitute…” It is the fault of dissenters that aboriginals are poor: there are too many self-appointed leaders, they aren’t modernizing, they don’t cooperate, their demands are too vague, and their views are too fundamentalist. He claims these defects are generally the case with Idle No more, and specifically the case with Pam Palmater.

Regrettably, Coyne also thought it would be appropriate to incorporate humour in his article, sarcastically calling the Federal Government monsters, and being droll about getting called on racism.7

David Akin on Idle No More

David Akin is also based in Ottawa. He’s the National Bureau Chief  for Sun Media. His January 3rd article for the Ottawa Sun framed the Idle No More movement as a childish wish for a “magic wand” solution. He also claimed the movement would be bad for Indigenous people whose problems would best be solved by education.8 He seems to chat with Ezra Levant on Twitter and has made note that voter rates are down in Attawapiskat and community leaders should probably focus on that – that is, after all, what he would do.9

Jeffrey Simpson on Chief Spence and “first nations”

Jeffrey Simpson has claimed that too many First Nations people are out of touch with reality and live in a “dream palace.” It’s a frame already used by Akin: First Nations folks are childish and out of touch and hurting themselves.But it’s also a frame used by Coyne: aboriginal people are causing their own problems. According to Simpson Chief Spence is “blackmailing” Stephen Harper.10

Jeffrey Simpson gets extra points for using so many quotation marks everywhere and failing to capitalize “First Nations.” Actually, the Globe and Mail en masse seems to systematically fail to capitalize “First Nations.” That is really weird. And wrong. And it’s too thorough to be an oversight. I guess I’ll have to find out why they do that.

Christie Blatchford

Christie Blatchford accused Spence of intimidation, terrorism, hostage taking and stupidity.11 But someone else has done a much better job of criticizing Blatchford’s article.

Jonathon Kay

Jonathon Kay is a journalist with the National Post and is also a sitting fellow for the Foundation for Freedom and Democracy, a neo-conservative think tank. Kay’s online chatter is usually about terrorism and Iran but he and Stephen Taylor and Ezra Levant seem to chat a lot about Idle No More and Chief Spence. Here’s Kay discovering the central tenet of his Jan.7th report for the National Post.12

Jonathon Kay talks about incompetence

Kay reviews a portion of a year old televised investigation by the CBC and argues that Chief Spence is the cause of suffering in Attawapiskat due to her incompetence and cronyism. This is a meme we’ve already seen used repeatedly: First Nations suffer because of their leaders. He concludes that the report affirms the image of a “a massively unproductive, high-cost, sociologically infantilized and dysfunctional welfare state.” So, like Akin and Simpson, Jonathon Kay has compared the people of Attawapiskat to children.

Kay knows what is best though. He’s an expert: “the idea that these problems can be solved by giving more power and more money to leaders such as Ms. Spence is nonsensical.”13

Ezra Levant

I won’t bother critiquing the rantings of Ezra Levant. For those of you who don’t know him, good. He’s essentially Canada’s own Glen Beck. And most real journalists know that Levant is not part of the press. Although someone should tell Akin and Jonathan Kay. Just to be clear, this is actually very serious because, like a hired public relations firm, and despite his obvious loyalties, he influences too many Canadians under the guise of reportage.

John Ibbitson

John Ibbitson is the Chief Political Writer for the Globe and mail. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t written anything about Chief Spence, Attawapiskat, Idle No More, the AFN or Bill C-45. Kudos to Ibbitson for showing some restraint. Oh wait, it appears that he has just published a short piece that is actually quite well balanced and invites the reader to consider that there are many perspectives to this complicated issue. It’s actually quite good in part because the articles asks us to read more and to learn more. But it’s also just a relief that it’s not as bad as the others.

Curious about Idle No More? Some resources that you might find helpful

Related posts

  1. I have some severe discomfort using the words “knowledge,” “relationship,” “settler,” and “journalists.” I will be posting soon about why I generally prefer to use the term, resettler, ever since attending a lecture by History Professor John Lutz
  3. Another relies on the views of Bill Gallagher
  5. These are Burke’s words put to use and forming the central thesis of Ivison’s article.
  6. I could be wrong about this, but he’s quite dismissive of talk about racism.

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  1. Ha ha, yeah. I didn’t mean for it to be so long and boring. Oi. But once I started reading what they were writing I felt compelled to put something down. Do you think anyone will bother to read it?

  2. Sherwin Arnott, a blogger and Idle No More supporter provides a description of several columns written by journalists whose opinion he does not agree with.

  3. It’s true that I am an Idle No More supporter (I think). But it’s false that I am only and simply disagreeing with these writers. But I could have been clearer about this. My claim is that their use of worn out frames, inappropriate memes and loaded, derogatory language reveals deep ignorance on the part of these authors.

    Actually you’ve inspired me to go further in perhaps another blog post, if I ever have the time. I should explain that these authors, who all claim to be journalists, and who are all writing in this difficult context, have a duty to write with more caution, not less; more uncertainty, not less; more humility not less; and more cordiality, not less.

  4. “Actually you’ve inspired me to go further”

    Then my work here is done. Off I go back to internet obscurity.

    *disappears in cloud of smoke*

  5. “The Globe and Mail offers the most authoritative news in Canada, featuring national and international news.”

  6. In this partial and not random selection of articles the Globe an Mail did okay – at least against Postmedia and the Sun News network. John Ibbitson provided the act of reporting that might actually provide a service to democracy.

  7. No, you’re right. I take it back. The Jeffrey Simpson piece is unbelievably bad. The Globe and Mail is not providing a service to democracy (on this partial and non random selection of articles).

  8. If you follow the twitter accounts of these journalists there are some extremely negative and snide remarks being made with lots of snickering too regarding Chief Spence and the IdleNoMore movement
    and FN in general.Very juvenille .
    Just trying to follow thru on the excellent synopsis by Russ Diablo on the history of the treaties and organizations and govt involvement can require hard concentration..
    You are quite right to point this out and it is evident that none of these journalists you mention are stepping out for a Round Dance or a Rally.
    They seem to be lacking empathy and dismiss any recognition of the suffering caused to aboriginals.
    As for Ezra, I have a new hashtag to add to his and supporting cronies posts: #crassroots

  9. What disturbs me also about these prime time journalists is that they don’t promote discussion or engage in it.
    I don’t know what their salaries are but they seem to be quite smug as a bug in a rug regarding their position.
    Thinking of all the grads from schools of journalism it must be tough getting work in the trade.
    No wonder there are so many bloggers.
    This is why I appreciate social media and the internet. I can get some rebuttals and find some other opinions.
    On he twitter feed they tend to consider themselves celebrities of sorts.
    Kady OMalley who tweets for the CBC on parliamentary affairs often tweets unusual reactions and (many i can’t understand )while running an exchange with some other pundits. It feels very “in groupie”
    Your post here has actually been helpful for me and probably others too.

  10. Thanks for your insights, myna lee. I’ve been thinking about the online banter. The joking and snide comments are distasteful, and sometimes racist, but at least it reveals where they’re coming from. They sometimes cover their published writing in a kind of glaze of neutrality and kind of put on an authoritative voice. But their Twitter feeds make their social and political location a little more obvious. Maybe? That doesn’t excuse it – kind of unprofessional I think.

    I don’t know what the senior journalists are making. I bet there’s a big difference between the various news businesses and organizations. I think it’s a good question and relevant.

    The derisive joking also relates to your point about the way these journalists seem to fail to engage in authentic discussion with people of a different view. They avoid engaging sincerely with criticism by joking derisively. When I personally tried to engage some of these authors on Twitter, they either ignored me or they made jokes in my general direction. As soon as I asked for earnest feedback from them about this blog post, they vanished. They didn’t seem to care. Jonathan Kay said he was bored. Andrew Coyne just said it was an unwinnable argument and then ignored me.

  11. Journalists are working hard to make the news rather than report the news…..its the nature of the knowledge society…and the sound bytes are shorter and short…the understanding is lessened each time..

  12. When people stop being blindly obedient or trusting they are said to be “uncooperative”. When they confront and challenge someone’s worldview they are rebellious “children”. Not only First Nations, I’d venture to say the world at large is waiting for the society of arrogance and privilege, for the Steven Harpers and the old school of white males who manipulate, dominate and terrorize the citizens of this planet to move past the classis stage of adolescence, think beyond their narrow self interest and embrace empathy and love. We the people are fed up waiting. All of us!

  13. I think the print-minded “journalist” is stuck believing that nobody else has a press or will bother to write something about their articles. So glad that we no longer live in a print-only age of journalism.

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