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
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.
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
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
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 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
- Idle No More
- Amnesty International
- I Benefit from colonialism
- Media Indigena: What has Idle No More meant to you?
- The tyee: joint statement
- UN report on the continued failures of Canadian governments to properly negotiate with First Nations, as well as on the gross over-representation of Indigenous people in Canadian jails
- Conclusion to the UN report [PDF]
- Some numbers
- Debunking Blatchford
- The Toronto Star
- Karl Nerenburg
- Question and answer on journalism and other forms of writing Posted on: May 2, 2014
- Can we have infinite, exponential growth with finite resources? Andrew Leach says Yes. Posted on: February 4, 2014
- Petrostatehood is not a zero or one Posted on: September 5, 2013
- The best journalism is a kind of advocacy Posted on: August 20, 2013
- 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 ↩
- https://twitter.com/Taiaiake/status/287752291166085120 ↩
- Another relies on the views of Bill Gallagher ↩
- http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/01/07/john-ivison-whatever-the-canadian-state-cedes-to-theresa-spence-it-will-never-be-enough/ ↩
- These are Burke’s words put to use and forming the central thesis of Ivison’s article. ↩
- I could be wrong about this, but he’s quite dismissive of talk about racism. ↩
- http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/01/07/andrew-coyne-idle-no-more-movement-is-a-dispute-between-rival-factions-in-the-aboriginal-community/ ↩
- http://www.torontosun.com/2013/01/03/akin-more-teachers-not-warriors-solution-to-first-nations-crisis ↩
- http://goo.gl/GuJU2, http://goo.gl/wY5K8, http://goo.gl/X0b7U, http://goo.gl/zS2P1 ↩
- http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/too-many-first-nations-people-live-in-a-dream-palace/article6929035/ ↩
- http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/12/27/christie-blatchford-inevitable-puffery-and-horse-manure-surrounds-hunger-strike-while-real-aboriginal-problems-forgotten/ ↩
- https://twitter.com/jonkay/status/288132074748125185 ↩
- http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/01/07/jonathan-kay-six-lessons-from-a-brilliant-scathing-year-old-cbc-report-on-attawapiskats-mismanagement/ ↩