From Wawmeesh's notebook 

Hello, <<First Name>>. Welcome to my inaugural newsletter, which also doubles as a state-of-the-newsroom address (to what I hope won’t be an empty room...with one cricket chirping). You’re receiving this because we’ve discussed issues related to reconciliation, or you’ve taken the time to fill out my survey. Here, I’ll update you on my latest investigations, what’s coming down the pike and how you can help shape my work.

So, Wawmeesh who, you ask? I’m an Indigenous journalist and photographer who’s worked for various news outlets over the past decade. I’ve reported on city council, regional districts, school boards, police departments, courts, sports and breaking news — and Indigenous stories were part of all those beats. My late parents were from the Hupacasath First Nation on Vancouver Island, and my children and I are also members. Being Indigenous affords me instinct, insight and perspective that other non-Indigenous reporters don’t have. On the other hand, my experience writing about everything under the sun helps me identify Indigenous-specific gaps within those beats.

Recently, I put the finishing touches on the fifth story in my series about press freedom in First Nations. This final installment will examine where Indigenous people get their news; specifically I compare an independent Indigenous news site operated by an Indigenous journalist, to a publication operated by a tribal organization that admits to censoring all news content. In the coming months, I’ll be embarking on a new project that looks at how reconciliation is rolling out in small Canadian towns.

A situation in Port Alberni, B.C., last January motivated me to do the story. There, a city councillor inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) sought to rename a city street because its late namesake was a former MP who had connections to a white supremacist group, was an Indian agent who had contempt for Indigenous children, and was pro-Japanese internment and anti-Asian immigration. When news of the street-renaming plan broke, both the townspeople and city council were against the idea. Too far back in history, some said. Too expensive an undertaking, others argued.

As I watched this unfold, I got curious and looked at a map of First Nations across Canada; I noticed how many were near small towns, and wondered if racism was a problem in those places. I also looked at the TRC’s calls to action, and saw that they were largely urban-centric, with no thought given to small towns. Cities like Vancouver and Victoria are launching a series of reconciliation initiatives, but they have larger tax bases, more resources and large multicultural populations that are more sympathetic to reconciliation. Small towns don’t have these assets and, in my experience as an Indigenous person, there’s a sharp racial divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Unfortunately, these towns — where reconciliation is needed most — have largely been forgotten. I’m especially curious about towns that had residential schools; they may be long gone, but are the attitudes that made them possible still prevalent? If yes, how do we reconcile that? Help me answer these questions.

My goal in reporting is to generate dialogue through stories that put human faces to reconciliation, reveal its impacts on ordinary people from their perspective and shed light on what it means in practice (unlike the drinking-water crisis that plagued some First Nations, reconciliation is not a tangible issue you can see and feel).

While I may know a thing or two, I don’t know a thing or three. So, if you have something you want to share about reconciliation, then — Indigenous or not — I’m here to listen:

- Wawmeesh

P.S. Liked this newsletter? Please share with your networks, and tell them to subscribe.


Nisga'a elder George Williams, 83, emphasized the historical importance of news and accountability in New Aiyansh, B.C., last year. "Telling stories and holding people accountable aren’t foreign concepts," he told me. "These things are historically part of Nisga’a culture." (Credit: Wawmeesh Hamilton)

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