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From Wawmeesh's notebook 

Hi, <<First Name>>. Other reporters often ask me two things: 1) Does being Indigenous give me better access to First Nations stories? And 2) How do I handle tension with Indigenous sources over difficult stories? I simply tell them that it’s part of my job as a journalist who’s Indigenous (in that order).

I frequently hear about First Nations stories before other non-Indigenous journalists because someone I know in the community calls me with a tip. Still, access is one thing, but it doesn’t always lead to a slam dunk. Sometimes, these story ideas don’t turn out to be stories at all.

Other times, I’ll get a First Nations-related pitch that a non-Indigenous reporter from another news outlet has already turned down. In these cases, I can’t help but feel a little singed over not being pitched the story first. It’s a lesson I learned when I got into journalism, and still experience today: Some Indigenous people would rather deal with white reporters.

Why? More white reporters than Indigenous ones work at mainstream news outlets, where their story can attract more eyeballs. Or, in the case of Indigenous leaders, white reporters might not hold them accountable the way they would a non-Indigenous politician for fear of being labeled racist.

There are also tensions that arise when reporting on difficult news stories involving a First Nation, with consequences ranging from nasty emails to being frozen out completely. One story in particular springs to mind.

Years ago, during one community's city council meeting, a citizen asked councillors about the status of an economic venture co-led by the city and local First Nation. Staff didn’t answer him, but promised to look into it. I investigated, and discovered a legal issue between the First Nation and a venture contractor. Then I tried unsuccessfully to contact the First Nation, explaining in multiple emails and phone messages that I wanted their side of the story. After my piece ran without their comment, however, the First Nation sent my editor a terse email that said the story’s facts were debatable. It also notified us of a new media protocol that involved supplying questions beforehand, and waiting for First Nation councillors to meet and answer them.

This issue arose at a public forum, involved a public body and was a matter of public interest. But in my 10 years as a journalist, I’ve often found that knowing you did the right thing is its only reward. Indigenous or not, it can be a solitary occupation.

Have any story tips? Message me via Facebook, Twitter or email. And if you liked reading this, please tell your friends to subscribe.

Thanks, 
Wawmeesh

Snapshot

Numuch Keitlah (left) sings the finale song during West Coast Cultural Night at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre. (Credit: Wawmeesh Hamilton)

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