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Paradis: Hey media, Indigenous stories are more than drumming, dancing and death

Stories like Angela Cardinal's are important, but reporters need to tell the other stories, too.

Brittney Whitford spoke at an Edmonton event this week about barriers for women in education, including mental health and childcare.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

Brittney Whitford spoke at an Edmonton event this week about barriers for women in education, including mental health and childcare.

There’s a phenomenon in reporting on Indigenous people known as the 4Ds: reporters include Indigenous people in their stories if they are drumming, dancing, drunk or dead.

This week, the horrific story of the incarceration of Angela Cardinal spread across the country. She was a young woman who was sexually assaulted, and then re-victimized by the justice system when she was thrown in prison to await her testimony.

Stories like this need to be told, but there is more to Indigenous lives than suffering.

The government isn’t much better. In February, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quipped that Indigenous youth were, “looking for a place to store their canoes and paddles so they can connect out back with the land.”

I rolled my eyes.

The government has continued the trope with the Canada 150 celebration where they show Indigenous people as buckskin-clad tipi dwellers making bannock.


Both the government and the media need to recognize the stories that go beyond crime, powwows and National Aboriginal Day.

Brittany Whitford, a new graduate from Norquest, is one of those stories.

This week, Whitford spoke at the 1,000 Women lunch at Norquest about the power of education to change the lives of marginalized people. Since 2010, 1,000 women donors have raised over $2 million to support the removal of barriers to education for students.

Like many indigenous people, Whitford’s parents were in residential schools for eight years. Officials with Child Welfare Officials took them in during what is known as the Sixties Scoop, when thousands of Indigenous children were separated from their parents.

Once living what she calls a high-risk lifestyle herself, Whitford has now graduated from a social work program and will start her bachelor’s degree in the fall.

When Whitford took the stage with her seven-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, beside her, she told a room full of people, “I am a proud Cree woman” in English, and then in Cree.

It made my eyes tear up. You don’t often hear that proclaimed from a stage.

“I grew up here in Edmonton, and growing up in Edmonton had serious challenges being Indigenous, you know, with discrimination. It was a challenging upbringing,” Whitford told me after.

“What I would like to do is work in the areas of social justice and advocacy. Whatever that looks like with the Indigenous population,” she added.

Half a century after her parents were taken, she works with an organization called Creating Hope, which works with families trying to get their children back from child welfare services.

Whitford agrees that the media’s representation of Indigenous people needs to change, but rather than complain, this has inspired her.

“I find that the stereotypes and the perception and stigma that surround our people is what drives me to want to continue this work and get a further education so I can be that change that I want to see happening,” she said.

“Honestly, things are beginning to change, but there is a lot of work with reconciliation and it is not that easy. I always say truth before reconciliation.”

There’s a rich complexity in the lives of Indigenous people, and Whitford wants people to know she’s only one of many success stories.

The fact is, like everyone else, Indigenous lives can be challenging, but we’re also resilient and taking steps to improve not only our lives, but with people like Whitford, the lives of others around us.

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