Some Recent Writings

Whoa! It’s been a year and a half since I’ve posted anything here. That has to be a new record since I started blogging a long time ago! A lot has happened since my last post. I quit my day job at CBC. My second son was born. I completed the first draft of the sequel to Moon of the Crusted Snow. I got vaccinated against COVID-19. And so much more! I’ll offer up more details on all of those things when I can. But I’ve shared a bit about my recent life events in some fun freelance writings over the past year and a bit. Now that I’m a full-time author/sometimes freelance journalist, I have the freedom to explore some more personal and introspective kind of writing gigs, which has been fun. So I’ll highlight a few of them here, in hopes of prompting myself to write in this particular blog space a bit more. Here goes:

As the pandemic was intensifying in the Spring of 2020, the Toronto Star asked authors to write about how COVID-19 was affecting their lives. I chose to write about the impending birth of our son Ayaabe, and they published my reflection a little more than a week before he was born. It’s hard to believe he’s almost a year and a half already!

When I left daily journalism around the same time, the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police prompted widespread discussions about systemic racism in all realms and sectors. I couldn’t help but reflect on my career and experiences in mainstream Canadian journalism, and what I witnessed over the course of nearly two decades. I was invited by Robert Jago to contribute to a series he edited for the Walrus called Terra Cognita, so I wrote a letter to aspiring Indigenous journalists.

By last fall I was deep into developing the sequel to Moon of the Crusted Snow. I read and listened to a lot of Anishinaabe stories and history to keep my head in the world I was trying to create. And then I had a major revelation about oral storytelling and memory while watching an old video of an elder from my home community, and wrote all about it for the Globe and Mail.

Also for the Globe last fall, I got to interview my friends and mentors Eden Robinson and Cherie Dimaline about the genres our stories inhabit as Indigenous writers. It was a really fun conversation!

Another really fulfilling opportunity that came up since I jumped back into the writing world full-time is a regular column for Open Book. You can find all of my writings over the past year and a bit here, and for one specific and always timely example, here’s a column on Indigenous identity and the responsibilities of telling stories.

Just in time for their annual early exit from the NHL playoffs, I wrote about being an Anishinaabe fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the Walrus. Despite the loss, I really enjoyed looking back on my lifelong fandom, and the impact of George Armstrong on all of us Indigenous fans. Fandom for us isn’t always so straightforward.

Finally, with Indigenous history finally starting to be properly reflected in the mainstream Canadian psyche, I wrote about falling statues and changing names after recent events at my alma mater. 2021 was a year of significant change in this country’s awareness, and I was honoured to contribute to that discussion.

Those are just some of the writings I published over the past year and a half with Canadian periodicals. I’ll add another post in the coming weeks with some of the other projects I’ve been involved with since becoming a free agent. It’s been very rewarding to share these ideas and experiences far and wide, so big thanks to you all for your ongoing interest and support! In the meantime, you can always check my Facebook page for other writings and news.

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The Right Words Matter: Aboriginal Terminology in Mainstream Media

The best measure of the under-representation of Indigenous peoples in mainstream Canadian media is the common misuse of the terminology related to them, their communities, and their issues. There are numerous examples to cite, but the one I hear regularly that irritates me the most is referring to a community as a “First Nations reserve”.

The term “First Nations reserve” is sort of redundant and it doesn’t really make sense. A community is either a “First Nation” or a “reserve”. No one who’s Indigenous would refer to their home as a “First Nations reserve”. I notice broadcasters from across the country make this mistake often. The CBC, where I work, is no exception. I actually addressed this recently in an email to my colleagues, which I’m adapting here. I explained that when we use a misnomer like that, Indigenous viewers and listeners roll their eyes and we instantly lose credibility.

I understand how that particular term came about and why it causes confusion. Recently, “First Nations” has arisen as an adjective to describe Indigenous people. Along the way, someone decided that a reserve needed to be described as “First Nations” (using the adjective), and it stuck. But by that logic, it’s like calling a small, non-Indigenous community a “towny town”, or in another way, a “white town”. It just sounds silly and weird. It’s perfectly acceptable to simply call a community a First Nation. I come from Wasauksing First Nation. It’s kind of like saying New York City (although Wasauksing is far less glamorous but far more gorgeous).

Being correct with the terminology used in mainstream media means a lot to Indigenous readers, viewers, and listeners. There’s still a big rift between Canadian media and people from First Nations, M├ętis, and Inuit communities, so it’s imperative that journalists be sensitive and diligent with their words. Mainstream media outlets are sometimes the only connection between Canadians and Indigenous people, so in order to tell the stories properly, journalists need to get the words and ideas right. In many ways, they’re making up for the historical shortfalls of the Canadian education system.

As mentioned, “First Nations reserve” is just one common error of many, and my motive for bringing this up is to highlight two essential online resources for covering Indigenous communities, issues, and stories in Canada. One is Reporting in Indigenous Communities, the brainchild of CBC’s Duncan McCue. It’s a comprehensive hub for context, terminology, scenarios, protocol and other vital information and pointers for journalists about to embark on the Indigenous beat. It should be the first stop for the unsure, the unfamiliar, and the unaware.

For an extremely useful reference on proper terminology, the Strategic Alliance of Broadcasters for Aboriginal Reflection (SABAR) created a handy guidebook on key terms. You can either download it or search the online database. A quick visit there prior to making a call to do research or set up an interview can help ensure the right words are used for the right people/communities. Those words can make or break a story.

While it’s easy gloss over proper parlance and cultural sensitivity as tedious political correctness, the foundation of journalism is supposed to be telling a story fully and correctly. That includes getting the words right to do the stories (and the people in them) justice.

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Apps-Dependent Hedonist Disorder

Silence is rare. Many nights of the week I find myself sitting legs-up on the couch, laptop nestled in place, sports or news on the TV, and iPhone and Blackberry on the coffee table to my left. I click on links, turn my head whenever the TV program projects a loud voice, and reach for whichever phone emits a notification. It’s a brutal vortex of information technology that is difficult to stay out of more than a decade into the new millennium.

I never used email or the internet until I was forced to in my first year of university. I used to hate watching TV. I only bought one because I got a full-time job working for a television broadcaster. I bought a cell phone because the roommates I lived with at the time got rid of our landline. Now all of the current implements that are conduits for these media command my attention at almost every waking moment.

Because of this barrage of information, I find it hard to be really productive or even hold basic linear thoughts when all these things are within reach. So I often shut them off, pick up a book, put on music, play guitar, go for a run, or even sit in silence. The hilarious irony is that I worked hard and saved money to purchase these gadgets and have all kinds of information at my fingertips. As the fictional, misguided visionary Tyler Durden said, “The things you own end up owning you.”

In my line of work, and living in urban North America, it’s almost impossible to live without them. They’re half status symbols and half knowledge necessities. It’s imperative to know what’s going on and to stay connected in these complex layers of relationships and interactions in the city. That being said, I don’t really need to be playing Angry Birds on the bus or in those few minutes between meetings/appointments.

And that’s where balance comes in. When I talk to my grandparents on the rez and in small-town Ontario (face to face), they’re both mind-blown and vexed that we walk around with computers in our pockets these days. They never needed them, and they still don’t. Because that wholesome attitude still exists, smartphones should be obsolete in the grand scheme of life.

But they aren’t, nor will they ever be. They’ve made my life easier, and I’m not abandoning any of these toys to become a born-again Luddite. The other day a random couple stopped me on the street to ask where a certain restaurant was. I didn’t know, so I pulled out my phone and called up an app – and within seconds I sent them in the right direction. My phone made me a hero for a moment. But silence and balance are golden, and I’ll never forget about the things that challenged and captivated my mind before 21st Century attention defects.

By the way, my favourite apps are Word With Friends, Angry Birds, Twitter, Instagram, and the new CBC News App.

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