Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

Closing the Gap

  Posted on: June 19, 2017

New arts faculty member Angela Sterritt

New arts faculty member Angela Sterritt

More than 11 percent of the students (about 2800 learners) at TRU are self-declared Indigenous. The university would like to see that percentage matched in staff and faculty and is taking steps to close the gap.

Angela Sterritt, an award-winning Gitxsan journalist, artist and writer from BC, will be joining the Faculty of Arts in July of 2017.

In her new role, Sterritt brings her experience reporting on First Nations, Métis and Inuit culture, stories and issues to share with the next generation of journalists.

Sterritt has worked as a journalist for close to twenty years and has been with CBC since 2003.

Her reports have appeared in the Globe and Mail, The National, CBC’s The Current, and various other national and local news programs.

She currently works with CBC Vancouver as a television, radio and online reporter, producer and host, and writes and reports for CBC Indigenous.

The university is looking forward to Sterritt bringing further awareness to the history of Indigenous people in Canada and helping educate learners of the responsibility they have as future journalists and communication professionals.

Q & A with Angela Sterritt

Number 86 in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is about the need for education in Canadian journalism programs—could you speak to why this is so important for the next generation of journalists and media professionals?

The bedrock of journalism is facts and accuracy. To tell stories about Indigenous people and communities without the same adherence to truth telling is to fail our industry and the public. It is crucial for the next generation of journalists to get those facts right, and to ensure stories about residential school, the Indian act, the 60s scoop and foster care for example, are shared in an informed and sophisticated manner.

We have not done this well in the past, but with more Indigenous stories being told and more education in journalism programs, this is changing.

You were recently speaking to students at UBC about the complexities of reporting on Indigenous people—what do you think needs to be a priority or to be shifted first and foremost?

There is, in part, a sense that Indigenous people are of the past, or live only in stereotypes or in their death. In classes I have guest lectured in, I teach journalists in BC about current realities in Indigenous communities including that Indigenous people are distinct rather than one or many homogeneous groups. In BC alone, there are 288 First Nations, not to mention those who are Métis or Inuit.

Each nation and individual has cultural and political history, relations with old and new immigrants, traditional governments, policies that affect them and socio-economic and geo-political experiences. Foremost, newsrooms need to raise the significance and relevance of Indigenous stories, so that journalists can get hands on experience covering them rather than leaning heavily on the few Indigenous journalists that exist in newsrooms.

What do you wish more journalists/reporters/media understood, knew or took into consideration before reporting, broadcasting or sharing?

I probably get asked to consult for and with reporters and producers about four to six times a day on questions about reporting in Indigenous communities. What I’ve noticed is that most of the questions are so basic that it’s probably an outcome of not having any relationship with Indigenous people or a person at all.

I am not saying that the answer to the lack of understanding is to ‘get an Indigenous friend’ but it’s a question that looms for meam I the only Indigenous person this or these reporters have ever spoken with candidly outside of a q-line for a story? Am I their only Indigenous friend? It’s a little jarring to think about to be honest. I wish journalists would spend more quality time in Indigenous communities they are reporting on, or in general, so they can have at least a very basic understanding of Indigenous people and communities as a starting point.

What course will you be teaching this fall and are you developing specific curriculum for a future class?

In the first year I will be teaching a basic multi-media course to get my ‘teaching feet’ wet and then I will be developing my own course on Indigenous Journalism and shedding light on some of the complexities discussed.

Your students’ experience will be unique because they are learning from a Gitxsan journalist, artist, and writer rather than someone who is not an Indigenous person, what will the most unique aspects be?

Not really sure how to answer this to be honest. I will take this position with a level of humility and knowing that I do not know everything. There are people in the community that I will teach, who will be teaching me. There are journalists, who know far more than me, and Indigenous people who I will be honoured and grateful to for shedding light on important stories.

I don’t claim to know more or less than other journalists and certainly not other Indigenous people. My style of teaching has always been to share what I know and have conversations rather than a relationship where I know all. I simply don’t.

Outside of the classroom, what are you planning on or working towards?

One of my Indigenous colleague’s goals right now is to bring more Indigenous journalists into the newsroomthere is a particular absence in BC, and we’d really like to scout some great talent and find ways for them to be more present in newsrooms. I am also writing a book on missing and murdered Indigenous women.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

TRU has laid out a path to respond to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). This will be a long journey, encompassing our curriculum, research initiatives and the culture of our campus and classrooms. This story is part of an ongoing series on how the university is moving forward on these calls to action.

     

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