Every year we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples’ Day along with the many union members who come from Indigenous communities across the country.
It’s particularly meaningful this year when we see the massive marches in communities big and small held to denounce anti-Black and Indigenous racism. It’s been an important time, hearing so many brave stories from media workers who are sharing their personal experiences of systemic racism at work and in life.
We want to be part of the solution and foster better understanding. Over the next couple of posts, you will get a chance to meet some of our Indigenous co-workers.
Carmel Smyth National President, Canadian Media Guild
Mary Powder Media Archivist at CBC
She was born in one of Canada’s most northern communities. The picturesque hamlet of Nunavut’s Grise Fiord. So isolated, a truck delivered ice bergs for water to homes during the winter. It is still the freshest water Mary has ever tasted.
As the eldest of six, Mary Powder learned traditional survival skills from her parents.
Early on, she learned how to hunt, cook and sew, but also how to entertain her siblings with mesmerizing stories, mastering the ability to keep listeners entranced.
Like many children in remote Northern communities, Mary had to leave her family and go south to a boarding school when she was fourteen.
She says the school she went to wasn’t the cruel and punishing experience the residential schools were when her father was taken from his parents and forced to go a decade earlier.
Mary returned to Grise Fiord briefly after graduating before realizing her destiny lay elsewhere.
She packed up her belongings, among them a prized collection of Anglican bibles in the Inuktitut.
In Yellowknife, she married and started a family. By the time her children were grown, Mary had thumbed those bibles raw, teaching herself the complex syllabics of written Inuktitut, and mastering fluent written and spoken Inuktitut.
By then she’d become used to city living, although she still doesn’t like the black flies (there are none in Grise Fiord), or the weather. She might be the only person who thinks Yellowknife is too warm and has to take cold showers to cool off.
Looking to put her language skills to good use, Mary stumbled into the job of her dreams.
It demanded all of her skills, her personality and her true passion, the Inuit language. (After her husband Ken and children of course).
CBC North hired her to work on a special project, with a team of media librarians, hired to translate and catalogue decades of rare material in Northern languages.
“Keeping your language and working with it is the best part, along with working with the others on the project. Every day I get to protect a unique part of Canada’s history, that is a priceless legacy. I feel like it is helping save my language from disappearing. It’s a very satisfying job, and I am proud to be part of it.’
While working in CBC’s Yellowknife studios, Mary realized there were other ways she could share her pride in her heritage.
She took a crash course in reporting, and came back multi-skilled and invigorated. Now she also works in news reporting. She says, “there are not too many people who can speak to thousands of elders, in their own language, making them feel like they belong.”
Mary tells her grandchildren, ‘life is full of challenges, but when everyone works together, we can make progress.’ She encourages them to nurture their curiosity and creativity while being proud of their heritage.
As she enters a decade working in media, her lifelong pursuit of leaning still inspires her colleagues.
She says there have been many positive changes in the news business, but “there needs to be more Indigenous stories being told, so children can see themselves reflected.”
When she remembers her childhood in a house with no electricity or running water, Mary is still amazed at how far she has come, ‘you’d never hear an Indigenous woman, speaking an Indigenous language on television 30 years ago,” and she’s proud of her role helping to change that.
Producer at APTN
A few words about me and my work
I’m Red River Metis and have been a journalist for 23 years in newspapers and television in three provinces.
At a young age, I knew being nosy was my strongest skill, so journalism seemed like a good career path.
I’m partial to in-depth ‘follow the money’ investigative pieces. The rise and fall of Tribal Councils Investment Group might be a favorite story that I’ve worked on. Private jets, pricy Vegas getaways-type scandal that only APTN covered extensively.
My days are filled with child welfare horror stories of how this system is a powerful, job-rich machine that’s accountable to seemingly no one, and primarily targets Indigenous families in the same way the residential schools did.
An enormous challenge facing Indigenous media workers is working for mainstream media outlets that force you to approach stories through a non-Indigenous lens. More of us need to be in the media to tell stories in a way that reflects our history and our truth.
For those aspiring to work in media
To Indigenous workers aspiring to enter the media world, I would say, find a place to work that doesn’t whitewash our news.
Living through the pandemic
At this current moment, we media workers are in a position where we are unable to see and spend time with the people we are writing about. The pandemic has stolen the human element that’s so integral to sharing our stories. But it has also amplified so much of the good in our people. The resilience and community spirit have really shone through during the COVID-19 crisis.