Tanya Talaga talks Indigenous journalism and reconciliation

If you’re at all connected to the journalism world in Canada, you’re no stranger to the name Tanya Talaga.

As an Ojibwe author, keynote speaker, journalist, storyteller and founder of the Indigenous production company Makwa Creative, Talaga has spent more than two decades covering subjects ranging from education to health care and advocating for Indigenous inclusion and reconciliation. She has written two national bestsellers, Seven Fallen Feathers and All Our Relations, that document Canada’s injustices against Indigenous youth.

On October 27, UBC hosted an event at the Vancouver Playhouse featuring Talaga, who delivered a powerful and moving talk titled "Covering the Apocalypse: What it is like being an Indigenous journalist in Canada," about her experience as an Indigenous journalist in a country with a violent colonial past and present.

“Indigenous journalists are constantly working in an altered state, covering the effects of untold trauma coupled with an unwavering resiliency,” she said. “As an Indigenous journalist, it does feel as though I am reporting on and covering a war.”

In the context of Canada’s crimes committed against Indigenous people, Talaga’s speech detailed how you can’t be objective as an Indigenous journalist — something which some press organizations still don’t understand.

“I was no longer what mainstream media organizations wanted,” Talaga said. “I crossed the line between writing stories in black and white, and there was no turning back. You cannot tell these stories without subjectivity.”

There is no neutrality when covering topics such as the Indian Act that banned Indigenous ceremonies, the Sixties Scoop that saw thousands of Indigenous children stolen from their families and placed in the foster care system, the ongoing epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), and the residential school system that facilitated a genocide against Indigenous children.

“All of my writing reflects my family's experience in Canada,” she said, as she shared how writing Seven Fallen Feathers ultimately led to the end of her career at the Toronto Star, where she worked for over 20 years as a reporter.

Talaga also shared her experience reporting on the discovery of unmarked graves at previous residential school sites across the country and her visit to the Vatican church in Rome earlier this year, where she reported on the Pope’s apology for the residential school system.

She recognized the Papal Apology Tour as a first step in Canada’s ongoing reconciliation efforts, but stressed it was not nearly enough.

“We’re still struggling with addressing the truths and legacies of colonialism. That’s where we are now,” she said as she discussed how Indigenous people are still being denied access to basic human rights.

She ended her presentation encouraging the audience to partake in conversations about the shared history between settlers and First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples. “It’s healing to talk about what happened,” Talaga said. “It’s healing to talk about truth.”

The event ended with a Q&A session facilitated by UBC professor and journalist Minelle Mahtani, where Talaga addressed audience questions relating to mainstream journalism and censorship, the #LandBack movement, Indigenous journalism, trauma-informed reporting, how to facilitate conversations around Canada’s colonial history and more.

The event was live streamed the day of, and video and audio clips from the event will be posted online here. You can find more information about Tanya Talaga, and her work, on her website.