Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Aboriginal media just whistling Dixie
Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement, Mercredi, 05/05/2004 -- 19:57
Dan David, Windspeaker Columnist
In mid-January, Kanehsatake exploded in the national consciousness once more. Looking back at the media coverage of the events, familiar patterns emerge.
Major Canadian news organizations immediately pumped up the volume by resurrecting images of the 1990 Oka crisis, masked Mohawk warriors and all. They soon transformed the story into one of criminals versus a crime-fighting chief. Then journalists painted Kanehsatake as a community with never-ending problems, doomed by petty family squabbles. The Montreal Gazette finally declared the story "a small-town drama or farce." Few journalists, including Aboriginal journalists, looked much deeper into the story or deviated from these easy stereotypes.
Kanehsatake Mohawk Territory is dysfunctional. It has a population of about 2,500. It's millions of dollars in debt. It has escalating legal bills in excess of $1 million, thanks to the endless court fights between various factions on band council. It can't afford the $1.5 million it takes to run the community. Services have been cut or cut back drastically.
Teachers worry about jobs. The school is in jeopardy. Parents worry about their children. Families that should have had homes must wait because monies earmarked for housing, education and social services have been diverted to cover the on-going mismanagement at the band office. Yet, reporters didn't ask why this community is in such bad shape or why the federal and provincial governments not only support Chief James Gabriel, but throw more money at him.
...[N]either the federal and provincial governments, nor Aboriginal leaders, have acknowledged that the tribe has spoken on numerous other occasions and in more peaceful ways saying they don't trust Chief Gabriel or the band council.
Everyone had, and still has, an excuse for doing nothing—including the Aboriginal media. It isn't difficult to understand why. This was never a story about a chief abusing authority, in love with secrecy, distrustful of his people, responsible for rendering it dysfunctional. Instead, the media was mesmerized by age-old stereotypes that portrayed the Mohawks at Kanehsatake as little more than feuding families unable to run their own lives. The pity is that in doing so, they missed the real story.
Editor's note: Windspeaker columnist Dan David is a Mohawk journalist from Kanehsatake working in Ottawa.
"Feuding families unable to run their own lives" is a mild version of the savage Indian or uncivilized Indian stereotype.
More on the Kanehsatake Mohawks
Chagnon: Violent Mohawks shoot at crows when unhappy
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