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New UBC course takes on representation of Aboriginals in media

When you turn on the evening news or click on a local news site, coverage of Aboriginal people and their communities are not easy to find in the days top stories, and when they are found, factual errors are not uncommon. The University of British Columbia's School of Journalism hopes to change this with the launch of a new course about reporting on Aboriginal people in Canada.

Reporting in Indigenous Communities was developed by CBC-TV reporter Duncan McCue, who will also teach the one semester course starting in January. A member of the Ojibwe nation and a visiting professor at the journalism school, McCue says journalism schools in Australia and the United States already have similar courses and he believes it's something Canadian journalists need.

"Some reporters feel uncomfortable dealing with Aboriginal people because they're worried about offending somebody. They're worried that if they ask tough questions that they'll be called racist," says McCue, who reported for CBC Vancouver for 12 years before moving to their flagship national news program The National.

"And Aboriginal communities work on a different sense of time and you may not get a call back in 15 minutes or even that day, and it requires a little bit of extra effort and appreciation to get the Aboriginal side of the story sometimes."

The journalism school partnered with five First Nations communities in the Lower Mainland for this course: the Squamish Nation; Tsleil-Waututh First Nation; Tsawwassen First Nation; Sto:lo Tribal Council; and the Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council. Each community will provide support by either providing a guest lecturer or welcoming the students into their community for site visits.

Students are expected to research one topic--which McCue says will either be housing, water, or health--and report on how each community is affected and the solutions they use. The reporting will be compiled into a series of newspaper, online, and audio-visual reports at the end of the semester.

The aim, according to McCue, is to not only help students become more comfortable with writing about Indigenous people, but to show that Aboriginal communities are not homogenous.

Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird hopes her community's participation in the course will help journalists fairly represent not only Aboriginal communities in the Lower Mainland, but also across the country.

"We believe this type of course is sorely needed in Canadian journalism schools," reads a statement from Baird in a press release issued by the journalism school, "to improve the relationship between media and Aboriginal peoples in BC, and the quality of journalism about Aboriginal issues in Canada."

Katie Hyslop reports on education for the Tyee Solutions Society, and is a freelance reporter for a number of other outlets including The Tyee.

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