“Healthy Native Guys” (Our Attention Gives Power)

healthy native guys image

Our attention gives power.

That’s how I feel about the Winnipeg media’s recent obsession with a 4 year old FB comment by a mayoral candidate’s wife. This woman, vented bluntly (& privately) to her FB friends about a situation in which she felt unsafe and her husband 4 years later decided to run for mayor. To me, the fact that this ever became a news story in the first place boggles the mind. It confuses me for a few reasons,but the biggest is that it is not the first time racism has come up in the city’s current municipal election. It was just over a month ago when candidate Robert Falcon-Oulette went public about racist comments he received after speaking French at a Mayoral Forum in St Boniface, hosted by the St Boniface Chamber of Commerce. It exposed an ugly side to Winnipeg – a side that has been trained that way through repetition of negative stereotypes through media headlines. The negative representations of Winnipeggers are regularly rising to the top of the headlines and our attention spans as we prove we cannot talk about policies or ideas – we can only talk about race and racism. 

The main stream media and internet together pack a powerful punch when it comes to spreading stereotypes both good and bad. The many different channels across online, TV, radio and print and the variety of ways in which info can be shared is immense. Media outlets often share headlines with each other too, as it allows for quicker spreading of information. Imagine the repetition of a news outlet’s subscribers/followers as they repeat ‘the headline’ and ‘the comment’ in their own social media circles  too – acting as another repetitive message for citizens to observe and absorb. In a world of sound bites and headlines, where relaying information in 140 characters or less is commonplace, context is often lost while words remain constant. DRUNKEN. NATIVE. GUYS. Repeated in every possible media format so that every indigenous man can be reminded of who we are. Again. And again.

Shining Light on Stories

I believe the media is here to tell us the facts – facts can be interpreted as positive or negative by the people. However, members of the media really need to check themselves and understand that they have the power to shine light; on positive stories, or on negative ones. By emphasizing 4 year old FB posts from a candidate’s spouse for days, it proves that there is a serious problem in Winnipeg’s media landscape. Do you believe old social media comments from a citizen of our city should make headlines for 5 days straight? It proves to me, and should be at least a warning flag to the rest of us, that we must begin to look way more critically at the headlines and ask ourselves ‘Is this really news?’. Are those old comments more important than what is happening in the Aboriginal community or the city today? Apparently for the last five days very little in Winnipeg’s Aboriginal community has been more important. When will the media begin to balance their perspective a little bit – or at the very least allow some of the positive indigenous voices to have some of the same weight as the negative comments obviously do? I believe we should be focusing on sharing solutions to improve public safety, and finding ways to address the issues at the root of this problem: addictions, homelessness and a lack of perspective on most Winnipeggers part to empathize with the Indigenous daily reality of eating degrading headlines for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

If Lorri Steeves had gone on a positive rant talking about those ‘Healthy Native Guys’ – would any of us be discussing racism in our city right now, to this degree? Of course not. Because ‘Healthy Native Guys’ is not the right headline for the part of the brain targeted by media. No, in fact – you would be hard pressed to find a single situation in the last 10 years (please correct me if I am wrong) where the media has given similar attention to a Native man for 5 days solid, across radio, tv and print media for being healthy or helpful. Why is that? Where is the balance? I know many native men that have been sober or helpful for 5 days in a row, but any news outlet, Indigenous news outlets included, would not cover that story for a whole week. Are healthy native men less deserving of headlines than those drunk ones who harrassed Mrs Steeves 4 years ago? Apparently they are less deserving as I don’t recall the last time our media obsessed over 4 year old social media comments about healthy native guys. Something must be done.

What is news to you?

To put it simply, we as the people have to begin to demand more accountability from our media. We cannot accept behaviour like we have seen for the last five days. We have to demand from the media professionalism – and we have to demand from ourselves increased attention to our own attention spans. Understand that what we pay attention to (in thought, in writing or online) gives power. I refuse to accept that native men deserve to have a stereotype of drunkenness shoved down their throat for almost a week straight due to someone’s old facebook post – the same would never happen to comments on ‘healthy native guys’ so why do we accept it when its the other way around? We have to decide what is and what is not news – if we speak loud enough and together enough the media will change. It starts with sharing your voice – perhaps your voice can help bring some balance back to the situation. I imagine how little native boys feel, when they turn on the radio and have to hear once again about their dads, brothers and uncles being drunken pan handlers. Instead we should be highlighting the many role models present in the community, who stay sober, who protect women, who provide for their families, who love their children. At least sometimes.

Balance – Can you dig it?


PS – and because everything I write has to have an action attached to it, please join AYO Politix this Saturday at Neechi Commons as we discuss media literacy, critical thinking. We will have a few guests from media there to help us out including Melissa Martin from the Winnipeg Free Press. Check out a recent political piece by her that’s amazing!


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