As CBC launches a new platform for Indigenous news and storytelling, it's fantastic to know Connie Walker will be your digital guide - searching daily for what's making news in Indian Country to share with you online. I first met Connie when she was a producer for CBC News: Sunday - and was excited for her when she took a gung-ho leap into developing and producing the "8th Fire series" for CBC's documentary unit. As she embarks on this new and important role, I wanted to know what inspired Connie to become a reporter and storyteller in the first place.
Where do you call home and who is one person you make sure to see when you go there?
Okanese is my home. It’s a small reserve about an hour east of Regina, SK and a part of a larger First Nations community called File Hills.
I grew up there and I love going home to visit. I have a really, really big family - I have 13 brothers and sisters, my mom is one of 14 and my dad one of 17 so I have quite a few people to visit when I go home. Since my daughter was born a year and a half ago, we’ve been home six times!
If you’re ever in or around Okanese, be sure to check out our local radio station - 95.3 The Creek. They have a “Cree-quest” hour everyday that is pretty amazing.
What inspired you to become a journalist?
When I was in high school, a young First Nations mother named Pamela George was killed by two white men in Regina. They admitted to picking her up, beating her and leaving in her the ditch where she later died. They were charged with first degree murder but found guilty of manslaughter in a highly controversial trial and each sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison.
The case was obviously extremely disturbing but the way it played out in the media was also troubling. The media focused on the two men who killed her but the only thing I remember reading about Pamela was that she was a prostitute. It seemed obvious to me that there was no First Nation's perspective in the mainstream media coverage and I wanted to help change that.
You often joke that you were discovered in the CBC parking lot smoking a cigarette. Really? Have you quit, and if so how?
Yes. That is actually a true story. I was an intern at CBC in Halifax learning how to be a chase producer and discovering that I wasn’t very good at it. On one of my lunch breaks, I went outside for some fresh air (cigarette) and happened to meet a producer from Street Cents, the youth consumer show.
What story are you most proud of?
Can I pick two?
A few years ago, I did a personal documentary called Okanese about what it was like to live so far from my home and my family. I wanted to tell a story about life on a reserve that wasn’t conflict based or focused on poverty or social issues. Those are issues in many communities and families, including mine, but we know they are just a part of a bigger picture of First Nations life in Canada. It was really hard to open myself and my family up for all of the world to see but in hindsight, I’m so glad I did it.
More recently I worked as a producer and VJ on the 8th Fire documentary series and digital site. I still get goosebumps when I remember watching the first episode air and seeing the instant reaction on social media. That was an incredible project and I am so proud to have been a part of it.
How has telling stories about Indigenous people changed since you've been here?
It’s changed A LOT. Years ago, I remember pitching a story about a First Nations girl who had gone missing and hearing, “This isn’t another poor Indian story, is it?” and now I’m working in a unit dedicated to helping CBC tell Aboriginal stories.
I'm stealing this bit from Thomas King's Dead Dog Cafe Comedy Hour - what else do you do (when you're not being famous)?
Any advice to aspiring Indigenous journalists out there?
Just do it. No, seriously, in a lot of ways, it’s never been easier for us to share our stories and there are so many stories from our communities that deserve to be told. I’m not saying it’s easy.
We still face an uphill battle in terms of the way our stories are sometimes portrayed in the media and there continues to be challenges behind the scenes. But, I believe things are changing for the better.
It’s a really exciting time to be a journalist. So jump in!