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Is it a good time to be 'Indian?'

CBC is launching a new Aboriginal website. Reporter Connie Walker introduces the online community with a tough question: Is it a good time to be 'Indian?'

Connie Walker introduces new CBC Aboriginal website

CBC's Connie Walker puts this question to people attending the ImagineNATIVE Film Festival in Toronto: "Is it a good time to be 'Indian'?" 3:05

It’s a tough question and one, I have to admit, that I was a bit nervous to ask: Is it a good time to be 'Indian?'

I thought of it after seeing Jennifer Podemski’s new movie, Empire of Dirt — a powerful film about the lives of three First Nation women in Canada today.

Cara Gee, left, and Shay Eyre star in the multi-generational drama Empire of Dirt. (Mongrel Media)

I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure if people would be offended with the word "Indian." I also wondered how they would respond to such a broad question.

But when I posed the question to the audience of this year’s imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, I was blown away by the thoughtful and varied responses I got.

Blogger Lisa Charleyboy said, “It’s always a good time to be an Indian."

But film director Jeff Barnaby wasn't so sure.

“I don’t 100 per cent know if that’s true at any point in the history of Canada," he said. 

I quickly realized the answers to this question are as rich and diverse as our communities themselves.

I wanted to ask the question because it’s something I’ve been asking myself. As someone who has been working in the news business for nearly a decade, I’m constantly immersed in Aboriginal news.

CBC's Connie Walker interviews Lisa Charleyboy at the imagineNATIVE Film Festival in Toronto. (Lisa Charleyboy)
And unfortunately, because of the nature of news, we’re often telling the negative stories — a blockade, a missing person, or a housing issue, etc. It can start to skew your perspective after a while.

But lately, I’ve been noticing a change. For me, I think it started a few years ago, when I was working as a producer on CBC's 8th Fire series.

For the first time in my career, a high-profile series was dedicated to telling our stories.

I still get goose bumps when I remember watching the first episode on TV. It was an incredible documentary, no doubt, but I think the part that gave me chills was just seeing native people talking about what it’s like to be Indian on prime-time television.

When the elders came on the screen, I thought of my grandma, Margaret Walker. She ran away from residential school when she was a kid and was one of the "lucky" ones who made it home and never had to go back.

Lee Maracle in Indigenous in the City, a documentary in CBC's 8th Fire series. (CBC)
She always taught us to be proud of who we were, and I know she would have loved 8th Fire too because it wasn’t just about the negative stories.

I think that’s why it resonated with so many people — because we saw ourselves reflected in what we were watching.

I had that feeling again while watching Empire of Dirt. I watched it with my sister and I started getting those goose bumps again, especially after one of the characters said, "Right now, It feels really good to be Indian."

It stuck with me a long time after I left the theatre. I think it's because I recognized those characters on the big screen.

Jennifer Podemski, left, and Cara Gee play mother and daughter in Empire of Dirt. (Mongrel Media)
And that’s our goal with this site: we want you, our audience, to see yourselves in the stories we share.

It’s a lofty goal, we know, but one we are committed to and will strive for in our coverage every day.

We are going to keep covering the news, absolutely. But we also hope to offer stories that show the richness and diversity in our lives and communities.

We’re not going to shy away from the controversial issues, but we want to cover them in a way that explores the broader context.

We want to deepen the understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians and continue the conversation … and even when we’re nervous, ask the tough questions.

About the Author

Connie Walker

CBC Reporter

Connie Walker is a reporter in the Investigative Unit at CBC News. Follow her on twitter @connie_walker

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