British Columbia

'The whole concept is faulty': Anishinaabe comedian Ryan McMahon on 'Indigenizing' the media

Rather than incremental changes, Ryan McMahon is calling for media leaders to centre Indigenous voices in newsrooms and coverage.

In 2013, McMahon founded the Indian and Cowboy podcast media network to give space to new Indigenous voices

Anishinaabe comedian, podcaster Ryan McMahon is giving a talk in Vancouver on Feb. 7 about the media's failed efforts to bring in more Indigenous voices (Supplied/Ryan McMahon)

When the Truth and Reconciliation Committee made its 94 recommendations in 2015, it asked the media to make some changes.

Its calls for action included increased Indigenous programming, hiring more Indigenous journalists and mandating the Indigenous history in Canadian journalism schools. 

Observes have dubbed this practice decolonizing — or 'Indigenizing' — the media. 

But Ryan McMahon says the media should rethink its approach. 

"The whole concept is faulty," he told Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC's On the Coast. 

Rather than incremental changes, McMahon is calling for media leaders to centre Indigenous voices in newsrooms and coverage. 

Listen to the full interview with Ryan McMahon. 

Comedy a 'vehicle' for conversation

For years, the Anishinaabe comedian and writer has travelled across North America serving uncomfortable truths about decolonization. 

"Let's just acknowledge how ugly the world colonialism actually is. It has the world colon in it," he joked on CBC Radio in 2017. 

"If we understand that we're going to fumble our way through the conversation for the first little bit, you breathe a little easier," he said.

"Comedy is the vehicle to do that."

Vancouver was his next stop, with a public talk Wednesday evening at Simon Fraser University's Harbour Centre Campus, where McMahon dissected the media's failed efforts to bring in more Indigenous voices.

He says a top priority for print or online media is to publish in Indigenous languages.

"If we were to Indigenize the media, first and foremost I would hope it would be done in Indigenous languages. I don't see The Globe and Mail printing an Indigenous language version of their paper," he said. 

Giving space to new voices

In 2013, McMahon founded Indian and Cowboy, an Indigenous podcast media network that's funded entirely by listeners. 

He's just secured his first investor and is hoping to build a small staff. 

"It gives us the freedom to publish how we want and when we went," he said.

"If we want to publish in Indigenous languages with elders, or with people that aren't necessarily seasoned in the space yet, we're giving the space for emerging voices." 

With files from CBC's On The Coast