The Current

Family often feel 'used by media,' says Indigenous reporter of MMIW coverage

While the mainstream media is finally starting to cover the story of missing and murdered Indigenous women, communicating those stories in a way that's respectful and not re-traumatizing means striking a tricky balance.

"I think part of this too has to do with the trust:" CBC Indigenous reporter Angela Sterritt on MMIW media coverage

5 years ago
"I think part of this too has to do with the trust:" CBC Indigenous reporter Angela Sterritt on MMIW media coverage 1:06

The Current's MMIW public forum in Vancouver + web chat

Read story transcript

It's important to acknowledge what media has broken when it comes to covering the missing and murdered Indigenous women issues, Angela Sterritt, a reporter with CBC Vancouver and CBC Indigenous tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Over time there's been a significant loss of trust in us for things like not reporting, for under reporting these stories and also for the ways that the media has reported these stories, you know, leaving out significant details about the family."

The role and responsibility of the media reporting on MMIW stories — from journalism to art and its impact on the families of the victims and the wider Canadian audience —  is the focus of The Current's Vancouver public forum, the third town hall in our continuing series looking into the issues of MMIW across the country.

Sterritt shares an example of a family member who wanted to know why the media isn't reporting that "we love our sister, they're just reporting that she's missing … there's nothing about who she is, or what her hobbies are, or what kind of a person she is."

"Often times family members just feel like they've been used by the media, " Sterritt says of family feeling they only share gratuitous, often gory details.

"There is no before. There's no details about her childhood."

Sterritt sees a significant discrepancy in the way the media reports non-Indigenous and Indigenous women and says a lot of it is based on stereotyping Indigenous women as runaways, coming from a dysfunctional family or working as a sex trade worker, "and not getting into the human factors of her life."

Vancouver Sun's Lori Culbert on covering the MMIW story

5 years ago
Vancouver Sun's Lori Culbert on covering the MMIW story 1:08

Non-Indigenous reporter Lori Culbert tells Tremonti that when she started reporting on MMIW 15 years ago she was naive but has learned along the way.

"There are ways I think for non-Indigenous reporters to tell this story in a respectful way but we've got to work even harder to do that because Angela [Sterritt] talks about the trust — no one needs to trust me. You have to earn that," says Culbert.

"And I think if you try to do respectful, compassionate, honest reporting hopefully along the way, over a period of time you gain that trust.

Culbert, a reporter with the Vancouver Sun and Province, was one of the journalists who first investigated the disappearance of women from Vancover's Downtown East Side in 2001. Those disappearances were later linked to serial killer Robert Pickton.

Culbert tells Tremonti and the audience that until the arrest of Pickton, "there wasn't enough people listening."

"I will never forget contacting a lot of these family members and I would get them on the phone and explain who I was and why I was calling, and in every single case the family members would say to me, 'We reported our loved one missing five, six, seven years ago or a decade ago, you're the first person that's called me.'"

The "duality" of media coverage on the missing and murdered Indigenous women story: UBC's Sarah Hunt

5 years ago
The "duality" of media coverage on the missing and murdered Indigenous women story: UBC's Sarah Hunt 0:54

Sarah Hunt, an assistant professor in the department of First Nations and Indigenous Studies at UBC, has been working on the issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls for 15 years.

Hunt was a teenager when her cousin took her own life.

"After that stories of violence in our family started to unfold," she tells Tremonti.

When a close family friend went missing in Vancouver's Downtown East Side, Hunt says there was no response in terms of police or media attention.

"It was almost 10 years until the police even would classify her as missing. So if you don't count as missing, how can that become a story. How can that become seen in the public."

Hunt says in contrast to the lack or media response, there's a drive from the media to tell the sensationalist story ... for the details of violence.

"So for me that's really kind of the duality that I think of," Hunt says.

Hunt is a member of the Kwagiulth First Nation and says representation of Indigenous lives is important to recognize in telling this story through the media because "we still only come to count, now in this discourse once we have gone missing."

"It's about the full complexity of seeing ourselves represented in the media as leaders, as cultural producers, as you know we have Indigenous reporters, we have filmmakers ... we cannot just reduce Indigenous women to this victim."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This public forum was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath, Josh Bloch, Cathy Simon and Kathleen Goldhar.