Duncan McCue on how to report in Indigenous communities

Duncan McCue, host of Cross Country Checkup and a reporter at The National, has been working as a reporter for more than 20 years. In that time he's seen his fair share of stereotypes when it comes to Indigenous reporting. So he created a training program to teach other journalists how to get it right.
Duncan McCue is the host of Cross Country Checkup and has been working in journalism for more than 20 years. He created the Reporting in Indigenous Communities guideline for reporters. (Submitted by Duncan McCue)

Duncan McCue, host of Cross Country Checkup and a reporter at The National, has been working as a reporter for more than 20 years. 

He is Anishinaabe, and so when he first started working at the CBC, he was put on what he called the "blockade beat." 

"Every time there was a blockade of some kind, I'd get sent out there to report breathlessly from the front lines," said McCue.

"After a couple of years of that, it started to occur to me that there was more to life in our communities than just protests and blockades." 

A chance encounter with an elder clarified stereotypes about Indigenous people that McCue had noticed in the media.  

"I was out covering a community and an elder came up to me and he said … 'If you're an Indian and you want to make it into the news, you got to be drumming, dancing, dead or drunk,'" said McCue, who calls these the four Ds. 

McCue took a closer look at daily news coverage and realized it was true.

"The cameras are fascinated by our traditional regalia, or … at so many protests or gatherings, you see the camera focus in on the drums," said McCue.  

"If your only exposure to Indigenous people as a Canadian is through popular media, then you get this very two-dimensional picture of what life is like to live in a First Nation or in a city." 

Reporting in Indigenous Communities is an online guide for journalists reporting on Indigenous stories. (RIIC.ca )

McCue decided to do something about it, and launched Reporting in Indigenous Communities, an online tool for journalists that offers tips on how to report Indigenous stories. 

"The idea was to give working journalists some tips and guidelines on how to be more respectful when they go and visit Indigenous communities," said McCue.

"You wouldn't send a [news] correspondent to Moscow or Beijing without giving them a basic course in the history of China or the Soviet Union. And likewise, you shouldn't send reporters to cover First Nation communities … without expecting them to have a cultural competency in Indigenous culture and protocols so that they can operate in a respectful way." 

Since launching the online resource, McCue has brought the training to CBC bureaus across the country, where journalists learn the basics about Indigenous culture and what terminology to use. The course is taught by McCue, CBC Manitoba reporter Meagan Fiddler and CBC Sudbury host Waubgeshig Rice. 

"We encourage people to ask dumb questions. You know, people get very nervous when they start to talk about race in this country. They don't want to offend anybody," said McCue. 

"We have to blame Canada's education system for the things that we don't know about Indigenous people." 

Despite the occasional setbacks, like a recent New York Times article on Inuit that drew criticism for relying on stereotypes, McCue said he is optimistic that journalists are doing a better job reporting Indigenous stories. 

"I am a relentless optimist … and I really do feel since Idle No More and that wave of Indigenous people starting to communicate to journalists the problem they were seeing in our coverage," said McCue.

"I think we have seen improvements, and I am seeing young journalists that I'm teaching at journalism schools who want to change and who are investing more time in learning the culture and protocols of the communities that they're going to cover."