“This report is about deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide.” – Marion Buller, Chief Commissioner, National Inquiry into MMIWG.

So began the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. With it began a slew of responses from media outlets across Canada, the majority of which criticized the report for its choice of the word genocide. The Canadian University Press (CUP) is a national co-operative of post-secondary student publications. As such, we are the future of journalism in Canada. This is our response.

Let us start by being absolutely clear: We at the Canadian University Press recognize and affirm the choice of the Commission in its use of the word genocide. Not only is it accurate, as laid out in the report’s Supplementary Report on a Legal Analysis of Genocide, but it is in fact the only word that adequately describes what the Final Report refers to as a “national tragedy of epic proportion.” By affirming the term genocide, we also accept the role of the media in this genocide, and we will not hide from the responsibility that results from this acknowledgement.

CUP believes that taking offence to the use of the word genocide is in direct opposition to the role of the media, which is to hold government and institutions to account. The Canadian media is one such institution, and must hold itself accountable by recognizing its role in perpetuating the systems that have allowed thousands of Indigenous women and girls to be murdered or to go missing. We at CUP acknowledge in particular the report’s findings with respect to the media:

“The media has not accurately portrayed First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women and girls in general, and 2SLGBTQQIA people in particular. As a result, the media has perpetuated negative stereotypes of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. These stereotypes perpetuate racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people within the broader Canadian population.”

And:

“Media portrayal has resulted in the dehumanization of Indigenous Peoples, which in turn manifests and perpetuates views that Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people are “less than” non-Indigenous people; that they are not worthy of the same rights and protections as non-Indigenous people; and that they are burdens on Canadian society.”

For this, on behalf of Canada’s student newspapers, we are sorry.

CUP also recognizes that it is not enough to just acknowledge these findings. If we are to truly answer the report’s calls to action for the media (vol. 1b, section 6.1)  to “take decolonizing approaches to [our] work and publications in order to educate all Canadians about Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people,” there must be action. As such, we pledge the following:

  • To create and gather resources for our members about reporting on Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people to be posted or linked on our website by Spring 2020, of which the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls will be one of them;
  • To recognize the need to listen to Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people and to provide the space for this to occur by tabling a motion at our Jan. 2020 annual general meeting to create diversity positions on our Board of Directors (including, but not limited to, women’s, Indigenous and LGBTQ positions);
  • To ensure that all members of our Board of Directors receive diversity training, and that our member papers have access to this resource as well, through a system we will have implemented by Fall 2021;
  • And to continue listening to the voices of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people in order to continuously improve our reporting practices.

The Canadian media has been complicit in upholding and perpetuating a settler colonialist system for far too long. As student journalists who will soon be entering the journalism profession, the Canadian University Press wants to break this cycle. For too long the voices of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people have been ignored or misrepresented in the media. We can no longer control these voices by being story takers or story suppressors; to tell the story right, we must start doing our part by amplifying them.