A person sits on an ice-covered lake with their back to the camera
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An analysis of  this year’s coverage of missing and murdered Indigenous women, pipeline protests, forced sterilization, and racial discrimination is revealing. News about Indigenous communities, it shows, tends to make its way into the spotlight mostly when it is negative.  Although afflictions affecting Indigenous communities should be reported on extensively, headline after headline detailing distressing events and circumstances perpetuates stereotypes and can be disheartening, especially to members of those communities.

At the RRJ, we scanned Canadian media publications for stories on Indigenous communities in the last six months of 2018. Much of the coverage focused on troubling news, but there were news stories to celebrate as well.

On New Year’s eve, let’s take a moment to reflect on the small strides Canada has taken towards reconciliation.

The following initiatives created positive change in Indigenous communities and evoked a shift in direction at municipal and provincial levels. These stories can serve as motivational forces to continue striving for positive change in 2019 and beyond.

December: No more obligation to pledge allegiance to the Crown

Ontario is changing rules around Indigenous elected officials having to pledge allegiance to the Queen when being sworn in, according to CBC. The issue was raised by Gaetan Baillargeon, a member of the Constance Lake First Nation, who was recently elected as a town councillor in Hearst, Ont.

When faced with the declaration of office, Baillargeon did not want to pledge allegiance to the Crown, as it represents years of residential schooling, relocation, and broken treaties that his family and community members have been subject to throughout history. His objection was initially met with pushback from the town clerk, who said it is a requirement for councillors to take the pledge or give up their seat. However, he was later contacted by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, who arranged for an alternative declaration that better accommodates the values of Indigenous peoples and allows them to proceed without pledging allegiance to the Crown.

November: $6 million in funding for Indigenous language education

In mid-November, The Calgary Herald reported the NDP provincial government in Alberta committed to invest $6 million towards Indigenous education, focusing on the preservation of Indigenous languages in First Nations schools. The funding will train teachers in Indigenous languages and provide more resources to teach children from kindergarten to Grade 12. Over two years, $4 million will go to First Nations colleges and universities to train early childhood educators in Indigenous languages and the remaining $2 million will go to Indigenous organizations that have expertise in developing Indigenous languages, according to CTV News Calgary.

October: First Indigenous protected wildlife area in Canada

The Edehzhie, a plateau in Fort Providence, N.W.T. known for its abundance of wildlife was officially declared an Indigenous Protected area in October, making it Canada’s first. In a CBC article, Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Gladys Norwegian expressed that the Dene people “have a special relationship” to the Edehzhie, a place that has been relied on for hunting and spiritual gatherings.

The agreement between the federal government and the Dene people protects around 14,000 sq. km from resource development such as mineral extraction, according to the Globe and Mail. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the federal government is committed to reconciliation, suggesting more land should be preserved “because climate change is real.”

September: First Indigenous woman to establish own airline in Canada

Iskwew Air is the first airline in Canada to be founded by an Indigenous woman. It was named after the Cree word for ‘woman’ as an act of reclamation for CEO Teara Fraser, a Métis pilot who has over 15 years of flying experience according to CTV News. A major goal of the airline is to operate flights to remote Indigenous communities that are often blown over by mainstream airlines to increase transportation and tourism in those communities. Iskwew Air will operate out of Vancouver International Airport starting in March 2019, writes Kelowna Now.

August: Indigenous families room opened in McMaster Children’s Hospital

In August, McMaster Children’s Hospital dedicated an Indigenous families room to the memory of Makayla Sault, an 11-year-old child from Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation who passed away from Leukemia in 2015 after she decided to stop her chemotherapy treatment. She made the decision to stop treatment because the hospital would not allow her family to practice its traditional medicine alongside the chemotherapy, the Hamilton Spectator reported. Doctors intervened by threatening to have Makayla apprehended by Children’s Aid if she did not continue with chemotherapy, despite it being against her wishes. This threat instigated national concern among Indigenous people in Canada, starting necessary conversations about children’s rights when it comes to medicine and how to navigate differences in traditional and Western medicines, according to the Two Row Times.

The Indigenous families room, called ‘Makayla’s Room,’ is now a safe space where Indigenous patients and their families can work with healers, hold ceremonies, and receive traditional medicine. It is open to all patients in the hospital to learn more about traditional ways of healing. Other hospitals like Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, Ont. and the Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge, Alta. also provide private rooms for Indigenous healing.

July: Canada’s first-ever Indigenous comic con

In July, Global News reported that Canada would see its first-ever Indigenous comic book convention, Indigi-Con, come August. The convention was created by Delaware First Nations member Ira Timothy, who has a passion for comic books but sees poor Indigenous representation within them, if any at all. Indigi-Con aims to rewrite negative stereotypes found in comics and inspire Indigenous youth, featuring cosplayers dressed as forward-looking Indigenous superheroes who reflect their own community members.

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