Tim Fontaine started writing for newspapers in 1999. He continued working for numerous news outlets, such as CBC, APTN and CPAC. Fontaine, who is a member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, worked as a “professional journalist” for 18 years, until he slowly began to burn out. The mainstream news was tiring for Fontaine. In August 2017, he quit professional journalism. Shortly after, Walking Eagle News was born.
“I was just really tired of how heavy news is, especially Indigenous news,” says Fontaine. “It was getting harder and harder, and one day, I said I had had enough.” Walking Eagle, a satirical news outlet, emerged in November of 2017, with Fontaine as the “Editor-in-Grand-Chief,” the founder and “pretty much the only writer.”
Indigenous news satire was a response to the tired narrative on Indigenous issues in the mainstream media , which is predominantly settler-focused. The satire serves as a new space for Indigenous perspectives. Danny Knight, media correspondent for the Feather, says he and some colleagues noticed a lack of voice and perspective in Indigenous issues being covered in the news. In 2018, Ryan Moccasin, a comedian based in Saskatoon, created the Feather, a satirical news outlet based in Saskatchewan. He brought on Knight and Shaun Cuthand, two other comedian friends in the area, to help create more content. “If you make someone laugh, then they can see the irony in certain different situations,” Knight says of satirical news, ‘it’s [more fun] that way, and inclusive.”
Both believe that unlike its traditional counterparts, news satire has the ability to forgo objectivity and impartiality for something more subjective and pointed.
“I feel like I’m speaking about it in a way that’s more honest than when I was a journalist,” says Fontaine, ‘because when I was a journalist, you can’t be biased, it has to be balanced, there’s all of these things that have to go into it, and I don’t have to do that. I’m not bound by that.” He’s speaking of a challenge the industry faces at large, referring to the false sense of balance and poor framing, as well as the unattainable goal of objectivity.
Since the beginning of this year, there have been many polarizing movements in the mainstream media, which cover Indigenous issues and topics, such as the protests on Wet’suwet’en land concerning the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline, or the confrontation of Nathan Phillips and the young “MAGA hat kid”, even the SNC Lavalin scandal, where many outlets unfairly tokenized Jody Wilson-Raybould as a representative for Indigenous perspectives.
Pointing out the lack of Indigenous opinion pieces or editorials in mainstream media about these topics, Knight notes that a white journalist would never understand the racism of a MAGA hat, and so would never be able to write about the situation in a fair and transparent way. Indigenous news satire offers perspectives not often seen in media.
Fontaine feels the same way. “[Walking Eagle News]It tells people how Indigenous people feel about the story, or can feel about the story,” Fontaine says.
Dawn Dumont, a humour writer and columnist for Star Phoenix and Eagle Feather News, says there has been a rise in featuring Indigenous opinions, voices, and perspectives.
“I also think [news satire] is a good tool,” says Dumont. “It’s a really good way to shine light on an issue, to make it much clearer. I think it’s really good at that.”
But it and of itself it is not enough. Dumont says there needs to be a more formal approach to addressing racism. “I will say it a million times that everyone needs anti-racism training,” she says. Journalists have sometimes been accused of encouraging the alt-right with their predisposition to include “both sides” to a story. She hopes that news satire can change journalists’ perspectives on the topics they are reporting on, by allowing them to see things from a more Indigenous perspective..
Fontaine agrees. “[News satire] gives people a sense of what we’re really thinking, or how we can feel about certain stories,” Fontaine says. “It’s sort of a pulse of what Indigenous people might be thinking, and that’s what I like about that.”
And Knight says satirical news has helped him find healing through comedy. “There’s a lot of ways we can heal,” he says, “we can heal through conversation, we heal through tears, and we heal through laughter. And that’s been one of my major coping mechanisms as an Indigenous person growing up, is being able to laugh instead of cry. When you laugh, you can share a laugh. Way easier than to share a cry.”