Michelle Cyca (8)

Meet Michelle Cyca, The Narwhal’s newest editor

She joins the team to deepen our reporting on Indigenous-led conservation

As a self-described professional reader, it’s nearly impossible for Michelle Cyca to choose her favourite book. But, if pushed, she will tell you it’s anything by Ali Smith. “She’s a Scottish author who writes the most beautiful, strange, unexpected novels about art, empathy and the natural world, and her most recent one is Companion Piece,” Michelle says. 

Michelle’s deep love for reading and writing is just part of why we’re excited to welcome her to The Narwhal pod. She’s joining the team as an editor focused on expanding our coverage of Indigenous-led conservation.

“What’s thrilling about Indigenous-led conservation is seeing how fundamentally different the approaches are, because they’re rooted in Indigenous laws and governance, and because they’re specific to the context and history of each Indigenous nation,” Michelle says. 

Investigating problems. Exploring solutions
The Narwhal’s reporters are telling environment stories you won’t read about anywhere else. Stay in the loop by signing up for a weekly dose of independent journalism.
Investigating problems. Exploring solutions
The Narwhal’s reporters are telling environment stories you won’t read about anywhere else. Stay in the loop by signing up for a weekly dose of independent journalism.

In her new role, Michelle is starting by reaching out to as many people as she can to hear their thoughts on what kind of stories need to be told. When she’s not doing that she’ll be juggling a robust roster of freelance projects, taking care of her cat, Azzy, and parenting — it’s the latter that inspires her most. 

“Becoming a parent has been the most clarifying experience for understanding my values and how I want to spend my time,” she says.  

I spoke with Michelle about her journey to journalism, what keeps her up at night and what she’s looking forward to in this new role.

Why did you decide to become a journalist?

It was definitely a circuitous path — I always loved writing but I wasn’t sure I could make a career out of it. I studied public health and worked in health promotion and outreach for a few years, which made me realize two things: the part of my work I was most interested in was figuring out how to communicate information in clear, accessible and compelling ways; and that there was a huge scientific literacy gap that can be addressed, in part, through journalism.

As a Cree person, I also found a lot of the journalism on Indigenous issues really disappointing. Often it was so focused on trauma, in ways that felt exploitative or two-dimensional, or it was so superficial and there was no engagement with contemporary issues, cultural nuance or political complexity. It didn’t reflect the lives of the Indigenous people I knew or the work they did. I’m an Aries so my general approach in life is that if I see something being done poorly I want to get in there and do it myself.

What do you love most about storytelling?

How powerful it is! This is truer now than ever — there’s so much noise and “content” that I think thoughtful, deliberate storytelling is even more critical. A lot of the public understanding of reconciliation and Indigenous Rights has come about through people finally hearing Indigenous stories and perspectives, for instance. And I find it most gratifying when someone reaches out to me to say that they felt seen or understood by something I wrote.

Photo of Michelle Cyca leaning on a log
“For Indigenous people, rights and land and identity are all bound up together — you can’t protect the environment separate from the people who live on it,” Michelle Cyca says. Photo: Kayla MacInnis / The Narwhal

What draws you to Indigenous-led conservation specifically?

I think in the last few years it’s become especially obvious that the Canadian government cannot fix the problems they have created for Indigenous people. For a long time, reconciliation strategies felt very patronizing — we’re sorry about everything, and we’re going to do something to make up for it. This is doomed to fail because, often, the interests of the government run counter to the interests of Indigenous people — we see this in clashes over resource extraction at the expense of environmental destruction. 

I think that Indigenous-led conservation opens up discussions and facilitates learning about the broader context of Indigenous Rights and sovereignty. More people than ever are concerned about the environment and the climate crisis. They realize that defending the natural world is critical to our survival, and part of that work is recognizing and affirming the stewardship of Indigenous people over their lands and waters. For Indigenous people, rights and land and identity are all bound up together — you can’t protect the environment separate from the people who live on it. So I hope that people who are drawn to these fights out of concern for the planet will also recognize that they need to be allies in a larger struggle for Indigenous self-determination and survival. 

What kind of stories do you hope we can tell more of?

I love stories about young land and water defenders — as much as this important work is being led by elected and hereditary leaders, there are a ton of incredible young Indigenous folks whose efforts deserve attention.

Do you have any surprising talents?

For someone with zero natural athletic talents I’m surprisingly good at chopping wood, and if you have a wood pile I will absolutely demolish it for you. 

What keeps you up at night?

My cat, the slow and steady erosion of Indigenous Rights, the discovery of this asteroid that might hit earth in 23 years.

Take a moment to pitch people, who do you want to reach out to you about this work?

I love hearing from Indigenous people who are working in their communities, and I encourage them to think of what they do as newsworthy! One problem arising from the underrepresentation of Indigenous stories in media is that it can deter people from thinking that what’s happening in their community is worth covering. If you’re wondering, “Why hasn’t anyone written about what’s happening on our territory?” that’s a sign you should send me an email!

Michelle Cyca is an editor at The Narwhal focused on Indigenous-led conservation, you can reach her at michelle@thenarwhal.ca. This conversation was edited for length and clarity. 

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta this spring. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Here’s the thing: we need 300 new members to join this month to meet our budget. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
We’ve got big plans for 2024
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta this spring. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Here’s the thing: we need 300 new members to join this month to meet our budget. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

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