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Making awards history — and decolonizing journalism

IndigiNews editor Cara McKenna reflects on our shared National Newspaper Awards win — a Narwhal first and the first time in the program’s history an award has gone to an Indigenous publication

This piece was originally published in the IndigiNews newsletter.

IndigiNews has won our first National Newspaper Award, sharing the honour with our friends at The Narwhal for a story we collaborated on in 2023.

Not only was it a first-time win in this venue for both of our outlets (The Narwhal also won a second award later that night!) but IndigiNews became the first Indigenous media outlet to receive an NNA since the awards began in 1949.

The story was a long feature that was co-reported by myself (Cara McKenna) and The Narwhal’s Matt Simmons, with photos by Marty Clemens. Together, we reported on the rematriation of a Nisg̱a’a totem pole from a Scottish museum and its journey back to its home territories.

The piece, and accompanying first person story, won in the Arts and Entertainment category. I was so happy that both Matt and I were there to accept the award during the gala in “Toronto” — working on this story together has been such a special experience from start to finish.

A man in ceremonial dress stands with a microphone in front of a large building with high windows. There's a totem pole prone on the ground next to him, encased in shipping material.
The Wilps Ni’isjoohl memorial pole was welcomed home with a ceremony at Nisg̱a’a in September of 2023. Photo: Marty Clemens / The Narwhal

The collaboration on this story was born because, last summer, I was on my way to Scotland to attend a wedding. A few weeks before I was set to leave, I got a press release to my email from the Nisg̱a’a Lisims Government indicating that a delegation from the nation was set to visit the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh that August. The family would carry out a closed ceremony to prepare the Wilps Ni’isjoohl memorial pole for its journey back to Nisg̱a’a. 

The fact that I would also be in Edinburgh around this same time felt like a beautiful coincidence, since I had been following the story about the totem pole’s rematriation since 2020, when I first heard Sigidimnaḵ’ Nox̱s Ts’aawit (Amy Parent) and her family were working towards its return.

Investigating problems. Exploring solutions
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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.

So I reached out to The Narwhal’s “B.C.” bureau lead Lindsay Sample — who formerly worked with us at IndigiNews — and Matt Simmons (who lives up north near Nisg̱a’a homelands) to see if they would be open to collaborating with us on a sprawling feature story about the rematriation, and everything gelled into place beautifully for us to work together.

I can’t say enough good things about working with this team, and in particular Matt who inspired me with his deeply respectful, gentle and kind approach to storytelling.

While Matt and Marty were up in Nisg̱a’a territories, there was an accident that resulted in a breach of protocol, which was a serious matter and resulted in the story’s publication being delayed while we sorted things out. After discussing things with Nox̱s Ts’aawit, she suggested that we talk about what happened in a transparent way so it could become a learning experience for others.

I’m so grateful for her guidance on this matter, and also cultural guidance more generally in reporting of this story. I think as journalists we often expect others to be accountable, but aren’t necessarily always accountable for our own mistakes, and it was exactly the right call to share what occurred and issue a public apology.

At the NNA gala, several other journalists approached me to say that they had read the reflection piece, and that they had also taken away lessons from it for their own practice when working within Indigenous communities. Matt and I both agreed that this in itself was just as special as receiving the award was — it’s so beautiful to see the tide turning in our industry as journalists increasingly acknowledge the importance of decolonizing our practice.

Seeing independent outlets like ours recognized on this prestigious stage amid industry giants like The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Canadian Press is huge and speaks to how powerful we can be when we work together. Both IndigiNews and The Narwhal do journalism from a unique lens and we don’t have a large amount of resources — relying on support from our readers like you in order to keep going.

As The Narwhal’s editor in chief Emma Gilchrist said, this night marked “a sea change in the Canadian news industry, with several upstart, trailblazing news organizations winning awards this year.”

To everyone who supports IndigiNews, The Narwhal and other independent media — thank you. This award is just as much a win for all of you as it is for us.

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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