Decolonizing media: Eden Fineday in conversation with Kelsie Kilawna

During a public event from VPL, IndigiNews Aunties spoke about the power of storytelling and the future of Indigenous-led media

During a public event at Vancouver Public Library, on March 31, IndigiNews Aunties had a conversation about the future of Indigenous media and what it means to decolonize storytelling. Business Aunty Eden Fineday, who is also the Indigenous storyteller in residence at VPL, spoke with Cultural Editor and Senior Aunty Kelsie Kilawna

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. A full recording of the event can be viewed here

Eden: Tell us how you got involved with IndigiNews. You’ve been involved since the very beginning.

Kelsie: I was working in corporate communications prior to joining the team. And I had seen the [survey] go out, to talk about ‘what does news look like for Indigenous people in the Okanagan.’ As somebody in communications, I was like, ‘I’m going to take this survey, and share that not only is the Okanagan primarily very conservative, but there is a lot of racism that happens within the valley and just has been as long as I’ve been here.’ And so I took the survey and then there was a follow up call.

Lindsay Sample with the Discourse, now with the Narwhal, called me and we ended up chatting and then I talked about how I do photography and just we talked about my community involvement and sort of my rooting of why I sent in my survey. That self-location I talk a lot about. That led her to be like ‘well you should apply.’ 

And then I got the job, and I started with the branding of IndigiNews. I started a bit earlier than everyone else to develop the branding and just creating our story in a visual way, which I’m still doing now.

E: Tell me about the different communities in the Okanagan. How many different communities are there that you’re in relationship with, and how does that work when you’re collecting stories?

K: It’s really through community kinship and family connection; and I feel really fortunate to have been raised on my homelands and raised with such a big family. So colonially, we have seven bands on the south side of the imaginary line we call it, which is the U.S.-Canada border. And then on the other side we have the Colville Nation which is the southern part of our nation, so we’re bisected by the colonial border.

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So it expands so far, our territory, and it has been a lot of travelling to do ceremony, meeting new people and always showing up for the community has been, I think, what has built my connection. Growing up in the community on my land. My father was the fire chief for 15 years for our community. So through that I met a lot of people, and we ended up being a big part of the community in that way. It was always taught to me to contribute back to the people because that was a volunteer position for my father, he never got paid for it, he had his nine to five and then came home to do this in the evenings and taught us what it looks like to give back.

E: That’s so beautiful, and as someone like me, raised away from my territory, I hear that and I’m like wow. In so many ways, I’m kind of envious and feel like you were so lucky to have those cultural ties and community connections. Like that’s so great. 

So getting to self-location, tell us what that is and how you brought that into IndigiNews. Because for me, it’s wildly radical and it totally affects how we write stories about communities.

K: So self-location is something that we’ve been inherently doing as syilx, sqilx’w people — sqilx’w is also a term that I’ll use often tonight and it means Indigenous people, people born of their lands. 

So syilx people, within our protocols of meeting, are asked to self-locate, using [what I call] a four voices tool. Basically when you come to any sort of situation where you need to look within yourself and really reflect how you’re going to talk about something, you want to do that from a strength-based place. Because then that won’t bring any sort of harmful energies of having to try to be something you’re not, but instead honouring those gifts within you and being like, ‘how can I contribute to this in a good way?’ So those four voices belong to our enowkin’wix system which is our traditional system of meeting. They’re governed by Four Food Chiefs and our [captikwl] stories.

So the mother’s voice is one of the systems, the father’s voice is another, the youth’s voice is another and the Elder’s voice is another. It doesn’t have to do with gender, it doesn’t have to do with age, it has to do with what that group sort of looks towards in terms of coming to it from a strength-based place. That’s sort of how we enter that process, is we decide … which voice will we speak under, and they each hold a different sort of strength. So are you going to come from a nurturing voice, because that’s the mother? Do you want to not see division of people, that’s the mother’s voice? The father’s voice is that voice of action of accountability, you want to hold someone accountable, of how can we get things done in the best way possible but also the most logical and quick way possible. The Elder’s voice is the one that holds the old teachings, that sends reminders of your importance, that sends reminders of history and protocol, and of your purpose here. And the Youth voice is the creatives, the storytellers, the artists, the dreamers. They are very important, the Youth voice. That’s why we capitalize ‘Youth’ at IndigiNews. 

It gives us each a power and a strength within our nation and a purpose within our nation. And you only speak in your strength, you don’t speak from deficiency, you don’t speak from limitation, you just speak straight from your strength. So when we approach a story at IndigiNews we ask ourselves and self-locate. We say ‘okay, who am I coming into this story as? What energy am I carrying into this story? What kinds of voices do I want to bring in?’ And then also bringing in other voices embodying those other voices so you can have a holistic story that takes care of the person sharing their story.

E: I remember the first time I heard you describe this at the training last October. I heard you talk about how everyone should have mentors, and everyone should have a mentor from all walks of life. And you even had mentors who were youth. When I heard that I was like yes. It felt so true. And right then I was like, I feel a kinship with this woman. The knowledge you hold, it’s resonating with either teachings I have, or inherent wisdom I have from I don’t know where.

K: Yeah, it’s blood memory.

E: I want to talk to you right now a little bit about growing up Indigenous, in general, looking at depictions of Indigenous folks in the media throughout our lifetimes and how we’ve been depicted. For me personally the experience was always of seeing us written about by outsiders, first and foremost. And it could sometimes be sympathetic but it was never empowering and it was often paternalistic and often disrespectful. Talk to me about how you’ve seen your community depicted in the media and why you might have been excited about having an opportunity to participate in writing about your own community.

K: If you follow the IndigiNews TikTok, I actually did pull up all of the articles that were written about my family and shared them and shared the language that was used. Referring to us as ‘drunken Indians’ and that was literally the headline. Talking about us as murderers. And just these really awful things. I feel like I’ve come back with a vengeance for my own family for how we were spoken about, how we were wronged, how we were misframed. They used our bodies to contribute to this genocide. I always talk about that, about genocide through story, too, and how it contributes to the larger colonization of the people because what happens is within media, as long as they’re appeasing the white-centred narrative, then it makes it easier and more acceptable for that harm to happen to us. 

That’s something I see a lot within the news in the Okanagan. It’s always about us without us, that’s one thing. And even in stories where we’re “a victim” in the story, we’re still centred as the person who did something wrong. You’ll see those headlines like ‘they had drugs in their system when they were found dead’ as if that’s something that had to do with a murder or things like that. Those are the types of things that we continue to see throughout the Okanagan, and the Okanagan is nowhere near where they need to be as far as our storytelling goes. Which is why at IndigiNews as Senior Aunty, I do play a big role in holding these people accountable for causing harm to my family and my community and my nation. Just as an Aunty responsibility in general. There’s so much to be said about why this is happening, and there are a few things. One, it could be ignorance, to an extent, but I think we’re past the time when this is acceptable anymore. Now it’s a place for accountability. So it’s been really critical that IndigiNews exists for that reason. Which is why I have so much faith in our growth and where we’re going in the future. 

E: I feel like it’s just such a weird time to be Indigenous in Canada right now. It’s like Canada spent centuries just literally trying to eradicate us. Now suddenly there’s this complete turnaround like ‘let’s celebrate you people’ and ‘we’re so sorry about that.’ Like ‘here, hold a microphone.’ It’s so weird and it’s such a cognitive dissonance. 

I cannot make sense of, for instance, my experience being the Indigenous storyteller in residence, with my grandfather’s life experience or even my own father’s life experience in residential school, what he witnessed, what he went through as a 10-year-old, say. It wasn’t that long ago and yet it’s a totally different universe. A different reality. Times are changing so rapidly, and suddenly you and I, with no journalism experience are at this organization which has this reach suddenly and we are able to write about our experiences as Indigenous people. 

Let’s talk about what you and I were talking about this morning. The idea of being Indigenous-led, rather than just hiring Indigenous storytellers. 

K: What I’ve learned in the past two years, anyways, working in this space, is watching the high burnout that happens for Indigenous people telling Indigenous stories and holding colonial systems of oppression accountable. And how harmful that is on our spirits, how dangerous that is for us, to put ourselves in that position in a lot of ways. If we talk about solutions-oriented journalism, and we want real solutions to come out of our stories, then we do need to hold systems accountable, but that’s draining. That’s very draining on the spirit, because it’s me going to my oppressor and as an individual trying to hold them accountable. 

My Elder explained it perfectly, where he was like ‘if you get that lump in your throat when you have to speak out against something, that’s the oppressor’s boot on your neck. And you have to power yourself through that.’ So it takes so much courage to be able to tell these stories, and they can be really harmful. My mental health has really suffered from all these stories we’ve had to hold. And stories that we didn’t even get to tell but have had to hold. Because what happens to one, happens to all, and that’s just how our Indigenous worldview is. What happens to my kin happens to me. 

So finding, particularly white, journalists—to have them work with us and learn how to decolonize their worldview [is important, as they benefit most from the systems built on genocide]. To learn how to be good kin on these lands, to learn how to love the lands the way that we love the lands. To learn to be just good people [contributors], and be on our land in a way that doesn’t cause harm. To go to our communities and engage with us in a way that’s not extractive, but in a way that’s authentic, in a way that builds true kinship that lasts a lifetime. [These are] very particular types of teachings that we want to deliver as well through this mentorship of non-Indigenous journalists. Then they can go back and hold their systems accountable so we don’t have to do it. 

It’s such a place of mindfulness and self-awareness that we need to sit in this sometimes really difficult space of decolonizing the media. 

E: When I first started here, I thought, ‘We’re an Indigenous organization, we should only bring Indigenous people on.’ It’s only been four months but in this time I’m like, we need help, this is too heavy a burden for us to bear alone. 

We’re not going back. We’re not sending people back to Europe, we’re not sending people back to Asia. We’re here now, what can we create, how can we make this a beautiful place again where everything is fair again, where we’re living in a good way with these new guests.

I’m wondering if we can talk about trauma-informed reporting. What can you tell me about that?

K: So trauma-informed storytelling, which I didn’t know was not a practice, because I didn’t go to journalism school so I didn’t know that was not already practiced. I feel like as Indigenous people we already practice a particular type of care for our kin. So we go into community already practicing these things naturally. We don’t want to see harm, we don’t want to see our families’ bodies being used for clicks. We don’t want to see our families’ bodies being degraded. 

I spent these past 15 years working in diverse communities throughout the so-called province, I learned to go into community. I learned that when I am leaving my homelands I am a guest and I need to act in a certain way. I need to go into the homelands bringing something of value, to be reciprocal because that is how I was taught. We’re there to exchange something, we’re there to offer our supports in something while they host us. So embodying it as I grew up and then learning it’s not a common practice, I was in shock. I think I took three days off work when I learned that because I literally could not process that this wasn’t common knowledge. I can’t even imagine there are actual journalists going into community and causing harm. Like watching them message my community on Facebook when our houses were burning down, when our ceremony lands were burning down. And just being like, ‘hey can we get a picture of you in your rubble?’ All of these extremely insensitive things and I couldn’t grasp that this was real. 

That’s when I went to work on creating the trauma-informed guide, and putting together the Decolonize the Media training … to embed into people our respectful stances. That we are the big sister [or brother, or sibling] as we call it in our stories. 

E: I’m glad you brought that up! Will you tell us about Coyote?

K: Yeah! So senklip is our teacher in both the syilx and the Secwépemc territories. He’s our trickster, he’s the one that brings us the knowledge that we need. And he’s [also] kind of a representation of human ego, so when we catch ourselves acting like Coyote, we know inherently through our stories what we need to do. 

So the story of Little Brother is that the settler people were written into our existence through that story. This is why there is that prophecy of unity, is because we were written into each other’s stories. 

As settler people, you’re meant to contribute here. The thing is that you’re the little brother, so sometimes little brother can be a little bit annoying, they can throw fits, they might not understand the world in the way that we as older siblings understand the world and as older siblings that is all sqilx’w people, that is all Indigenous people; we are all here to nurture you on the lands, to show you in a way how to behave on the lands, how to be a good guest on the lands, to contribute to the lands. To not take, to not throw fits, but to act with respect because you’re part of the land too, now, when you’re here. 

So that’s where that teaching comes in as the older siblings we’re here to teach, we’re here to nurture, and we’re also here to discipline and remind people of how to be a better guest. So that’s that story and that’s what guides me in the trauma-informed reporting. They deserve humanity and to be looked at as a human first, all our stories should be human-centered.

E: That’s just one reason why I love working at IndigiNews and I love working with you. I feel like you bring that depth and that cultural knowledge to this organization so thank you so much for sharing that with us here. It’s honestly just such a gift. Thank you.

K: And thank you too. You really hold space for me in such a good way and it’s so beautiful. I also appreciate you so much and your knowledge.

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