Growing up as a Mohawk from the Bay of Quinte in New Brunswick, UBC j-student Haley Lewis rarely came across stories about Indigenous communities in the media.
When she did, they were usually grim: suicide, a water crisis, a pipeline dispute.
“The kinds of stories you read aren’t the stories you want to read of people like you,” she said.
“You never read about the positive Indigenous stories on a larger scale. Those are most kept in the smaller papers like Windspeaker or the local papers.”
A desire to change that narrative is partly what drove Lewis to attend UBC Journalism. And now, she’s getting closer to realising that vision as the recipient of a prestigious Aboriginal Graduate Fellowship from UBC.
The fellowship — one of a dozen granted to Indigenous students each year — offers Lewis a $16,000 stipend per year, plus tuition funding — covering her entire studies and giving her the financial support to conduct research.
“I was floored,” Lewis said. “It’s a huge opportunity to do the research that I want in one of Canada’s most expensive cities.”
Tweeting social justice
To promote the installation, the group of five Indigenous artists used the hashtag #callresponse, but it was seldom used. That surprised Lewis. She spoke to media experts, who noted that analytics don’t necessarily reflect impact and ideological shifts.
For her final research project, Lewis wants to more closely examine social justice hashtags, especially ones that come from Indigenous communities.
“I want to look at why some are more successful than others,” she said. “In my application, I hypothesized that those that sprout from a moment of conflict are the ones that are going to be the most successful.”
Lewis plans to produce a short radio documentary for the project. She’ll be drawing on the support of journalism faculty Alfred Hermida and Candis Callison, both of whom have studied the relationship between social media and the Idle No More movement.
Lewis also came to UBC Journalism because of its Reporting in Indigenous Communities course.
She figured her Mohawk background would help her establish trust when reporting in her community. But the course was tougher than Lewis imagined — an “emotional roller coaster” that challenged her expectations.
“As an Indigenous person, I thought that everyone wanted the same thing that I want: to change the ways that stories are told,” she said.
“Because of the bad relationships that have been happening for decades, it’s not something that can change over night. Communities are always going to be hesitant about welcoming in journalists, regardless of their race or ethnicity.”
Professor Duncan McCue, who teaches Reporting in Indigenous Communities, said Lewis was a “leader” in the class.
“Haley generously shared her experience and sensibilities as a Mohawk woman with her peers,” he said. “She exudes her passion for journalism and the need for Indigenous voices in the media.”
Lewis is mindful that Indigenous journalists shouldn’t be pigeonholed into covering Indigenous issues. But she sees the need for more of their voices in the media.
“It’s crucial for more Indigenous people to get into journalism,” she said. “In order for things to change, you need more Indigenous faces in the newsroom to not only educate, but to guide others in terms of reporting.”