UBC Journalism student Wawmeesh G. Hamilton has been awarded the 2015 Canadian Journalism Foundation Aboriginal Journalism Fellowship.
The award provides a stipend of $3,000, travel and accommodation costs and other related expenses for each fellow.
It is designed to allow two Aboriginal journalists the opportunity to explore issues of interest to First Nations, Métis or Inuit peoples, based at the CBC News Aboriginal centre in Winnipeg for a month.
Hamilton’s project will focus on how elderly Aboriginal sex offenders are re-integrated into their communities.
He said the award affirms the importance of the reporting he’s been doing. “[That] very senior peers value that kind of work means the work’s been validated. It’s a relief when you dig your teeth into that kind of serious subject,” he said.
The topic of elderly Aboriginal sex offenders re-integrating into their communities has not been reported on previously.
“There are stories that are waiting in dark places,” said Hamilton. “The dark places that no one wants to go that I think need to be ventured into. It’s necessary.”
He was drawn to the issue by the distinction between elderly Aboriginal offenders and non-Aboriginal offenders. Aboriginal offenders are more likely to return to their home communities, where elders usually hold prominent positions.
“There’s the fact that most of these communities are small, they’re remote, they’re tight-knit, lots of extended family and cultural functions where there might be kids. I was curious how you reintegrate such people back into the community.”
“Much like with difficult issues overseas the only way to shed light on these issues is to go to them and it’s worth shedding light on. It promotes understanding and it might move people to some kind of action.”
Hamilton has extensive experience as a reporter and photographer, predominantly working in Port Alberni, B.C. prior to returning to his studies at UBC. Recently, his reporting has appeared in The Tyee, Metro, The Globe and Mail, and the CBC. He’s a member of the Hupacasath First Nation on Vancouver Island.
Hamilton said he’s absolutely driven to be a reporter and photographer who contributes to broader discussions and awareness, so much so that he left behind nearly everything to move to Vancouver to attend the UBC Graduate School of Journalism in 2014.
“From time to time I made a small difference in the community and raised awareness about issues. I wanted to do that in a bigger place for a bigger outlet with a bigger audience, and I think I’m on my way to doing that.”
“There’s a serious side to this business where you’d better get things right and it’s all on the line — and a story like this, it’s all on the line,” said Hamilton
Nikki Wiart, a producer with Global News Edmonton, is the other recipient of the Aboriginal Journalism Fellowship. She plans to examine the long-term effects of foster care on Aboriginal children.