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Concordia’s Aphrodite Salas challenges journalistic practices to ethically share Indigenous stories

Humility, trust-building and mutual respect lay the foundation for impactful reporting, says the associate professor
May 27, 2024
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A young smiling woman with long, dark hair, wearing a black winter jacket, showing a shot on her camera to an older smiling woman with blonde hair wearing a black winter jacket and a grey beanie hat.
Former student and current Montreal Gazette reporter Katelyn Thomas (left) with Aphrodite Salas (right) in Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek-Gull Bay First Nation. | Photo: Virginie Ann

Aphrodite Salas, MA 99, Concordia associate professor of journalism, is aiming to rewrite the rules of reporting in her collaborative work with Indigenous communities. Grounded in principles of listening, respect and reciprocity, Salas and her journalism students are actively reshaping journalistic practices into constructive storytelling.

Before arriving at Concordia full time in 2018, Salas taught at the university part time during her successful journalism career, including nine years as a broadcast journalist with CTV. Salas relates that she experienced a disturbing and pivotal moment in her career when she was covering what was euphemistically called the “starlight tours” in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — when police drove Indigenous people outside of town and abandoned them in the cold, often with fatal consequences.

Coupled with the 2015 launch of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s Calls to Action, Salas says she was prompted to reevaluate her journalistic research and teaching. In response to the TRC’s call to journalism schools to provide education about Indigenous people and their history, she began a process of learning about how to decolonize her work.

Salas developed partnerships with Indigenous communities such as the Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek-Gull Bay First Nation, located 200 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Inukjuak in Nunavik.

She is working with her journalism students to cover these community stories in an ethical way. They have focused on the transition toward renewable energy sovereignty and away from dangerous and toxic diesel, which for generations has been their main source of energy.

Cover of a PDF guide called, "My relations," or, "Dewemaaganag"

A guide to building new relationships

At a recent workshop to share ideas based on her efforts to decolonize her work, Salas discussed how she learned about the importance of listening and relationship-building since starting her projects in 2017. These principles are outlined in the My Relations guide, a workbook for non-Indigenous people to learn how to transform relationships with Indigenous Peoples, produced by Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE).

Salas explains how she learned, tentatively at first, to be patient, listen and slowly build genuine connections with Indigenous community members. She came to understand that this work requires first developing a deep understanding of the community’s needs and concerns.

By adopting a stance of humility and openness, Salas says she’s been able to build trust and mutual respect, laying the foundation for meaningful and impactful journalism. This approach, which challenges the conventional relationship between journalists and the people they cover, has enabled her to co-create stories for a digital audience that authentically reflect the experiences of the Indigenous communities with whom she has worked.

Salas’s 20-year career in journalism helped give her credibility, and she leveraged this privilege to open doors for a collaboration with a national broadcaster. “When I went back to CTV to discuss working with them, they trusted me and they were open to me taking a new approach based on reconciliation,” she notes.

A young woman wearing a winter hat, headphones and a winter scarf, interviewing an older man wearing orange construction overalls. Former journalism student and current CBC reporter Virginie Ann with Stanley King, resident of Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek-Gull Bay First Nation. | Photo: Aphrodite Salas

Preparation reaped rewards for students

Salas works to ensure that her students also understand how to take a decolonial approach to this work. “With the Inukjuak project, each student who worked with me prepared for three months, with readings, cultural competency training, discussion groups and training with an Indigenous journalist,” she shares.

“And we were thrilled with the response to our work. Our documentary was screened in the community, at national and international gatherings as well as at two United Nations conferences.”

Central to Salas’s approach is the concept of positionality — being aware of one’s privileges and biases. She encourages her students to approach journalism with humility and a willingness to listen, ensuring that stories are told authentically and respectfully.

Geneviève Sioui, OCE’s Indigenous community engagement coordinator, is the creator behind the My Relations guide. “With it, we wanted to provide a resource to non-Indigenous researchers and others to reflect on their motivations for soliciting Indigenous communities and to provide guidance on ways to move from reflection to action in an ethical and respectful way,” she explains.

Collaborating rather than extracting stories

Looking ahead, Salas plans to amplify her community-engaged journalism research work and continue to train young journalists in ethical storytelling practices. For Salas, journalism is not about extracting stories but rather a collaborative act of giving and receiving — a principle rooted in the broader framework of reconciliation.

Through Concordia’s Volt-Age electrification research initiative, she has connected Concordia engineering researchers with partners in Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek-Gull Bay First Nation, to help facilitate the community’s clean energy sovereignty journey.

As Salas continues to champion community-engaged journalism, she hopes her work inspires a more inclusive and ethical media landscape, where Indigenous voices are not only heard but also valued and respected.

Watch two documentaries produced by Aphrodite Salas, associate professor of journalism, and her students:


Learn more about how to use the
My Relations guide to work toward decolonization and reconciliation.

 



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