Content Warning: This story contains content describing images of death witnessed while working as a journalist. Please read with care, and prioritize your spirit and well-being. Philip McLachlan
I’ve witnessed a lot of different things in my time as a journalist.
I’ve seen the jubilation of a child dressed up as a fireman, as he gets his photo taken on the front bumper of a fire truck. I’ve smelled the sweat of hockey players, burning homes, and rooms full of cologne.
There have been a few moments when time has stood still. When I saw the beauty of Indigenous regalia in Treaty 6 territory as it was hit by the evening sun; when I hung below a helicopter as we soared over a mountain range; when the prime minister made eye contact with me through the lens of my camera; when the hair on the back of a moose stood straight up; when I saw the eyes of a 100-year-old grow dark mid-interview due to dementia; when the fire department pulled the lifeless body of a man out of a ravine.
One day it all came full circle in my mind and I found myself questioning: Why? Why am I telling stories, and who am I telling them for? I eventually figured it out, but I didn’t like the answer. So I quit.
I want to use this space to outline my intentions as a storyteller, so that you (our cuzzins) can get to know me a bit better, and hear about what I hope to do during my time as a Storyteller at IndigiNews. Please bear with me, because I’m going to start from the beginning.
A long time ago, in a land, far, far away… (just kidding)
I always knew I wanted to take photos for a living; and my love for telling stories amalgamated these two passions into photojournalism, which I studied on the shared lands of the Huron-Wendat, Anishinabek, Mississauga and Haudenosaunee peoples, referred to colonially as “Ontario.” I remember during my time there I battled with the idea of what kind of photojournalist I wanted to become. I settled on the idea of exploring the value of community journalism, a pursuit recommended to me by my professors.
I worked in “Lloydminster” during the summer of 2016, on the shared lands of Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Blackfoot, Métis, and Cree peoples, before I took a job with the only community newspaper out in “Fernie.” Between the two, this spanned about five years of my life. I covered everything from hockey games to political firestorms, and from natural disasters to new years babies.
I learned that we as journalists have a huge responsibility to honour our Knowledge Keepers (or what mainstream media calls ‘subjects’ or ‘sources’) because we’re not selling a product — we’re asking people to trust us to tell their stories.
In “Fernie,” situated within the Ktunaxa homelands, my office overlooked the street. Brick buildings were framed by mountains in every direction. Every day I looked forward to waving hello to a lovely man named Pete when he came to collect the paper. Same blue jacket. Same big smile.
Eventually I left the Kootenays after feeling my career was plateauing and took a transfer to syilx Territory, briefly known as the Okanagan, where I helped manage a newspaper in sn’pintktn (Penticton) and later kiʔláwnaʔ (Kelowna). About a year later I walked out; I was burned out and frustrated. I was tired of writing stories I felt didn’t make a difference, and I was done showing up to accident scenes to leech off of tragedy for the sake of web page clicks.
I knew that journalism could be better, but I also got the feeling I was chasing it in the wrong way. So I moved back to “Vancouver Island,” and took up a gardening job.
Yup. Gardening. Like, dirt, and flowers and stuff. My ex-punk-rocker boss spoke mostly in Latin plant names, and he had a cat named Chicken Joe.
Honestly, it’s amazing how therapeutic pushing a lawn mower and trimming rose bushes can be. Most of the properties we cared for were on the water’s edge in “Victoria.” It gave my mind a chance to breathe.
Fast forward six months. I had spent the summer outside; I grew a mullet and cut my jeans into jorts. A few new tattoos, a few cute dates. I was ready to take on the world. I started meeting up with other local journalists, freelancing, and taking on stories that I was passionate about. Pretty quickly, I checked two things off my bucket list: I photographed behind the scenes on a movie set, and I took photos that were published on the wire and ran around the world.
All the while I was working part-time with The Discourse, sister organization to IndigiNews, which positively changed my perspective on what community journalism can be. I slowed down in my storytelling, and took time with the Knowledge Keepers I was speaking with.
During this time I was introduced to the amazing team at IndigiNews, so when an opportunity for a more permanent position with the publication presented itself, it was one of the easiest emails I’d ever sent.
It’s only been a few weeks since I was welcomed on as an accomplice storyteller, and already I’ve learned so much. Seriously — getting paid to learn — pinch me.
All of these experiences have really shaped how I try to tell stories today. I listen first, I avoid forming preconceived ideas of what a story should be, and I always try to respect the wishes of the Knowledge Keepers. It’s not about us as storytellers, it’s about the people who have been living on their homelands since the time of their Creation stories and beyond. We should be celebrating the stories (good and bad) of the people we talk with; the opposite of extractive journalism.
What a concept.
I hope that by joining the team as an accomplice, I can use my voice to hold colonial systems of oppression (that have only served to benefit me) accountable. I know through talking with my Indigenous Aunties, that them doing this work as Indigenous women has been very harmful on their spirits.
I hope that in my storytelling I can act quietly, and in a way that honours people.
I grew up on “Vancouver Island,” and I know that Indigenous peoples here have purposely not been given equal opportunity to speak. One of the reasons I took this job was because I really feel that Indigenous people on “Vancouver Island” are underrepresented by various media, and their voices are not being heard. I feel this is largely to do with a very justified lack of trust towards the media.
As the Child Welfare and Education Storyteller, my dream is to hear from more Youth, across what has been briefly known as, “Vancouver Island.” I recognize I have a responsibility to amplify voices that are often neither heard nor listened to. I hope that I can tell stories that hold powers to account, and simply celebrate the achievements of Youth doing super cool things.
If you want to say hi, drop me a note at email@example.com.
Cultural Editors Note: IndigiNews has made the editorial decision to begin to use quotations around colonial place names, such as “Vancouver Island,” in order to challenge the very young colonial names. Where we can, we will choose to use accurate Indigenous place names to honour the Indigenous territories whose active systems of governing their homelands are much older than the colonial namesakes.
Philip McLachlan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse