Columbia Journalism Review
Apocalypse Then and Now
by Julian Brave NoiseCat
To be Indigenous to North America is to be part of a postapocalyptic community and experience. Indigenous journalists have always grappled with earth-shattering stories: either as historical background to current events or in the deep despair of the still-unfolding legacy of Indigenous dispossession, displacement, and death that brought nations like the United States and Canada into being. This perspective tests the limits of journalism, asking reporters to cover marginalized subjects unfamiliar to most readers with an eye on the people, histories, and systems buried and erased by colonization—all without losing the thread of the narrative.
Kyle Whyte, a Citizen Potawatomi philosopher and professor of environment and sustainability at the University of Michigan, described the challenge facing Indigenous journalists succinctly: “In the space of a short piece that’s widely accessible, how do you write in a way that includes a structural analysis and a sense of history that many readers don’t initially understand?”
For insight, I called Candis Callison, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Journalism and a member of the Tahltan people. She described her preferred approach as “systems journalism”—a methodology that treats news items not as isolated events but as “windows into what’s happening in underlying systems and structures.” The narratives we tell about our past and present delineate possible avenues for future action, Callison said. She urges journalists to consider how white and colonial perspectives frame our current society as normative and permanent, erasing the history of genocidal colonialism that brought us here. Systems journalism often brushes up against established methods, however. “The forms and styles that are dominant in journalism practice,” Callison told me, “don’t always allow us to get at the historical context that is vital.”
Our stories, field notes, and communities ask a great deal of us as journalists—and, particularly, as Indigenous journalists and journalists of color—especially in moments of grave consequence, like the present. It’s hard, and in some cases impossible, to give yourself, your audience, your community, your sources—and perhaps also your land, your water, your relations—everything they want and deserve in your work. Indigenous experiences and perspectives challenge the notion that a press corps equipped with notepads and recorders can capture the whole truth. More often than not, I’m convinced that reality defies the disciplined space of stories, waging an epistemic resistance against the tyranny of language, text, and form—something we Indians can relate to.
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