Indigenous People and New Media Roundtable
Picturing Ourselves: Video as a Tool for Defining Community
Organized in cooperation with the National Film Board of Canada and
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC)
The round table discussions were chaired by Mr. Tom Perlmutter, Director-General, English Programme, National Film Board of Canada and Mr. Fred Caron, Assistant Deputy Minister, Office of the Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Government of Canada. Ms. Monika Ille, Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network, Canada, served as moderator.
The round table, organized by the National Film Board of Canada and the Office of Indian and Northern Affairs as lead partners, was attended by representatives of indigenous urban communities, film-makers and other media persons, and a diverse group of stakeholders. The aim of the round table was to demonstrate how media could be a powerful tool for supporting social inclusion and cohesion; social and political action; and sustainability in the development of indigenous peoples.
The co-chairs recalled that indigenous peoples constituted an important segment of society in Canada and stressed the need to tell stories of the past and present to build a better future. Such stories, through films and the other media, facilitated dialogue between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.
Videos entitled “Wapikoni Mobile”, “Our Cities, Our Voices” and “Video in the Villages” were shown. Discussions following the screening highlighted that language was a great barrier for exclusion, and that indigenous people’s lives were often destroyed by the trends in and influence of the mainstream society. Media could reflect the social, political and economic realities of a community in a way that supported social inclusion and cohesion. It was highlighted that the videos which had been shown gave voice to communities and had become a catalyst for broader social and political change. It was suggested that that tool should be sustained and offered around the world, particularly in developing countries. Encouraging indigenous people to develop their own media (radio stations, multimedia centres and so on) would lead to increased social inclusion.
During the discussion, it was pointed out that there were about 300 million indigenous people living in over 70 countries worldwide. Although such peoples were extremely diverse, there were two characteristics that helped define them as a group. The first was that they had a historical continuity with societies that resided in their territories before the development of colonial societies and modern States. The second was that their social and cultural identities were different to those of the dominant groups in their societies. Indigenous groups might vary considerably in their traditions and circumstances, but they all wanted to protect their unique cultures. For a host of political and historical reasons, indigenous peoples tended to suffer from neglect and discrimination. In the past, paternalistic development schemes had often tried to assimilate indigenous peoples into mainstream cultures. Not only were those efforts unwelcome, they were unsuccessful. To overcome poverty, indigenous peoples needed special assistance that was based on their own objectives, that addressed the barriers they faced, and helped them protect their heritage and cultural identities.
Visual media could take up topics that were not usually discussed in society. In that way, it could promote discussions and deeper understanding of the plight of indigenous people. It was highlighted that video served as a medium for reversing the stereotype of the city as “non-native” space. Media could promote networking and solidarity between indigenous peoples around the world and overcome challenges confronted by indigenous peoples. Efforts were needed to promote indigenous people’s access to the dominant media so as to enable them to exercise their freedom of expression and participate in multicultural dialogue within the global knowledge society.