Skip to main content
public editor

Drone footage of the gravesite restoration project taken on June 18/2021 at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan . Cowessess First Nation, in a press conference Thursday, said it discovered 751 unmarked graves at a cemetery.Cowessess First Nation

It has been a difficult and shocking month for news. So many tragedies.

First, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said a preliminary search using ground-penetrating radar had discovered the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops.

Then, a Muslim family out for a walk in London, Ont., was killed in what police described as a terrorist act.

Days later, the sentencing of a man convicted of manslaughter for tossing a trailer hitch at an Indigenous woman walking with her sister, then saying, “I got one.”

And this week, Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme announced there could be a staggering 751 unmarked graves in a cemetery at the site of a former Saskatchewan residential school. “We understand the recent Kamloops Residential School finding of 215 unmarked graves has affected many emotionally and mentally,” the band said in a Facebook post, adding that support is available for anyone in need.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, a member of the Little Bear First Nation in southern Saskatchewan, said in a tweet that the news was “absolutely tragic, but not surprising.”

It is hard to fathom the grief for so many, adding racist motives and hate on top of loss and death.

Journalists need to be very mindful of the people who are suffering the brunt of the trauma and shock. They need to listen to Indigenous leaders but give them space. That doesn’t mean avoiding the tough subjects. Now more than ever, we need to delve into these difficult subjects and shine a light on the worst parts of our society and hold people to account.

It means being sensitive to individuals’ wishes, their grieving and their culture. In the case of the Muslim family in London, media were quick to remove or not publish family photos at the request of the extended family, only using the photo the family wanted the next day. But it also means not pressing them to speak and giving them space and privacy to grieve.

Earlier this year, we had a remote training session run by Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) and featuring Brandi Morin, a Cree-Iroquois-French freelance journalist based in Treaty 6 territory, Alta. One of the issues she focused on was how the media needed to know and respect cultural differences. And she has been one of many Indigenous voices asking reporters not to bombard people with questions about the Kamloops discovery while they are still processing it.

“It’s critical to understand the broken relationship between Indigenous communities, peoples of colour and the media,” she said. “The standard for legacy media is to bombard Indigenous survivors of … colonial violence when [reporting on] horrors such as the discovery of the remains of the children who died attending residential schools. This triggered immense trauma, and our people are heavily mourning. It brings up painful memories of survivors and the impacts on intergenerational survivors, leaving our communities more vulnerable. Don’t parachute into this tsunami of grief because you need a quote or two. Take the time to get informed, build relationships with survivors and honour their privacy if requested. One survivor described her grieving experience as feeling like she was attending a funeral. The right way to report on this is with empathy, patience and respect.”

She told me she believes these stories will keep coming for years and she urged the mainstream media to incorporate due diligence. Don’t “let it be a one-week wonder of a headline, but invest in meaningful, accurate storytelling for the long term about the injustices faced by our people.”

She is absolutely right that journalists must tell the story with empathy, without intruding and not rushing.

With time, journalists can find out more about the survivors and victims and give them the time and space to tell their story if they want.

Some family members want to talk right away about their loss. It helps them grieve. They want the person remembered for the good they did, while others are perhaps too numb or want to keep personal details private. And we mustn’t forget the people who are dealing with a life-altering trauma.

A committee of Globe and Mail editors and writers is reviewing the paper’s Editorial Code of Conduct. One of the long-standing principles of the code is this: “In dealing with people who are emotionally vulnerable and unaccustomed to talking to reporters, The Globe and Mail will take care to respect their dignity and feelings.”

I am hoping we can expand this idea to deal with trauma and cultural traditions – to report but not intrude.

At the same time, we must remain focused on the history and the current events that have led to these horrific events and keep reporting.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.