We cannot trust native politicians to deal with their dirty laundry. We need our Indigenous media for that.
✎ WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 19, 2019 • Politics
YEARS AGO, while working for a national Indigenous organization, I’d sometimes get a GTTM, or Going To The Media call. The jist of these would be that the Chief, or whatever figure of authority, was guilty of crimes that the caller—isolated, powerless, and alone—was unable to challenge. She (or, as was less often the case, he) would adumbrate the transgressions, ending with the flourish”If you don’t help me then I’m going to the media.”
Help them I did, and not because they had threatened. I had the good fortune of working for an ethical and competent agency, and if someone was misusing our resources I wanted to know about it. My experience was that people rarely if ever fabricated a claim: even when mistaken they believed every syllable of the indictment to be true. So for example a caller notes the purchase of a new dishwasher by a recently funded Director of Health, or whatever it may have been. Well obviously the Director is stealing funds from the program. What else could it be?
The story of Arlen Dumas, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, is not a new dishwasher story, but it is a Going To The Media one. Two women have told the newspapers about unsolicited texts from the Chief and a third says she and Dumas once had consensual sex. The Chief claims he is victim of a politically motivated smear campaign, and while he admits to sending messages he says that he was responding to an earlier request for advice. Some of these messages came through the account of a Charles Forbes. Dumas says that he has nothing to do with this account, that someone is impersonating him online, and that he has hired a third-party firm to investigate.
For days now this matter has been covered by CBC, CTV News, Global News, and the Winnipeg Free Press. But it was the reporting of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network that triggered an unspoken community rule not to air the dirty laundry where outsiders can see it. I was already well acquainted with this rule when I was getting my first Going To The Media calls over twenty years ago. According to early reports the AMC women’s council stated they would investigate but Chief Francine Meeches, chair of the council, told CTV News that they have no mandate to do so. A women’s council statement later asserted that they will no longer be part of “a media frenzy based on little more than Facebook posts.” The AMC itself took the side of Dumas and against a “media circus which focused on unfounded allegations.” APTN’s Beverly Andrews asked a question about Dumas at a Peguis First Nation press conference and was told to leave. A July 12 article quotes Francine Meeches saying that “APTN’s credibility is BS. It seems more are losing faith in your organization. You represent those who are against First Nations not in support of First Nations.”
Who knows where the Arlen Dumas story will go tonight or tomorrow or next week or month. What endures is this toxic idea that Indigenous media should cheerlead our politicians while burying stories which cause embarrassment in the world outside—especially stories of incompetent, abusive, or unethical community leaders. It’s true that “those who are against us” (a phrase that almost certainly refers to white people) —might read them and discover therein justification of their prejudices. But Going To The Media is also a path of last but necessary resort in the seeking of remedies that cannot be had in isolated communities dominated by powerful families. The Grand Chief’s laundry may or may not be dirty. We cannot trust our politicians to tell us. We need Indigenous media for that. ⌾