Tag Archives: media literacy

Illustrating post-secondary options and outcomes to Aboriginal Youth

It is not uncommon for high school students to be unsure about their options after graduation. For Aboriginal students, who may not have seen traditional ways of knowing or learning reflected in their school experience (As per Dr. Marker’s Four Winding Paths up the Mountain), post-secondary options can seem even more murky and the benefits and outcomes of higher education might not be immediately apparent. For students who successfully achieve their high-school education (or to inspire students who may be faltering in the later high school years) there are various opportunities to inspire and connect youth to college experiences as well as showcase Aboriginal role models in higher education settings and the workplace. In British Columbia, the provincial government connects Aboriginal youth to internship opportunities through their Aboriginal Youth Internship Program. College Horizons is an independent program in the United Stats that supports both undergraduate and graduate students to help navigate the “jungle” of admissions process and related requirements of college.  Jared Whitney provides an article reflecting Indigenous perspectives on College admissions (via College Horizons). There are many other examples, many individual provinces and states have programs along with national-level opportunities.

Common Portrayals of Aboriginal People – Media Awareness Network

Many others have referenced this webpage and I debated not writing about it, but was so impressed with the concise commentary provided that I decided to draw more attention to it.  The site is an introduction to media portrayals of Aboriginals in Canada and the U.S..

One of the most thought-provoking lines on the page comes from Ward Churchill: “Dehumanization, obliteration or appropriation of identity, political subordination and material colonization are all elements of a common process of imperialism,” he says. “The meaning of Hollywood’s stereotyping of [American] Indians can be truly comprehended only against this backdrop.”

The Media Awareness Network is well-regarded for its critical examination of media stereotypes.  I have used their materials on Internet Privacy previously and found them suitable for school-aged teens.  This page grabs student attention by noting that in the early days of film, Italian and Spanish actors often played Indian roles because they had the appropriate ‘skin tone.’  The fact that they aren’t actually Aboriginal was secondary.  The page outlines in very clear language some of the misconceptions that media have either intentionally or unknowingly created:


  • the Indian Princess – there is no structure of loyalty within tribes
  • the Native Warrior – ‘savagery’ stereotypes drive need for colonization
  • the Noble Savage – special spiritual powers not accorded to anyone else

Historical Inaccuracies

  • Dress, practices, spirituality of Aboriginal actors fuels stereotypes

Stereotyping by Omission

  • for example, Chicago has a significant Aboriginal population, but not a single Aboriginal patient has ever been treated on the television show ER

Simplistic Characterizations

  • Aboriginals given few lines and are relegated to minor roles.  In Dances with Wolves, the only voice of significance in the film is an US Army captain – why?

Interestingly, there is some discussion of the role that stereotypes have played in inflaming imperialism.  Wendy Rose’s article from the New Yorker is referenced.  She writes: “there’s a whole school of thought that believes that the stereotypes of Native people and the Wild West must still be maintained in today’s society.”

To suggest that Aboriginals are not still being subjugated by Hollywood and any number of television production studios ignores the glaring realities that this website raises.  On a separate page, the authors raise some excellent questions to trigger student inquiry into relationship between Aboriginals and the media:

  • Who selected or created these images and stories? Why does it matter who made these selections?
  • Whose voices are being heard? And whose voices are absent? Why?
  • Why are certain stories selected for the news and others not?
  • Are Aboriginal people shown as real human beings in films and TV programs or do they seem wooden and two-dimensional?
  • Do depictions in movies and TV shows respect tribal, cultural and regional differences?

The greater questions of authentic voice, authorship, intellectual property, decolonization are not really examined on this site.  The pages are useful in getting students started on the path to understanding, but students will need to push well beyond this website if they wish to engage in critical study.

Evaluating Aboriginal Websites

The document “Techniques for Evaluating American Indian Websites” was discussed in the Smith and Ward reading for this week and I decided to take a closer look at this article.  This is a valuable article that definitely covers some aspects of website analysis I would not have considered.  This is quite a long list and includes simple tips such as checking to see if the author of the website is identified as a member of a nation or are they more specific with a specific tribe (more specific would indicate more authentic).  Some of the more interesting aspects of analysis refer to the use of stories and whether they are appropriate and whether the website is trying to sell you something.  This is quite an old document (last updated in 2000) but despite the broken links still contains some valuable aspects of media literacy.

Aboriginal Multi-Media Society

The Aborignial Multimedia Society is a resource for all Aboriginal people in Canada.  Their resources include career links, community events and links to scholarships (among other community resources).  The main purpose of this website it a collection from Aboriginal publications across Canada.  This provides an Aboriginal perspective to current news events and developments related to Aboriginal stories that might be missed by mainstream media.  Within this there is also access to archives from previous news stories which makes this a valuable resource for educators.

Digital Drum

Digital Drum is a website designed for media productions that represent Aboriginal culture and history or Aboriginal art.  This is a website where the vast majority of content comes from the users themselves; however, some content is provided by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.  This website also redirects visitors to educational resources and establishes digital literacy.  Associated with this website is a community portion where members can create blogs and interact with one another.  This website also redirects to Digital Drum Pro which is similar to Digital Drum but restricts itself to films.

Media Awareness Network

Here’s a link to an interesting website.


The Media Awareness Network is a non-profit Canadian entity that provides digital resources to support media literacy.  The link I have included is to an article “The Development of Aboriginal Broadcasting in Canada”, which provides an overview of the history of Canadian Aboriginal programming.

While the article covers some of the same ground as the Faye Ginsburg article in the ETEC 521 readings, it focuses only on Canadian content and delivery, beginning in the early days of CBC’s shortwave radio programming in the 1950s through to the launch of the (very successful) Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) in 1999.

The website has an abundance of other material related to the portrayal of aboriginals in the media, under a broad section on Aboriginal People.