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  • The "Bended Elbow" News, Kenora 1974How a Small-Town Newspaper Promoted Colonization
  • Mark Anderson (bio) and Carmen Robertson (bio)

When the Ojibway Warrior Society seized control of municipally run Anicinabe Park in Kenora, Ontario, during the summer of 1974, leading to a six-week standoff, nearly all racial hell broke loose, according to local press reports.1 On the one hand, armed aboriginals did take control of the ten-acre park, a piece of property the group immediately laid claim to, arguing that the land had been effectively stolen from them decades earlier.2 On the other hand, the local Kenora daily Miner & News represented the story as one of a classic struggle between civilization and barbarism, a colonial encounter with white town folk cast in the blameless role of aggrieved victims while natives were portrayed in three basic, hackneyed, frequently cross-pollinating image streams. The stereotyping made little distinction between or among local aboriginal people, members of the Warrior Society, or hundreds of other discrete Canadian native groups.

The borders of each of these constructions, which we will explore in this paper employing discourse analysis, remained porous, frequently overlapping throughout 1974. However, local press representations of aboriginals during 1974 in the months leading up to the park's seizure were decidedly more moderate in tone than during the standoff, which began in mid-July and lasted till late August. Then, in the weeks following the peaceful resolution to the event (though not necessarily the various issues raised by it), local news coverage generally resumed its paternalistically colonial pre-seizure character.

In the first instance, the newspaper cast all natives—including First Nations, Métis, Inuit—qua barbarians, essentialized savages, and as morally insensate, as if they had stepped straight out of an old-fashioned [End Page 410] Hollywood Western, exemplifying untrustworthy behavior (at best) or swimming in a sea of violence and mayhem (at worst).3 Second, the newspaper depicted aboriginals as hapless, ungovernable drunkards. According to this portrayal, they could no more govern their base instincts than they could effectively manage their day-to-day affairs living in the later twentieth century. A third casting portrayed natives as exotic wraiths, frequently stoic, a child-like people in need of correction and direction at the same time as they were on the verge of dying off. Common to this stream was the notion that pitched Canada's natives as a defeated, defanged race that did not have enough sense to know that its own culture—and you will note here the insistence on conflating all indigenous cultures into one moribund monolith—was as good as dead.

Agendas

These press framings open a window onto how residents of this small town in central Canada imagined natives as well as how Canadian colonialism has been aided and abetted via press complicity.4 That is not to say that the local paper accurately or representatively reflected all white opinions in the town or that Kenora stands in for all of Canada. Yet we will argue that such press treatment was quintessentially, colonially Canadian.

A generation of empirical research demonstrates that the news media has the power not simply to establish and patrol the perimeters of public discourse or shape opinions about a topic but actually has the power to engender public opinion directly. Newspapers then play a critical role both in teaching about race yet, at the same time, also cater to and even reflect audience's views.5 While this relationship is complex and not fully understood, the literature on the topic indicates clearly that the press not only provides frames of explication for readers but also may actually tell an audience what to think.6 Moreover, given Kenora's well-established history of discrimination against natives, one might also fairly query whether the local press was simply responding to market demands, in effect giving consumers what they wanted.7 While this topic has received almost no published study in Canada, a rich and growing body of scholarship, from the path-breaking work of Edward Said through Stuart Hall and others, has identified the press as a central agent in the promulgation of the larger cultural project of colonialism.8...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1828
Print ISSN
0095-182X
Pages
pp. 410-440
Launched on MUSE
2007-08-07
Open Access
No
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