Representation in the Era of Reconciliation: Media Framing of Indigenous Politics in Canada

Budd, Brian
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University of Guelph

In the last six years, reconciliation has been highlighted (at least rhetorically) as one of the key political goals of the Canadian state as it claims to re-orientate and navigate its relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Despite being widely embraced across settler society, state-sanctioned reconciliation remains a fundamentally contested concept that has been critiqued for its failure to create space for the revitalization of Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. This dissertation utilizes a comparative case study and mixed-methods approach to explore how print-based news media – a key source of learning about Indigenous issues for members of settler society – have contributed to the discursive construction of Indigenous-settler reconciliation in Canada. Using the techniques of frame and content analysis, the dissertation examines 533 articles and editorials published across three empirical cases – the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, the 2020 Wet’suwet’en Land Defense and the Indigenous Languages Act. The key research finding is that the Canadian news media continue to produce systemic patterns in coverage which reject, marginalize and erase the territorial rights and claims of Indigenous Peoples. By extension, these patterns in coverage contribute to the construction of a ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ model of reconciliation defined by increasing socioeconomic and cultural equality for Indigenous Peoples, while at the same time reaffirming the exclusive territorial sovereignty of the Canadian settler state. The dissertation concludes that rather than helping to move the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and settlers forward along a path of reconciliation, power-sharing, and the resurgence of land-based self-determination, the news media are continuing to construct discourses and representations that work against the political objectives of Indigenous Peoples and reinforce settler colonial power relationships in Canada. In offering this conclusion, the study highlights the role that non-Indigenous authorship and sourcing play in shaping news coverage of Indigenous issues in Canada. The dissertation makes original contributions to both the Indigenous politics and political communications literature by explaining how the news media are contributing to the ongoing politics of Indigenous-settler reconciliation in Canada.

Political Communication, Indigenous Politics, Canada