Karl Dockstader – 2020

Continuance: Yonkwa'nikonhrakontáhkwen — Our Consciousness Continues Unchanged was performed outside the former Mohawk Institute residential school in Brantford, Ont. as part of the National Arts Centre's Grand Acts of Theatre series.

By Karl Dockstader

2020 CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellow

2020 – the year I was selected as a CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism fellow – was a year of change for journalism, a year of change for the world. When people mobilized in the streets to demand justice and change for the death of George Floyd, it sent a ripple across both sides of Canada and America’s border.

This wave resonated strongly in the media world in Canada, triggering a sort of reckoning with the white male dominance of the industry.

The world of journalism is one with entrenched rules, standards, and practices but it seemed to me that those rules and systems are continuously failing certain types of people.

Canadian newsrooms were initially quick to talk about American cries for justice for Black and racialized people but connecting it to what happened with Abdirahman Abdi in Ottawa in years’ past or the more recent deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Ejaz Choudry weren’t happening on the same scale.

There is a tension that has been building in the United States for generations that was released when communities started to use their collective voice to cry out and demand justice.

Those tensions exist in Canadian territories too, but if newsrooms don’t address them, if journalists don’t give narrative sovereignty to Black voices, to Indigenous voices, to non-white cisgendered male voices, then they aren’t really telling the whole story.

This is why seeing what CBC Indigenous does to defy the status quo and actively elevate Indigenous voices was such a rich and meaningful experience for me. This unit is Indigenous-led and operated with the freedom to tell our stories using our voices.

The energy in the daily pitch meetings is an electrifying blend of voices from coast to coast that reflect a rich, diverse, and disparate range of important Indigenous perspectives. It was absolutely empowering to hear about the work behind stories ranging from police saving a deer from falling through the ice, to poet Janet Rogers putting together the 13 Moons, 13 Reads book club.

I had an opportunity to showcase a brilliant piece of performance art by Six Nations Mohawk dancer Santee Smith and – at the suggestion of CBC video journalist Nic Meloney – add the important voices of two of the survivors of the residential school where the performance occurred in Outdoor dance performance at residential school aims to ‘reclaim it with our imagery’.

In addition to time with the CBC Indigenous unit, the fellowship afforded me the opportunity to work directly with the team at CBC Unreserved to complement my radio background. After I got over the jitters of working with gifted playwright and host of Unreserved Falen Johnson – who I have been listening to for years through the CBC podcast The Secret Life of Canada – I was really able to enhance my storytelling skills to take back to our work on One Dish, One Mic.

This past year was a year of change, but I learned through the fellowship that if people don’t tell the stories of that change then we may not grow and learn from it.

It was enlightening to see and work with our modern storytellers – the Indigenous journalists of CBC and the Unreserved radio unit – as they do the important work of informing the public of these crucial pieces of our ongoing history.



ISABELL BASSETT, Former Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation and former chair and CEO of TVO