Indigenous podcasting: resisting the colonial paradigm
Drawing by Taylor Mitchell
Along with the land of Turtle Island - more commonly known as “North America” - European settlers also assumed possession over Indigenous history. By privileging a “definitive sequence of events that happened in a certain place over a set period of time” over the “multiplicity of stories” central to Indigenous ways of knowledge, these settlers constructed the categories of “fact” and “fiction” -- and considered the former as more important. Oral storytelling, however, was placed in the latter category; Indigenous peoples were treated as if the lack of written documentation - in favor of spoken histories - nullified their claims to the land. The methods Indigenous peoples used to record stories and pass down knowledge through generations faced attempted erasure by the settlers who sought to indoctrinate Indigenous children and punish those who spoke their mother tongue. Though the Supreme Court deemed oral storytelling as a “legitimate force of evidence” in 1997, the Eurocentric binaries still affect the way Indigenous peoples’ stories are represented in the media. The phrase “fake news!” litters the comment section of most news articles; this, indirectly, assumes there is a contrastingly “truthful” way of reporting, which is often thought to be found in the facade of “objective reporting.” However, if this method is supposed to be the most authentic, why are Indigenous peoples under-represented, stereotyped, and having their stories mediated through a settler’s journalistic discretion? Mainstream Western media is still greatly influenced by the fabricated binary between “objectivity” and “subjectivity,” rendering them unaware of how a settler’s privilege obscures their portrayal of Indigenous issues.
“To govern ourselves means to govern our stories and our ways of telling stories,” Maskegon-Iskwew - a métis artist who develops Indigenous media arts project - said, “We can determine our use of the new technologies to support, strengthen and enrich our cultural communities.” Driven by the desire of Indigenous peoples to share their stories on a global scale -— and assume agency over their representation— Indigenous podcasts have emerged as a tool to “decolonize the airwaves." At the intersection of digital media, podcasting, and Indigenous storytelling, lies the rising trend of Indigenous podcasting — whether that be Indigenous media platforms like “Indian & Cowboy,” Rosanna Deerchild’s segment on CBCRadio, or activists launching their own indie podcasts. The content is as numerous and varied as the Indigenous communities represented; these podcasts discuss everything from relationships between anti-Blackness and settler colonialism, and the conception of ‘Indigenerdity’ through comics and cosplay.
Committed to “transforming Indigenous storytelling, forever,” the critically acclaimed Indian & Cowboy is the first known independent Indigenous Podcast media network, founded in October 2014. One particular podcasts is otipêyimsiw-iskwêwak kihci-kîsikoh (“Métis in space”). The show is hosted by Molly Swain & Chelsea Vowel, who, over a bottle of red wine, review "a sci-fi movie or TV episode featuring Indigenous peoples, tropes, & themes” from “a tipsy, decolonial perspective.” In S.4 EP#1, Swain and Vowel discuss Mel Gibson’s film Apocolypto, which depicts an Indigenous man escaping the crumbling Mayan empire, and running towards capitalism in the process. However, the film suggests that mankind still has an “emptiness” that will only be filled “when the earth gets used up.” Swain and Vowel aptly point out human nature is universalized by making the progression towards capitalism appear “inevitable,” “linear,” and “natural.” Colonization thus appears inevitable by extension, as it involves Europeans dividing and allocating each segment of Turtle Island. This one-sided worldview, they suggested, negated a future built on “prioritizing relationships and sustainability.”
Digital storytelling, however, carries a history of its own. Jason Edward Lewis, co-founder of Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, points out that this technology supports “a system that’s built on an enlightenment era separation of the human and the natural” and creates a “clear distinction [...] between data and process,” thus focusing on the individual over the collective. Other Indigenous scholars recognize these concerns, but suggest that they can be mitigated by viewing digital media as a cosmology -- not a tool. Podcasting is not to be seen simply as a medium with defined limits, but a world of possibilities. Discussing cyberspace, Steven Loft suggests “who knows how big it is? We [Indigenous peoples] can’t conceive of its limits [...] We’ve always been part of it. We’re only starting to see ourselves as part of it.” Loft suggests that Indigenous artists have the power to expand the limits of technology, and shape the way one interacts with it. “Metis in Space” appears to embody this potentiality. Vowel and Swain, in their “unapologetically Indigenous, unabashedly female & unblinkingly nerdy” way, challenge notions of what content is ‘worthy’ of scholarly critique, and do so in a way that is innovative, subversive, and at many times, downright hilarious. Podcasting allows Indigenous stories to be broadcasted across the world in a way that gives Indigenous peoples more agency, flexibility, and creative liberties -- thus challenging colonial legacies, and the stereotypical representations that exist within it.
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