Aanii/Bonjour/Greetings! My name is Kyle Corston, and I'm the LJI videojournalist at FirstTelTV5.
FirstTelTV5 is located in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, on Mnidoo Mnissing (or Manitoulin Island in English), the largest freshwater island on Earth. Manitoulin is the home of the Three Fires Confederacy of the Odawa, Pottawatomi, and Ojibwe peoples, and has a beautiful and dramatic landscape and rich history stretching back to time immemorial. While there are five First Nations on Manitoulin, Wikwemikong is the largest, and FirstTelTV5 serves over approximately one thousand households with its cable and internet services in the community.
I am originally from Chapleau Cree First Nation, about a five hour drive north of Wikwemikong, but I have lived here off and on for a few years now, having worked a contract with the world renowned Debajehmujig Theater Company several years ago. My background is in film production, focusing mostly on documentary work in the past 15 years, and I applied for the LJI videojournalist position, with no formal background in journalism, hoping that I could put my video production skills to good use! Lucky for me I got the gig, and it's been a learning experience ever since!
One of the challenges I immediately ran into, though, was the fact that the community made a decision not to broadcast Chief and Council meetings to the public. Band members are encouraged to attend meetings in person, but due to the sensitive nature of the issues that arise at chief and council meetings, they decided early on that they would not broadcast meetings on the community channel, nor upload video to the internet. Wiikwemkoong is historically unceded land, and the community never signed treaties with the Crown. This means that it is recognized, and recognizes itself as sovereign Anishnawbe territory. As part of my mandate as an LJI journalist is to cover meetings and do 'gavel to gavel' journalism, fostering 'democracy' in small communities, I had to find another way to do my job! This makes perfect sense though; as the Indian Act isn't democratic, 'fostering democracy' on a reserve can seem like an absurd (and frankly colonial) quest.
So what does civic journalism look like on a First Nation? I had zero desire to focus on issues of addictions, and poverty, etc..., which is all you ever usually see the media cover in First Nations communities (if it bleeds it leads, etc...). We all know that there are problems and what they are, but what about solutions? As a Cree person who understands the colonial history of Canada, and the effects of the cultural genocide occurring in this country, where as an example I am having to 'relearn' my culture and language myself, I know that we are people who live by the seasons and with "natural law". It occurred to me that there were a few community members who were literal fountains of traditional information; from language skills to traditional ecological knowledge, who were dying to share what they know. Maybe the best thing for me to do, is to document things with the seasons, and to give these elders a platform to share what they know. Maybe this would help trigger some memories within the community, and encourage people to get back out onto the land. That's when I contacted Mark Eshkawkogan.
Mark is highly energetic, outgoing, and a natural storyteller and teacher. He is fluent in Anishnawbemowin, and a local expert on plant and medicine identification. When he isn't picking medicines, Mark is often helping out around the community, or in the schools giving a language workshop or something of that nature. So he would be perfect to talk to. And so began the "Medicine Picking & Identification with Mark Eshkawkogan" series on FirstTelTV5. While i am also covering other stories and events, chief updates and the like, the medicine picking videos have created the most interest in the community, and has been generating the biggest response so far. People in the Youtube comment section asking questions, and sharing personal stories, has been fun to see, and an indication that our little show is a success!
So as we enter the Falling Leaves Moon (aka September), kids return to school under COVID-19 rules, and we prepare for shorter days and colder weather, expect to see more of Mark out on the land, sharing with us what he knows about the medicines, teaching us Anishnawbemowin, and encouraging us all to 'get out there' and reconnect with the land and medicines and animals.