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Re/framing Aboriginal social policy issues in the news: old stereotypes and new opportunities

Resource type
Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
This dissertation examines representations of Aboriginal people and issues in the news media in historical times (1862-7) as well as in the modern era (1991-2003). Previous studies – most notably the review of Aboriginal people and the media conducted by the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) – have found evidence of persistent patterns of racism and ethnocentrism in all forms of public discourse. Techniques of content analysis and critical discourse analysis are applied to news stories about treaty negotiations and Aboriginal child welfare issues appearing in national newspapers, major daily newspapers, community newspapers as well as Aboriginal publications. The findings of this research indicate that news reports about Aboriginal issues display ethnocentrism and stereotyping and utilize dominant news frames that contain and limit Aboriginal voices. Furthermore, the press covers critical issues, which have long historical antecedents that are little understood or known by the public, in a thoroughly de-contextualized fashion. While Aboriginal issues tend to be reported in ways that support the status quo, this reportage is not monolithic. Due to a variety of factors that influence the production of the news, including journalistic imperatives emphasizing "balance" and "objectivity," even news coverage of Aboriginal issues that is steeped in dominance must reiterate contradictions inherent in relations between mainstream Canadian society and Aboriginal people. This affords opportunities for Aboriginal people and others to foster new public discourses that challenge hegemonic values. As well, the public has demonstrated an ability, under certain conditions, to resist racist and stereotypical interpretations of events. Finally, voices of Aboriginal people are increasingly included in public discourse and most Aboriginal organizations have communications or media relations branches which systematically attempt to influence reporting on Aboriginal issues and counteract "bias" in the press. This research furnishes a media resource not only for Aboriginal people, but for anyone concerned with social justice, in analyzing the news and challenging dominant representations of Aboriginal people and issues.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Anderson, Robert
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