Broadcasting While Indigenous: Trailblazing Journalist & Author Waubgeshig Rice Shares the News
"There were trailblazers before me who made sure I had space and who allowed me to succeed. I always want to give all credit to them for making sure I was empowered to be the best that I could be," shares journalist and author Waubgeshig Rice. A member of the Bear Clan, of the Wasauksing First Nation, Rice currently lives in Sudbury, Ontario.
After graduating from Ryerson University with a Bachelor of journalism degree, he worked with CBC and Indigenous publications nationally after getting his start on the Weather Network. For most of his career, he worked as a TV reporter. While working at CBC, Rice wrote books, including the novel Moon of the Crested Snow, which became a bestseller. That success helped him transition into a full time literary career. He’s living a life he never knew was possible.
“I just thought our stories didn't belong in books and that's just the way it was.”
Growing up as a teen in the 1990s, Rice wasn't exposed to Indigenous journalists, or authors through mainstream media or education. He always enjoyed English class but didn't see Indigenous people reflected in the books he read. Fortunately, his aunt started giving him books by Indigenous authors, opening his eyes to the possibility of sharing Indigenous stories. He wrote fiction in his spare time, eventually assembling his first short story collection.
In his senior year of high school, he went to Germany on an exchange program. Before he left, he was approached by a national news outlet to write articles about his time there because they hadn’t heard of many First Nations kids from a reserve travelling internationally. He had no idea you could be paid to write and he was excited. His German classmates welcomed him with open arms and genuine interest in who he was. He wrote about his time away and decided to go into journalism.
When he returned to Toronto to finish school, the contrast was startling. “I felt alone. I didn't find a lot of people who were interested in me, in my culture, and I had to work hard to reach out to other Indigenous people in the city, because we're so spread out,” he remembers. He found the Native Canadian Centre and the Indigenous student services center at his university to be important resources and places to connect with community.
The experience gave him wisdom to share. “Even if you find other Indigenous people who aren't necessarily from your nation, or who are culturally like you, you're gonna be able to make friends in that you have this shared experience of being Indigenous people having left your community and going on to do this huge, important, impressive thing. That's something young people, I think, should always remember is that you're doing a great thing by going and furthering your education. No matter what you're studying, no matter what your intentions are, afterwards, that's a major accomplishment. Feel pride in that big step you've taken, even though you may be feeling some sadness, or some homesickness, or some confusion, and just about being so far away from home. Seek other people out and just remind yourself what you're there for, and just how special it is what you're doing. Eventually, things will even out and you'll get into that groove and then before you know it, you'll be graduating,” he advises.
When Rice applied to university, journalism program admissions were competitive. With his portfolio of clippings from his time abroad and an essay about the importance of Indigenous representation in media, he applied and got in, the only First Nations student from the reserve in his class of 120. At first, Rice wanted to be a newspaper reporter but he was intrigued by the technical aspects of broadcasting and production.
He learned how to shoot and edit video, and gained on camera and on air skills, but faced challenges without many Indigenous peers. “You're often put on the spot, whenever classroom discussion goes to Indigenous issues. You basically are the representative for every indigenous nation in the country. Everybody expects you to know everything. Then you have all these other stereotypes to deal with. It's overwhelming at times. I admit, I wanted to quit by the time I got to my third year,” he recalls. Navigating cultural and social elements during a stressful program, he wasn’t sure he could keep going, but he graduated and got work right away.
To stay balanced and thriving while working hard, Rice looks to his culture and community. He tries to stay physically fit, lifting weights, running, and practicing martial arts. Rice spends time with his family, enjoys getting creative, reading, watching movies and staying mentally active. He likes to play guitar and spend time going out on the land.
If he could give a message to his younger self it would be to take his language learning more seriously. Despite growing up in a community with first language speakers, he didn’t prioritize learning, a decision he regrets. Now, he’s making an effort to learn his language and make up for lost time.
He draws inspiration from the work youth are doing in every field, from Northern communities who are making the most of the resources they have while maintaining their language and culture, and from groups of Indigenous young people doing cool things in the world. Rice is encouraged that his kids will be more empowered and be in a better place than he was at their age thanks to the efforts of Indigenous youth.
“I really just appreciate the spirit that young people are keeping alive and are strengthening. We have bounced back from some of the most horrific abuses and official assimilative initiatives that any group of people can go through yet here we are, and the youth are blazing a trail and doing excellent things and it's a beautiful life as a result of that,” he concludes.
There were trailblazers before him who made sure he had space and who allowed him to succeed. He gives credit to them for making sure he was empowered to be the best that he could be. Now a successful journalist and author himself, Waubgeshig Rice is empowering a new generation of youth and sharing the stories he worried just didn’t belong in books when he was young. Along the way, he learned they do belong, and so does he and in sharing the experience of Indigenous people, he is creating belonging for others, page by page.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this story.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.