Telling Our Stories: Willow Fiddler’s Journey to Journalism
When Willow Fiddler was young, she knew she wanted to tell the stories nobody was telling about Indigenous people. “When I was living in Sandy Lake as a young adult I saw how we were underrepresented in mainstream media particularly, and just seeing all the good stories that weren't being told about First Nations people and communities,” she recounted.
While there are many difficult stories that need to be told, she tries to focus on positive stories. Now a year and a half into working with The Globe & Mail, she started as a video journalist with APTN. Her journey to journalism was a winding road from Thunder Bay and Sandy Lake First Nation.
“I really think all of my work and lived experience up until then has really pushed me to where I am today and has really informed a lot of my work and my reporting and perspectives.”
Accessing education was a challenge for Fiddler. “Here in the North we don't have the same access to education. there's no journalism schools close by here. If I wanted to attend a journalism school that means I would have to move and relocate and be further away from my family, which I didn't want to do,” she explained.
Fiddler went back to college at the age of 35 for a multimedia program after pursuing some online studies that allowed her to remain in her home community. As a mature student, she faced challenges when her family had to go from two incomes to one so she could go to school, with balancing school and home life, as well as racism and systemic barriers. She credits her strong support system with getting her through the difficult experiences she encountered.
With the help of a bursary she received, Fiddler got an internship with Shaw Media, which is how she got her start with APTN. “It was just kind of right place, right time, but also a matter of looking for those opportunities and taking those opportunities and chances and risks to get myself educated and with the skills I needed and then finding a job that I could contribute with,” she remembered.
“I encourage people to take opportunities and be curious and be adventurous and take those risks and chances.”
She describes her upbringing as typical for those raised in the North, her father was Oji-Cree and her mother was non-Indigenous. Her family relocated to access education and eventually settled in rural Ontario. When she ventured South as a teen she experienced culture shock, but gained access to experiences and opportunities that helped her grow. With opportunities came challenges.
“When people see certain things in you, people see your strengths and what you're good at, it can really be really tough to believe. It is hard to see yourself. When you look in the mirror, you still don't see what other people see.”
Fiddler became a mother as a teen and struggled with addictions. When asked what she would tell her younger self she said, “I would have told myself back then is to just really not worry so much about things or overthink things.” Her daughter became a mother young too and faced challenges herself. “Those are kinds of realities that we live with and are faced with. The love I have for my grandson and my daughter is just so worth it all,” Fiddler reflected.
Later in life, Fiddler struggled with imposter syndrome and overthinking things professionally. When she thought about journalism, she thought, "No way, there's no way I'm good at that. Or I can do that." It was the encouragement of a colleague who made her feel confident enough to pursue her career path. In the face of Fiddler’s self-doubt, a fellow journalist told her, "Yes, you can and you need to write, and it's not only that you can, but you should be doing this.”
Emboldened with confidence, Fiddler went into the world to tell the stories of her people - stories of communities coming together, of achievements and celebrations. While the world has been transfixed by heavy stories coming out of Thunder Bay, Fiddler takes time to share the stories that give reasons to hope, to cheer and to showcase Indigenous joy and excellence. Her winding road to journalism led to a destination and the representation she dreamed of in her youth.
Thanks to Alison Tedford for authoring this article.
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