What the Canadian Public is Being Told About the More than 1200 Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and First Nations Issues: A Content and Context Analysis of Major Mainstream Canadian Media, 2014-2015

59 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2016 Last revised: 7 Apr 2016

See all articles by Daniel Drache

Daniel Drache

York University

Fred Fletcher

York University

Coral Voss

Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research

Date Written: April 2, 2016


Our examination of coverage from 2006 to 2015 in eight major daily newspapers identified more than 30,000 stories that referenced issues relevant to Indigenous individuals and communities. Through a more in-depth search for coverage of Indigenous individuals and communities between 2014 and 2015, we located nearly 2,500 articles. Many of these articles dealt with murdered and missing Indigenous women, which is the particular focus of this study. In this report, we present the findings of the quantitative and qualitative media analyses we conducted. The empirical analysis provides an evidence-based foundation for our exploration of issues identified by previous research and reflections on the coverage.

• Readers could expect to find a front page story on First Nations’ issues in any newspaper at most once a week, suggesting a lack of media attention that inadequately represents the of the importance of the issues

• While Indigenous voices were present in more than half of the stories we examined, it is not clear that articles were consistently framed in terms that would communicate First Nations’ perspectives effectively to non-Aboriginal audiences

• There was considerable emphasis on Canada’s responsibility for its lack of response to the MMIW issue as well as on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s (RCMP) ineffectiveness in bringing closure and justice to the families of women who had been murdered or gone missing. While nearly a third of the coverage of the MMIW focused on straight-forward reporting of events, a high proportion included a reference to the moral or ethical issues involved in government policies or lack thereof, with calls for a public inquiry gaining most attention.

• The manner in which Aboriginal issues are reported by mainstream Canadian media is what we call a ‘searchlight phenomenon,’ meaning that the media presents brief intensive coverage of Indigenous issues (i.e. demonstrations, occupations, suicides, the murdered and missing Indigenous women, unsettled resource claims, police incompetence) followed by a reporting void.

• The coverage of the Tina Fontaine case transcended ethnic stereotypes and engendered a broader human response by the national media. Personalizing her story became one of the ways that the national media transformed a tragic news story into a national event that moved Canadians.

• In general the Indigenous news sources were found to be optimistic in their reporting of issues, with a strong focus on mobilizing for change. Despite limited resources, they offered more suggestions for repairing the broken relationship between the federal or provincial governments and First Nations than the mainstream news outlets. Even in articles that were not opinion-based, there was clearer apportionment of blame placed squarely on the government and police for their lack of effort and attention to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The root causes of the issue were also discussed more frequently in the Indigenous coverage.

• In the First Nations media, racism and colonialism are often seen as the causes of the issues facing Indigenous people today. On balance, the Indigenous press more accurately reflected the values and concerns of their community. These media sources were also much more assertive than the mainstream media in their insistence not only that an inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women was needed, but also that immediate action, better protection for women, and an overhaul of social services were necessary.

• A major reason that the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women garnered increased coverage by the mainstream media is the pressure from First Nations communities and their ability to use social media strategically to present their case forcibly to the Canadian public. Their mobilizing efforts have succeeded in forcing the issue from the margins where it had been relegated for too long into the national consciousness. The RCMP report into the murdered and missing aboriginal women itself appears to have been a response to the work of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC).

Keywords: missing and murdered Canadian Aboriginal women, media monitoring, racism, colonialism, mainstream print media, indigenous First Nations media, media spotlight phenomenon, Truth and Reconciliation Commission,Tina Fontaine

Suggested Citation

Drache, Daniel and Fletcher, Fred and Voss, Coral, What the Canadian Public is Being Told About the More than 1200 Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and First Nations Issues: A Content and Context Analysis of Major Mainstream Canadian Media, 2014-2015 (April 2, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2758140 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2758140

Daniel Drache (Contact Author)

York University ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies
Toronto, Ontario, M3J 1P3
416.450.0100 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.danieldrache.com

Fred Fletcher

York University ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3

Coral Voss

Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research ( email )

202, 4109 4th Ave.
Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 0L4

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