Media speaks volumes about what is important in a society. George Gerbner of Temple University discusses how portrayals in media can affect how children see themselves and others: he argues that if you are over-represented, you see yourself as having many opportunities and choices while if you’re under-represented, you see yourself as having the opposite.

Since before Canada became a Confederation, visible minority groups have been creating their own media: the first issue of the Provincial Freeman, which was a weekly newspaper edited and published by African Canadians in the Province of Canada West (now Ontario), was first published on March 24, 1854.

For over a hundred years, Westerns and documentaries have shaped the public’s perception of Native people. The wise elder (Little Big Man); the drunk (Tom Sawyer); the Indian princess (Pocahontas); the loyal sidekick (Tonto)—these images have become engrained in the consciousness of every North American.

It is called the “Highway of Tears”: an 800 kilometer stretch of highway in British Columbia where more than a dozen young women have disappeared since 1994. The same thing had happened before in the same place – almost twenty young women disappeared or were killed there between the late Sixties and the early Eighties – but until recently these crimes have received little media attention, perhaps because the majority of victims have been Aboriginal women.

Generations of North American children have grown up watching “cowboys and Indians” films and TV shows and reading books such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Little House on the Prairie. Popular films and novels reinforced the notion that Aboriginal people existed only in the past—forever chasing buffalo or being chased by the cavalry. These images showed them as destined to remain on the margins of “real” society. Such impressions and childhood beliefs, set at an early age, are often the hardest to shake.

Early in the history of Canadian television, when southern television began to bombard the airwaves in northern communities, Canada’s Aboriginal people made the connection between cultural survival and the ownership and control of media.

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