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.
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.
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.
In the 19th century, Métis leader Louis Riel predicted: “My people will sleep for one hundred years. When they awaken, it will be the artists who give them back their spirit.” Most Aboriginal groups in Canada have relied on the oral tradition to convey an idea, message or value.
Media education can help young people put current images and messages about Aboriginal people into perspective by helping them understand how the media work, why stereotyping exists, how decisions are made and why “it matters who makes it.” Media education is not about learning the right answers; it’s about consuming media images with an active, critical mind and asking the right questions.
It’s been almost fifteen years since Mark Prensky coined the term “digital native” to describe young people who have grown up with the Internet and digital media. In fact, the children who were born the year Prensky’s book was published are now in high school. While for many, the public perception of young people taking to digital platforms like ducks to water persists – accompanied by the image of adults, particularly parents, who are seen (often by themselves) as hopelessly out of their depth – the question remains how close that image is to reality. Are Canadian youth truly digitally literate? And if they are not “digital natives” who effortlessly acquire their skills on their own or from peers, are students learning what they need from their parents or teachers?
In this lesson, students are introduced to Earth Day and the theme of “Green Cities”. After listening to a short presentation on the concept of a “green city” and elements that constitute a green city (e.g. renewable energy sources such as solar panels, more energy-efficient buildings, recycling programs, cleaner air and water) students participate in an activity where they count the number of parks on a map of their city or neighbourhood. Maps are then analyzed as a medium as students discuss how they are created, things they can and can’t show, and their effectiveness at communicating environmental information.
Framed around key concepts of media literacy, the That’s Not Me tutorial examines how entertainment and news media represent diversity and the impact these media portrayals can have on the value we place on individuals and groups in society. The tutorial explores how the media industry is changing to better reflect Canadian society and provides strategies for challenging negative representations and engaging young people in advocating for more realistic and positive media portrayals.