The Representation of the First Nations in Newspapers between 1900 and 1950

The First Nations were increasingly present on the national and international scenes. This raises the question whether the media’s representation of them had evolved over time. During the two great world wars, when a significant number of First Nations members lived and fought alongside their non-Native counterparts, were they judged more fairly? Did experiencing the same dangers bring the different ethnic groups closer together?

A survey of newspapers between 1915 and 1950 seems to indicate the opposite. Indeed, the same prejudices had withstood the test of time: The First Nations were depicted as big, strong and agile beings made for hunting and surviving in the woods but hardly adapted to urban living. The characteristics used to describe them were still those associated with “savages.” The effect was that they were not considered to have what it takes for the business world and “modern” life.

Even when it came to praising the qualities of a member of the First Nations, criticism was never far off. Value judgments expressed in the media were often based on misconceptions about Native beliefs and traditions. In one article, a non-Native fisher who stated he had won a fishing contest thanks to his guide added that the latter “wasn’t too bright since he showed him his fishing techniques without asking for anything in return.” What this illustrates is a lack of awareness about Native practices that emphasize the sharing of knowledge and resources. Such misconceptions about Native traditions abound to this day.

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