A great deal of Connie Walker’s career in journalism and her life has been spent immersed in the lives of women she will never meet, women stolen from their families and communities, many who are still in need of justice.
That’s the reality the award winning journalist lays out at the start of her latest investigative series, Stolen: The Search for Jermain.
The podcast is about a young Indigenous mother, Jermain Charlo, who left a bar in Missoula, Montana and was never seen again.
“My experiences as a Cree woman, who grew up in my community, my father was a residential school survivor, my grandparents were residential school survivors. Those have impacted and shaped my entire life and my experience. It also is for me, a motivation to want to focus on this issue,” Walker tells Face to Face Host Dennis Ward.
“Focusing on MMIW is a way to give families space and time to share their story of their loved one and hopefully get some answers but also, it’s a bigger window into understanding what it means to be an Indigenous woman or girl in Canada or the United States today,” says Walker.
Walker previously reported and hosted two seasons Missing and Murdered, a CBC News original podcast. The award winning journalist has been telling stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, even before she left high school.
Walker, who is from Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan, was first drawn to journalism following the murder of Pamela George. George was killed by two men in 1995. Walker remembers being disturbed by the news coverage of the trail when those charged in George’s death were described as star athletes while headlines referred to George as an occasional sex worker, rather than a mother, daughter or sister.
When Walker applied for university, she thought about applying to the school of journalism but had a feeling she didn’t belong. There were very few Indigenous people on the news, or even on TV. Eventually she would enroll in journalism at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College.
Her first job in journalism, as an intern, was as a chase producer for the CBC’s morning show in Halifax. At the time, there was a fishing dispute taking place on the east coast and Walker had been asked to book the chief of a local First Nation to come on the show and discuss the latest developments.
“I remember that it was a Friday because the interview was scheduled for a Monday. My senior producer was asking me if I had let him know where to go, where to meet our camera crew and what time the interview was and I said ‘yes he’ll be there on Monday morning’ and she said ‘because you know those Indians, they’ll go out drinking all weekend and they won’t show up on Monday morning,’” says Walker who remembers freezing up and being shocked at what she just heard.
Walker says that would not be the last time she would encounter “blatant racism” in the workplace. Walker doesn’t think those attitudes were unique to the national broadcaster at that time. Thankfully, she says things have changed.
“I feel like what has happened in the last five to seven years is something that I couldn’t have even imagined when I was a young journalist,” says Walker. “There’s been this incredible transition in terms of not just the volume of stories about Indigenous people in Canada but also the kinds of stories and I think it’s been a huge transformation.
“And one that feels so exciting to get to feel like I’ve been a part of.”
Walker credits the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the switch to digital for the change in the way stories about Indigenous peoples and issues are told. Digital metrics proved there was a huge demand for those stories from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Walker says she is in awe of young journalists today who are demanding change in the workplace.