Walking Eagle News Tim Fontaine satirical satire Indigenous issues Canada

Walking Eagle News offers a satirical take on Indigenous issues in Canada

“The fact that there are graves is not the punchline, it’s people’s reaction to it, the performance that’s happening now among politicians and the way the media is handling it. That’s a joke.”

Tim Fontaine is the “Editor-in-Grand-Chief” and head writer for Walking Eagle News, two roles that — if you know anything about newspapers and comedy shows — reveal a lot about what Fontaine’s website and Twitter account is: a satirical take on Indigenous news.

More specifically, Walking Eagle News takes jabs at the way Indigenous issues are handled by (mostly white) politicians and reported by the media, while also occasionally poking fun at Indigenous leaders, institutions and the community itself.

The Winnipeg-based former journalist specializes in headlines like “Retail worker dies after not being allowed to racially profile Indigenous customers,” “First Nations man wakes up white after Indian Status card expires,” “’Fading from history’: Members of royal family appear translucent as statues toppled in Manitoba” and “Country’s greasy, racist pricks united in belief ‘nothing nefarious’ about graveyards at schools.”

Considering the past year in Indigenous news in Canada, there is plenty of serious and sometimes just dark material for Walking Eagle News to address and to process. It was partly the inherent darkness of the contemporary Indigenous experience across the country that drove Fontaine out of journalism after years working for CBC Indigenous and APTN.

Four years after launching the site, Fontaine is in the early stages of creating a Walking Eagle News radio broadcast/comedy album that he predicts will be released come winter. (Ideally, he’d love to add to the Walking Eagle Satirical Universe with a limited-series TV show.)

I reached Fontaine by phone to talk about how his brand began and the anger that continues to fuel it.

Lorraine Carpenter: Tell me about how Walking Eagle News began, and your transition from journalism.

Tim Fontaine: I was working at CBC Indigenous and I was at my wit’s end. I quit on the spot. I walked out of CBC and never went back. It was constantly covering really negative things that really did me in, and also the confines of journalism, not being able to honestly comment on things that were happening to Indigenous communities, you know what I mean? I started doing op eds for a while and then that wasn’t enough because it still felt too much like journalism.

Then one night in November 2017, I fell upon these articles that I had written while I was a journalist. They were humorous articles written exactly the way news is written and I thought, ‘I should do something with this — to hell with it, I’m just gonna do it.’ I had some server space, so I did it all in one night: I wrote a bunch of stories, bought the URL, put up the site and just launched it. On Twitter I followed a few journalists that I know and it took off from there. It just exploded.

LC: Is there any precedent for satirical news in Indigenous communities across Canada?

TF: A reference that a lot of people make is a show called Dead Dog Café, which was on B.C. radio back in the ’80s and ’90s. It was sort of a satirical talk show hosted by these three Indigenous people but I don’t think there’s ever been anything like this, which is sort of like our version of The Onion or Beaverton.

I didn’t even consider it satire at first. I didn’t really call it anything, but it was parodying news. The longer I did it, the more angry I got at news, the more satirical it became and it started to have more of a directed message towards government and liberalism and colonialism and racism and racial profiling.

Walking Eagle News “Editor-in-Grand-Chief” Tim Fontaine

LC: Considering how dark so much Indigenous news has been in Canada over the past year, even COVID aside, do you feel like this outlet for you is also helping people in the community to process some of these issues?

TF: There’s something inherent about that approach, for both journalists and Indigenous people. Journalists, I find, have a lot of gallows humour because they often cover dark things and I think there’s something that happens inside them that breaks along the way. They just find humour in things because you have to, I guess. It’s not that you’re making light of it. Indigenous people have this shared colonialism, whether you’re North America, South America, Australia or New Zealand or wherever, and there’s sort of a joking about it. I don’t know if it’s necessarily processing it or if that’s just how we work. I hate to generalize but maybe that’s why (Walking Eagle News) resonated with people so well, because of that sense of humour that we have, whether it’s a survival method or not.

LC: I remember hearing a joke by an Indigenous comedian on CBC Radio years ago. He was talking about movies where a haunted house was built on an Indian burial ground, and he noted that the whole continent is an Indian burial ground. In my mind that was a reference to the initial violence between “Indians” and white settlers, and that’s dark enough, but that joke would have a different resonance today — at least with the majority of white people.

TF: If you look at the humour of Indigenous people, it’s sort of telling of the sudden revelation that people are having now (about the reality of residential schools) because we’ve been talking about it — and joking about it — for years and years. The discovery of graves shouldn’t be a surprise to Canadians — they’re the ones that made those freakin’ graves and it was in the TRC report not long ago.

In Walking Eagle, and most of the jokes that I’ve heard about it, the fact that there are graves is not the punchline, it’s people’s reaction to it or the performance that’s happening now among politicians. That’s a joke, that’s the punchline — whether it’s a Conservative government or Liberal, it doesn’t matter. And the way the media is handling it — all those things around it is where I find the humour.

LC: A good example from your site, on a slightly different topic, is “White man injured by use of word ‘genocide.’”

TF: Yeah, that was after the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report came out, using the word genocide. There were all these media outlets suddenly taking a very strong stand, saying, “It was really bad but it wasn’t genocide.” People were more hurt and angry about the use of the word than about the fact that genocide was happening.

It’s funny the false patriotism that comes out. I think it’s got very little to do with patriotism and more to do with the fact that those people are assholes. You don’t give a shit about this country, you don’t have a Canadian flag tattooed on your arm, you’re just an asshole who doesn’t like Indigenous people. ■

For more, visit the Walking Eagle News website. This article originally appeared in the August issue of Cult MTL.

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