Growing up on Peepeekisis First Nation, it was clear to Nelson Bird that his culture was falsely perceived by society. When he occasionally watched the news with his family, he noticed that the media fueled these perceptions through negative coverage of Indigenous Peoples.
“There were stereotypes that we didn’t pay taxes, there were stereotypes that we got everything for free, everything was handed to us on a plate,” he said.
There was a lack of respect for the belief system upheld by Indigenous Peoples, considering residential schools still remained when Bird was growing up. Common sterotypes about Indigenous Peoples created misconceptions about their values, behaviours, and traditions. As a result, many Indigneous peoples faced and continue to face discrimination.
“I am who I am no matter where I go”
Bird moved to Regina in the early ‘80s and worked for the provincial government. He made a career change in 1992 and enrolled himself in university. Not having enough money for food and finding a ride to school were amongst his challenges, but despite this, Bird was determined to learn and graduate. “We’re hard working people, just living like everybody else,” said Bird, who has been a journalist for nearly 20 years.
Bird graduated from the University of Regina in 1997 with a degree in journalism and communications, a degree in Indigneous studies, and a certificate in Indian communication arts.
He admits that in First Nations communities some people don’t applaud others for their successes and discourage them from moving off the reserve. But the unpleasant attitudes did not influence his rationale. He was proud of his identity and continued to follow his own path to success.
“I am not afraid, I am not embarrassed and I am not ashamed of it, I am a First Nations person,” Bird said. “I am who I am no matter where I go.”
Today, Bird is a well-known journalist in Saskatchewan, and he works to combat negative stereotypes about his culture. In 1998, he became the host and producer of CTV’s show Indigenous Circle, which he describes as a show that not only tells positive stories about Indigenous peoples, but also deters people away from bad behaviour by showing them alternatives and resources in a subtle way.
After gaining a few years of experience in the field, Bird began to mentor young journalists to help them reach their potential. One of them was Creeson Agecoutay, who is the current host of Indigenous Circle. Since Agecoutay took over, Bird was promoted to assignment editor for CTV.
Agecoutay says it was rare to see a First Nations person with a leadership position in the newsroom, and when he watched Bird on the news, he was inspired to pursue a career in journalism.
“We have a responsibility. We have a service as a media outlet to help tell those stories and he’s always been out there on the road, going to cover those stories when no one else does,” he said.
“There were always these negative stereotypes in the news and now that he’s there at CTV Regina there’s more Indigenous content than ever,” said Agecoutay.
After 20 years in the industry, Bird said he will continue to shed light on issues such as racism, which affect Indigenous communities across the nation.
“At the end of it all, people might remember who I am but if I can make a few people happy because I shared their story, or their grandmother’s story, or their dad’s story, or somebody’s story in their family, I feel good. That’s my pay-off right there.”
“Someday I might even write a book about them all,” he said.