CBC Thunder Bay reporter, and CMG member Jody Porter received Massey College’s prestigious Clarkson Laureateship in Public Service Thursday night.
We caught up with Jody to congratulate her on the award and ask her about her work.
I am excited about the added attention this recognition could bring to some of my work about Indigenous issues in Canada, and in Northern Ontario in particular. I’m also humbled to be in the company of the very accomplished previous recipients.
As a reporter and as a citizen you worked on bringing together separate parts of the community to hear and learn about each other, what motivated you to do that?
I started the radio/social experiments we called CommonGround Café, first out of the hope that if the different communities in Thunder Bay could talk to each other and hear each other, there would be some understanding and eventually some change in attitudes and some common ground on which to build a community with less colonial baggage.
How did you choose people who took part in CommonGround Café radio dialogues and what surprised you most about the participants?
I first approached people I knew and people who were willing to take part in the radio show. After the radio series ended, people asked for more, so I held a common ground meeting that was open to anyone who wanted to take part in the conversation about race relations.
In terms of what surprised me, I can tell you one story that has stayed with me. A middle class non-Aboriginal person was sitting beside an older Indigenous gentleman, and the first man was speaking about how safe he feels Thunder Bay is compared to southern Ontario where he had come from, and he was saying how great it is that his child was so much freer to roam around without supervision. And the older Indigenous man said: “My son was killed here; my wife died here. I don’t feel this is a safe community.” It was a powerful moment of truth about the two experiences.
Was there a specific experience that brought you to connect to these stories?
Before coming to CBC, I worked for Wawatay Native Communications Society in Sioux Lookout and my eyes were completely opened and I found myself wondering a lot why these stories were not being told. So when I started work at CBC, this was one of the issues I thought we at CBC could shine some light on. There are other people and colleagues who’ve been doing similar work, and we all come at it from different perspectives.
Why is that important?
Because these stories matter. We cannot be engaged citizens in our own communities if we don’t have information, understanding and context in, and from, those communities.