WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Canadian reality TV show that follows participants as they visit indigenous communities across the country has been accused of furthering stereotypes and bolstering “white privilege”.
“First Contact” aired last week on the non-profit Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, which pitched the three-part series as “a compelling exploration into indigenous culture”.
The show’s trailer promised to challenge perceptions of the country’s indigenous communities as “lazy”, “alcoholics”, and “welfare cheats” - but indigenous writer David Alexander Robertson said it “feeds into white privilege and an entitled attitude”.
“This show creates the expectation that we owe it to settlers to prove to them that we are not the stereotype, that it’s our burden to show them that we should be viewed as human beings worthy of respect,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to improve the lives of Canada’s indigenous people, who make up about 4 percent of the population and face higher levels of poverty and violence and shorter life expectancies.
A 2015 report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada found that a now-defunct policy of forcibly separating aboriginal children from their families and sending them to residential schools amounted to “cultural genocide”.
In a debate largely playing out on social media, critics of the show echoed Robertson’s view that indigenous people should not have to dispel stereotypes about themselves.
“Prove you are not sub-human to racists who think you are. There is no way indigenous or any group of people should have to do that. Degrading,” wrote one man who called himself Pete Quily on Twitter.
Others however said that audiences can gain from the lessons of the white participants.
Michael Redhead Champagne, one of the indigenous people featured on the show, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the experience was “constructive”.
The program allows the public to “gain an understanding of what indigenous people have to face both historically and on a daily basis,” said Champagne, a member of the Shamattawa Cree community.
However, he lamented that it was not aired by a more mainstream broadcaster, in order to reach a larger audience.
The producers of First Contact - which was modeled on an Australian program of the same name - said they welcomed the public debate.
“This is obviously a conversation that most people have been willing, if not eager, to participate in,” they said in an emailed statement.
“For those who have reservations about our approach, we appreciate all perspectives.”
Reporting by Carey L. Biron, Editing by Jared Ferrie and Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org