U of R student receives Vanier Scholarship to explore media’s role in reconciliation

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: May 16, 2019 9:05 a.m.

Merelda Fiddler-Potter announced today as recipient of prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.
Merelda Fiddler-Potter announced today as recipient of prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. Photo: Rachel Buhr, Still Life Photography

Merelda Fiddler-Potter, a University of Regina doctoral student in the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS), has been awarded a prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship valued at $150,000 over three years.

“As a university community, we are committed to facing the difficult truths of our colonial past in order to work towards reconciliation,” says Kathy McNutt, Interim Vice-President (Research) and Fiddler-Potter's thesis advisor at the University of Regina. “Merelda’s research is the type of scholarship needed right now to support nationwide reconciliation efforts, and to position Canada as a global centre of excellence in research and in higher learning.”

Fiddler-Potter’s research will explore the media’s role in helping Canadians learn the truth of past and present colonial policies and the impact on Indigenous people. She will also gain insight on how the media can compel people into action in order to keep reconciliation high on the public agenda.

“My work as a journalist and as an academic has been to change the negative portrayal of Indigenous people,” says Fiddler-Potter. “We need to both learn and share our unique local histories, in order to build on the media’s first draft of our shared Canadian history, and reclaim our culture and traditions to share with our communities.”

The 2015 release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report was an excellent first step in shedding light on some of the truths about Canada’s colonial history. However, Fiddler-Potter believes that more information regarding treaties, reserves, systemic violence, present-day racism, land apprehensions, and the sixties scoop needs to be shared and discussed.

“The media play an important part in telling peoples’ stories, in swaying public opinion, and can be a valuable tool for driving the policy agenda,” says Fiddler-Potter. “However, if news stories lack Indigenous voices and truths about Indigenous history, then it is much harder for the public and policy-makers to fully understand the contemporary issues Indigenous people face.”

Working with Indigenous elders, media consumers and policy-makers, and using media content analysis NVivo software, Fiddler-Potter will analyze both mass and social media to determine how current news stories are framed, and how Canadians interpret Indigenous policy issues as a result. She will also explore the role of media elitism in the dissemination of Indigenous histories, and the need for Indigenous leaders in both education and media institutions.

“To work towards reconciliation, it is imperative that a new understanding of truth in storytelling be developed—one that is respective of Indigenous knowledge, traditional teachings, and communities,” says Doug Moen, JSGS executive director. “Merelda’s research is important in ensuring that media understand how these stories need to be constructed in order to achieve this.”

In addition to her doctoral studies, Fiddler-Potter is a sessional lecturer at First Nations University of Canada, a federated college of the University of Regina. She was also the Dallas W. Smythe Chair in the Department of Journalism at the University of Regina, where she developed a course on Reconciliation and the Role of the Journalist, for students. Prior to entering academia, Fiddler-Potter was a current affairs producer and reporter for CBC Saskatchewan, and was recognized nationally by the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada for her work with Saskatchewan’s Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women. Fiddler-Potter has a Masters of Arts in Canadian Plains Studies and a Bachelor’s in Journalism and Communications, both from the University of Regina.

The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships program was launched in 2008 by the Government of Canada, to strengthen the country’s ability to attract and retain world-class doctoral students and establish Canada as a global centre of excellence in research and higher learning. Fiddler-Potter joins Sophie Duranceau (2015) and Kazi Mamun (2012) as U of R graduate student recipients of the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.