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New Dene media company puts Indigenous narratives first, founder says

As the Wet’suwet’en Nation conflict over a gas pipeline in B.C. unfolded earlier this year, Tyra Moses, an N.W.T. woman with roots in the Lı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ and Pehdzeh Ki First Nations, was emboldened to start up Dene Media.

“For a long time the narrative has been controlled by people who are non-Indigenous and I think now is the perfect time for Dene people to start reclaiming their own stories and their histories,” she said.

The goal for Dene Media is to put Indigenous narratives at the forefront of storytelling and academia. Moses wants youth to feel empowered in their nationhood through those histories. 

Moses returned north when COVID-19 hit and spent the pandemic building Dene Media. She said the fields of journalism, research and videography have only reinforced colonial perspectives but should reflect Dene as industrious and sovereign.

Founder Tyra Moses wants youth to feel empowered. (Submitted by Tyra Moses)

Moses plans to take on several media projects to make sure Dene have input on how their stories are told.

She reflects on a documentary she saw, as people across the country erected blockades in support of Wet’suwet’en defending their land. 

“They were highlighting a family that was living on the territories like their families have since time immemorial.” In it, a three-year-old girl responds to the threat of a police invasion by saying: “I don’t want to leave, this is my home.”

“I could imagine being forced off our land so that resource extraction could come through,” Moses said. 

Moses said that narrative resonated with her — she has a four-year-old daughter herself. And that kind of representation was badly needed in the discourse around the conflict, she said. 

Now is the perfect time for Dene people to start reclaiming their own stories.– Tyra Moses, Dene Media founder

Moses says she saw key information about hereditary political structures, and the alternate routes suggested by the Wet’suwet’en not adequately represented in popular media. 

At the time, Moses used her photography and social media to raise awareness about the situation, Indigenous rights and Indigenous-led conservation.

“That’s how everything started.”

Connect researchers with Dene

Moses wants to change the landscape of storytelling, journalism and research to make sure they reflect the resilience and strength of Dene. 

“We’re committed to using media as a tool to support the success of Dene and Indigenous nations.”

One of the projects Moses plans on taking is about connecting research companies with Dene academics and promoting ethical research models. 

Protesters in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline project blocked rail lines in Toronto in February. The conflict emboldened Tyra Moses to start up Dene Media. (Evan Tsuyoshi Mitsui/CBC)

As a budding anthropologist, while in university she spent time researching ceremonies of the tribes that form the Blackfoot Confederacy, which straddles the U.S. and Canada. Moses said a non-Indigenous supervisor at university encouraged her to start her research before getting the right permissions.

Moses says she threw that advice to the wind and reached out to cultural advisors to respectfully connect with elders and community members.

Moses looks up to her own elders and Dene knowledge keepers who are passing along information for future generations, as well as organizations like N.W.T.-based Dene Nahjo, which advances social and environmental justice for northerners and promotes Indigenous leadership, and Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning, a so-called ‘bush university’ that focuses on land-based learning and is dependent on elders and knowledge keepers.

‘Natural storytellers’

Moses said she’ll work with Dene photographers and storytellers, create a children’s book, and start publishing an online quarterly of Dene writers.

“Indigenous people are natural storytellers. Our oral histories and cosmology have been passed down for generations.”

She is inspired by writers like Mataya Gillis and Cassidy Lennie-Ipana, two young women who created Nipaturuq, a magazine for Inuvialuit youth.

Moses said her vision is all about the youth and how they see themselves. 

It’s also for her daughter. 

She wants her to “see images of positive community role models within the community and see accurate representations of herself.”

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