Find speakers by:
Request more info

Connie Walker on the Power of Indigenous-Led Storytelling to Ignite Change

Connie Walker on the Power of Indigenous-Led Storytelling to Ignite Change

Named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people of 2024, Connie Walker has spent over two decades shedding light on often overlooked Indigenous stories. She is an award-winning investigative journalist whose podcast, Stolen: Surviving St. Michael’s, won a Pulitzer Prize and Peabody Award in 2023. It’s the first podcast to win both awards in the same year.

Throughout her 20-year career in journalism, Connie’s investigative work has exposed the crisis of violence in Indigenous communities and the devastating impacts of intergenerational trauma stemming from residential schools. She joined us “Inside Our Boardroom” to discuss the power of truth in moving reconciliation forward and why it’s so crucial for Indigenous peoples to be the ones who share their stories.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

The Evolution of Indigenous-Led Storytelling

Speakers Spotlight: When did you realize you wanted to share Indigenous stories?

Connie Walker: I first thought about becoming a journalist back in high school. A woman named Pamela George was killed in Saskatchewan. I didn’t know Pamela, but she was from a First Nation really close to mine. I’d go to powwows in her community when I was a kid.

I wasn’t a teenager who paid a lot of attention to the news, but I remember Pamela. Mostly because of the way she was spoken about in the media and how dehumanizing it was. It was upsetting as a young First Nations woman to know that people held these attitudes, and that even though she was a victim of a crime, she was so misrepresented in the press. People labeled her as a prostitute and didn’t say much else about her life. I didn’t know that she was a mom, an auntie, a daughter, and a sister. I felt like we knew more about the two men who were charged in her death than we knew about Pamela.

It was the first time I wondered who gets to tell our stories. Who was in these newsrooms? Are there any First Nations journalists out there? That was the first time I wrote something for our high school newsletter and thought about becoming a journalist.

SpSp: How were your efforts to shed light on Indigenous stories first received?

CW: One of my first jobs was as an intern at a morning show on the East Coast. This was over 20 years ago during the summer that a fisheries dispute was unfolding in Burnt Church, New Brunswick between non-native fishermen and Indigenous fishermen.

I had booked the chief of a local First Nation to come on our show to talk about the latest developments. I was an intern, and pretty green at the time, so my senior producer was grilling me about the details — did you double check the time? Does he know where to go? And I said, yes, he knows. And she said, because you know those Indians, they’ll go out drinking all weekend and they won’t show up on a Monday morning.

I remember just freezing in the moment and looking around to see if anyone else was listening, if anyone else was paying attention, but it was a really busy newsroom. That really set the stage, unfortunately, for a lot of my early experiences.

TIME100: Being Named One of 2024’s Most Influential People

SPSP: How does it feel to have won a Pulitzer Prize and a Peabody Award, and be named on TIME‘s 100?

CW: It’s wild. So much of it has felt out of even the realm of possibility that I still feel like I haven’t fully processed anything.

What I always go back to is that for so much of my career, there was very little interest or very little recognition in the importance of Indigenous people telling our own stories. So those accolades and awards feel like proof that Indigenous stories do matter; proof that it’s critical for Indigenous people to be supported in telling our own stories and that we have the experiences that can enrich our collective understanding.

I want to do whatever I can to help support all of the other journalists and storytellers who are coming after me.

Truth and Reconciliation

SPSP: What can someone late to the Indigenous conversation do to catch up?

CW: One thing I’d like people to know is that it’s never too late to start your journey and engage with this material. So much of what I view as my job as a journalist is to help people better understand Indigenous people and Indigenous communities.

I try to use the power of storytelling to bring people into worlds that maybe they haven’t been to before and to learn about things that weren’t taught in school. Something that feels critical to me now in 2024, is how important it is that we really understand the truth about our shared history.

Four generations of my family went to residential schools, and it’s only in the last few years that I’ve been able to really understand and unlock the truth about how that history has shaped my family and also me. That’s been such a transformative lesson for me personally. But I think that helping Canadians understand this as well and connect the dots is also something I’m really passionate about.

In her powerful presentation, Connie draws on her Pulitzer Prize and Peabody Award-winning podcast to help audiences understand why it’s crucial to uncover the truth before we can begin talking about meaningful reconciliation. She explores this in more depth in the video below:

SPSP: What’s your next project?

CW: The most comprehensive account of what survivors experienced in residential school was told through the Indian Residential School Settlement through the IAP, the Independent Assessment Process.

Over 26,000 survivors participated in these adjudicated hearings and testified in graphic detail about the abuse they experienced in residential schools. All of those accounts are private and confidential, and they’re going to be destroyed in less than four years.

I don’t think a lot of people know that that’s what’s happening with those IAP records. It is critically important to know the truth — what were the rates of abuse at a single school and how does that impact what’s happening in that community today? My podcast, Stolen: Surviving St. Michael’s, is a really great example, because so many of the survivors from St. Michael’s were actually from James Smith, where that terrible tragedy occurred just a year and a half ago.

I think what we did for that one school should happen on a broader scale, that we should know the truth about every single school across the country, as much we possibly can. I want to continue that work in some way, to find a way to help save those documents, to help save that truth, not just for present day but for future generations.

I think that so many people are really eager to talk about reconciliation. What I’ve been learning through my work over the last few years is how little truth we actually know and understand. There’s so much work that has to be done not only to expose the truth but preserve it. That is something I’m really passionate about and a project I want to take on.

An award-winning storyteller, Connie Walker’s presentations help audiences better understand their role in reconciliation and provide valuable tips for meaningful inclusion in the workplace.

Contact us to learn more about Connie and how to hire her for your next event.