COVID-19 Coverage: US Indigenous Media Emphasizing Voices of Women

Dr Victoria LaPoe - IIRC20
Thursday, November 19, 2020

As COVID-19 surged, non-Indigenous media had a chronic disease of its own: A lack of Indigenous sources, particularly Native women. This study evaluated the role of gender in U.S. news coverage, comparing content from Indigenous and non-Indigenous media, during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a mixed method thematic analysis, more than 300 articles were analysed, examining gendered news coverage themes from the time the U.S. instituted a

nationwide quarantine until the middle of June 2020, when U.S. Indigenousconnected businesses and centres began to reopen. While non-Indigenous media was focused on the crisis of the pandemic in Indian Country, U.S. Indigenous media highlighted resilience. Sources building the resilience framework across Indigenous media were often female.

Indigenous (IST) and feminist (FST) standpoint theories guide this research, noting the power of who is speaking and how voice adds to an accurate contextualized knowledge within each of the framework’s focus. IST specifically highlights the importance of Indigenous voices, which provide a more accurate decolonized history and stress shared cultural experiences (Kwaymullina, 2017; Foley, 2003 Rigney, 1999). Through this examination of gendered themes, this study reveals the ways that U.S. Indigenous news coverage foregrounded women’s voices and showed them as community leaders, whereas non-Native media used a limited pool of sources that were primarily male and,  at times, non-Indigenous government officials.

With the #SheNative movement along with multiple U.S. Indigenous women running for and winning political offices, there has been a growth in females as official sources within Indigenous media; however, during the beginning of the U.S.’s COVID-19 outbreak, there was a clear divide between non-Indigenous and Indigenous media coverage on who was an official and could speak on behalf of communities. Indigenous media was much more inclusive; it sourced a variety of women as leaders and managers, portraying them as resilient and connectors of communities, keeping things moving forward during the pandemic. Meanwhile, non-Indigenous media often relied on federal or tribal officials versus nonelected community leaders; this left its coverage lacking detail, specificity and inclusivity. In non-Native news coverage, Native communities oftentimes appeared monolithic due to non-Indigenous media’s lack of specificity and connection to community coverage. In contrast during the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak, Indigenous media highlighted Native communities’ diversity and used female community news sources to continue to diversify and deepen understanding. Through this, community leaders emerged, and Native women became community voices of strength, leadership and creative problem solvers for their tribes.