The Indian on the Edge of Civilization

by JapaneseYen on April 25, 2017 - 3:36pm

           The Dakota Access pipeline protests by the Standing Rock Sioux people and other Aboriginal tribes is an attempt to protect sacred land and avoid water contamination of the Mississippi river. Through the media coverage of the affair, the moral dilemma arises of the representation of Aboriginals. While the time taken by leading news reporters to publish stories on the events is unjust, the overall representation brings to attention the detrimental stereotypical ways Aboriginals are conveyed in the news media.

           The pipeline is a 3.7 billion dollar operation underway by the Dakota Access company. The project is meant to transport crude oil over 1,886 kilometers, from North Dakota to Illinois (Levin). In April 2016 members of the Standing Rock Sioux began protesting on the construction sites to halt it. In support of the Sioux, other Aboriginal tribes throughout North America joined in. Within a few months social media became flowing with vast amounts of content from individuals and photographs on site of the protests, which would later become characterized by “United States security forces using tear gas, rubber bullets, mace, water cannon and concussion grenades” (Ahtone) on those partaking the events.

            The moral dilemma arises with Ahtone stating, that the Sioux people have been challenging the construction of the pipeline for over two years in court as Dakota Access did not properly follow federal regulations. Ahtone goes on by saying that the media is not interested in reporting this, but prefers to show the stereotypes of the “Indian on the edge of civilisation” of Aboriginal societies. In order for Aboriginals to be noteworthy enough for the media it must include — even to the smallest extent — them as being a warrior, drumming, dancing, drunk, or dead (McCue). Coverage in this form leads to absolute invisibility, or symbolic annihilation, where Aboriginal groups are shown to be, more than any other groups, as not apart of the public. Moreover, from these messages they learn to see themselves through negative stereotypes and not apart of society (Leavitt).

            The most prominent solution to this issue is by aiming to attempt to diversify the news media’s representation of Aboriginals and their communities. In application of this, the media should strive to use teleologically based ethics to create the greatest good for Aboriginals. The most amount of good can be made from working to have positive depictions that vary from the common limited stereotypes of them which would promote the development of more positive characteristics to be seen throughout society. Moreover, this would advocate self potential and counteract the effects of deindividuation and self-stereotyping (Leavitt).

            Moreover, media outlets have the power to influence societal views day by day and can create these differences. They can also utilize their influence to change views of educators and policy-makers (Leavitt). Policy-makers can work to enforce that minority groups are properly depicted by the media and ensure that they are included within the discussion that pertains to their depictions. That of which is crucial as Aboriginal groups have little to no direct control over their depictions, given that they make up such a small portion of the population. Also, though they are capable of rejecting the remarks about them in the media, they are unable to control the impact it has on the other members of society's views toward them (Leavitt). These changes would further secure that the greatest good for the Aboriginals is made.

            Furthermore, to improve the quality of depiction of Aboriginals, journalists must assure that they are remaining virtuous in their work, and adhering to their values. The values that most notably are not followed are accuracy, limitation of harm, and avoiding discrimination. In the case of accuracy, many of the reports published refer to Aboriginal stereotypes as a basic way to have audience at the same level of understanding, which raises issue as they may not be being based on truths. The continued usage of these conventional depictions leads them to be accepted as facts by society (News Stereotypes). Other reports may unknowingly provide incorrect information or generalizations (English). Moreover, this contributes to limitation of harm, as journalists spreading the misinformation by publicizing it create harm for Aboriginals. Additionally, the nature of the stereotypes being used in the reports could be inherently discriminatory as the writer may have been subject to those ideas during childhood and sees them as truths.

            Likewise, using an ethical rationalist framework, the actions of the news media go against the categorical imperative. It is unethical to will that journalists should portray all their subjects in the same manner that Aboriginals are shown. Therefore, reporters should be operating in regards to their values to be morally right.

            Additionally, given that most Aboriginal groups have little power in leveraging large scale support for their cases they rely on the media to display their goals. Since both the media and the public they indent to reach operate in the same “cultural system” (Baylor) they share the same frames. The media has complete power to choose which of these frames they use to present the story. Although most journalists do not operate independently, they face economic, and socio-political pressures, which in turn, impacts the way their frames are chosen. The owners of media outlets share close relations with powerful companies and political leaders, therefore, bad framing of their acquaintances might create negative consequences. Likewise, given that most of the media company's profits come from advertisements they have to ensure that what they are reporting will not cause loss of advertisers (Baylor). This process could lead to coverage of Aboriginal issues in a tainted way.

            The aforementioned issues relate to the values journalists should follow and ethical rationalism. Operating in this way goes against their values, therefore, being non virtuous and immoral. Additionally, it breaks the categorical imperative as it is immoral to will that everyone follow external influences that are meant for their gain. Thus, the media should rework their practices to better stand by proper morals in their reporting.

            Overall, most of the ways in which the news media illustrates Aboriginal groups is immoral in terms of virtue ethics, ethical rationalism, and utilitarianism. Continued practice in this way leads to symbolic annihilation of Aboriginals in media which will have destructive consequences on their mental health, such as, negative views of themselves, and a sense of separation from society.


Works Cited

Levin, Sam. “Dakota Access pipeline: the who, what and why of the Standing Rock

Protests” The Guardian, 3 November 2016, Accessed 22 April 2017.

Ahtone, Tristan. “How media did and did not report on Standing Rock” Al Jazeera, 14

December 2016, Accessed 22 April 2017.

McCue, Duncan. “What it takes for aboriginal people to make the news” CBCnews,

29 January 2014, Accessed 22 April 2017

English, Kathy. “Media must do better on Aboriginal issues: Public Editor” TheStar,

12 June 2015, Accessed 22 April 2017

“News Stereotypes of Aboriginal Peoples” Reporting in Indigenous Communities, Accessed 22 April 2017.

Leavitt, Peter A., et al. "'Frozen in Time': The Impact of Native American Media

Representations on Identity and Self-Understanding." Journal of Social Issues, vol. 71, no. 1, Mar. 2015, pp. 39-53.

Baylor, Tim. "Media Framing of Movement Protest: The Case of American Indian

Protest." Social Science Journal, vol. 33, no. 3, 03 Jan. 1996, pp. 241-255.