Connie Walker has devoted the past decade of her investigative journalism career to exposing the truth about the impacts of residential schools and helping Indigenous people tell their own stories.
“We’ve all been touched by this legacy, our lives have been shaped and impacted by our parents’ experiences in the schools, but we haven’t really learned or understood the truth about what they went through,” said Walker, who is from the Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan. “We need to, as journalists, help amplify people’s voices and use the power that we have to pass the microphone so that people can share their own stories.”
Walker is the host of Stolen: The Search for Jermain, a new podcast about the disappearance of Jermain Charlo and the ongoing crisis of violence facing Indigenous women and girls. A journalist with CBC for 20 years, Walker previously hosted the CBC News award-winning podcast Missing & Murdered.
She is currently investigating a story about the St. Michael’s residential school in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.
Walker’s interest in journalism was sparked while she was still in high school, after a woman named Pamela George was killed in Saskatchewan. The media coverage focused heavily on the backgrounds of the young men charged with her murder — two young, middle-class white men who were star athletes. All that Walker remembers being reported about George was she was an occasional sex worker.
“It made me curious about who the people were telling these stories,” Walker said. “I was always interested in reporting on issues from our community, but there wasn’t a lot of interest in hearing our stories when I first became a journalist.”
A decade later, Walker was part of a team at CBC Radio investigating Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls cases. In 2018, Missing & Murdered: Finding Cleo won the inaugural Best Serialized Story award at the Third Coast International Audio Festival and was named one of the Best Podcasts of 2018 by Apple Canada. In 2017, Missing & Murdered: Who killed Alberta Williams? won the Radio Television Digital News Association’s (RTDNA) Adrienne Clarkson Award and was nominated for a Webby Award.
The story Walker is focused on telling for the next season of Stolen is of her father’s experience in residential school. The idea came about after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in Kamloops announced last June that ground-penetrating radar discovered the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site.
“So many Indigenous people were sharing things on social media about their experiences in residential schools, including people in my own family who I’d never heard talk about it before,” she said. “Even though I’d been a journalist for 20 years and spent a lot of time focused exclusively on reporting on Indigenous issues and on the impact of residential schools, the truth was that I didn’t really understand how residential schools have impacted my life and the lives of my family members. Now I’m reporting on people I love and care about and every revelation is such a difficult thing to hear.”
Walker sees exposing the truth of what happened as a vital first step before healing can occur.
“It’s absolutely critical that the space is created so these stories can get out as far as possible, because if people are not being told, then no healing is ever going to happen,” she said.
Walker’s keynote lecture, Exposing the Truth: Journalism’s Role in Reconciliation, takes place on Nov. 22 at 6:30 p.m. in the Malaspina Theatre at VIU’s Nanaimo campus. People can also tune in to the event via Zoom webinar. The talk will be followed by a question-and-answer session hosted by Nahlah Ayed, host of CBC Radio’s Ideas.