The Native Voice: Canada's First Aboriginal Newspaper

Book Cover Native

National Aboriginal History Month seems a fine occasion to celebrate a new book celebrating Canada's first aboriginal newspaper and its remarkable founder. We're pleased to feature a short excerpt from the beginning of the book to give you a taste of The Native Voice: The Story of How Maisie Hurley and Canada's First Aboriginal Newspaper Changed a Nation, by Eric Jamieson. 

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In the fall of 1944, Haida Elder Alfred Adams bumped into his old friend Maisie Hurley on a Vancouver street. He was on his way to visit his doctor, and although he had cancer and would soon join his ancestors “in the Great Beyond," he was still focused on the welfare of his people. After consoling Maisie, who was worried about her sons who were overseas in the war, he said, “You have always loved our people and have been a friend to them. You are worried over your sons, but service to others will help you and will bring you happiness. I want you to give your life to my people by telling the white people about them.” He added that BC’s Aboriginal population needed a voice to tell of their work and activities, to speak of their grievances, of their wish to educate their children—a voice that would be heard all over North America.

Maisie was so moved by Adams’ faith in her that she took his request to both heart and mind, and she determined to finance and publish a small newspaper for British Columbia First Nations people, a paper that her first editor, Jack Beynon, a World War I veteran, suggested she call The Native Voice. Her daughter, Kitty Bell, recalled her mother’s simple rationale for this venture: “The Indian’s voice is a voice in the wilderness, and it’s not being heard.” The Voice was launched in December 1946 as the official organ of the Native Brotherhood of BC. “I have worked with the Indians and then the Native Brotherhood for many years,” she later wrote to journalist Hugh Dempsey, one of her frequent contributors, and “seeing they needed a paper, I founded this paper on a shoestring (my own) in 1946 and it is growing in spite of many setbacks—run purely to help the Indian cause.”

It was not the first newspaper in North America for Aboriginal people. The Cherokee people had started the Cherokee Phoenix on February 1, 1828; however, two years later the US government passed the Indian Removal Act, and government troops smashed the Cherokees’ presses, uprooted the people and drove them as well as other tribes on a forced march, infamously known as “the Trail of Tears,” to a new home in Oklahoma. There, in 1843, they began a new publication called the Phoenix Advocate and operated it until 1906. In BC, a small paper called Hagaga was started by the Anglican missionary J. B. McCullagh in the Nass River area in Nisga’a territory in 1891. It was first published in the Nisga’a language in phonetic script, but by the late 1890s it had been renamedNorth British Columbia Newsand published in English. It had a wide circulation in the Nass River region.

Maisie’s first editorial in the Native Voice left no doubt about the tone and direction she intended for the paper:

In this initial presentation of the Native Voice to the people of British Columbia, we intend that the voice of the original Canadians will open a new era for our people who have striven to keep in step with all ranks of the march of time. An era in this atomic age where progress is measured for mankind the world over by scientific discoveries of learned people who, by their individual and co-operative methods, have the power to make this so-called Christian world a haven of consent for every human being in existence.

The Native Voice will assert at the beginning the firm objectives at which we aim and hope to achieve in the not too distant future. An objective which will mean an honest guarantee of equality for the original inhabitants and owners of Canada. A Canada where under the Indian Act we suffer as a minority race and as wards or minors without a voice in regard to our own welfare. We are prisoners of a controlling power in our own country—a country that has stood up under the chaos of two world wars, beneath the guise of democracy and freedom, yet keeping enslaved a Native people in their own home land.

Charity begins at home and it is up to those in control to sweep the steps of Parliament clean and bring into being a real democratic Canada, with freedom for all races—a Canada of which we can be proud. At this time, our Dominion is not in a position to point a finger of scorn at the treatment meted out by other countries toward their people until she liberates her own original and subjected race.

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About The Native Voice: The Story of How Maisie Hurley and Canada's First Aboriginal Newspaper Changed a Nation, by Eric Jamieson: 

In 1945, Alfred Adams, a respected Haida elder and founding president of the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia (NBBC), was dying of cancer. After decades of fighting to increase the rights and recognition of First Nations people, he implored Maisie Hurley to help his people by telling others about their struggle. Hurley took his request to both heart and mind, and with $150 of her own money, started a small newspaper that would become a powerful catalyst for change: The Native Voice. At that time, the Welsh-born Hurley had been an advocate for First Nations clients in court. She did not have a law degree, but was graced with the courage and confidence to challenge all who stood in her way. When defending a First Nations woman accused of stealing a hotel clerk's wallet, she seared the hapless plaintiff with such a withering cross examination that his off-colour rejoinder earned him a night in jail for contempt after he refused to pay the fine. After Hurley launched The Native Voice, it became the official newspaper of the NBBC, one of the largest democratic First Nations organizations in the country, but she continued to serve on the editorial board as publisher and director for many years without remuneration. At a time when telecommunication was expensive and often inaccessible in Aboriginal communities, The Native Voice reported relevant news and stories of everyday life to First Nations throughout the province, including hard-won rights such as the right to voteprovincially (1949) and federally (1960). As the official publication of the NBBC, the Voice chronicled both the realities of Aboriginal life and a vision for the future, enabling and inspiring overdue change in Canada. Maisie Hurley's dedication to improving the lives of those she referred to as "my people" was honoured through several First Nations naming ceremonies by people of the Skeena, Squamish/North Vancouver and Comox areas. The story of the NBBC, The Native Voice and Maisie Hurley offer an inspiring testament to the power of cooperation and vision to create powerful change.

June 12, 2017
Books mentioned in this post
The Native Voice

The Native Voice

The Story of How Maisie Hurley and Canada's First Aboriginal Newspaper Changed a Nation
edition:Paperback
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