In a time of racial tension, there is even more value in stories that are told from diverse perspectives. When Stephanie Joe wrote the piece Full Circle: The story behind Elbow River Camp for the June 2019 issue of Avenue magazine, it was because of her vocation for telling stories of Indigenous people.
The nomination and subsequent silver medal her story received in the Emerging Writers category at the 2020 Alberta Magazine Publishers Association (AMPA) Awards makes Joe hopeful for the future of Indigenous voices in journalism.
“Winning showed me that people are interested in these stories, and that they care about Indigenous issues,” Joe says.
Although she has experienced racism while working in the industry, it hasn’t discouraged Joe’s desire to be a storyteller, which formed as she came to terms with her own Indigenous heritage.
Born and raised in the Yukon Territory, Joe, 32, is a member of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.
“Growing up, I was ashamed of my First Nations heritage,” Joe says. Non-Indigenous classmates pointed out their reluctance to be friends with Joe, for sake of their own reputations. Adding to Joe’s internal struggle, her father, Howard, was proud of his own Southern Tutchone heritage and taught her to hunt, fish and make moose hide drums.
“I was entrenched in the culture,” Joe explains, “but I didn’t want people to know I was doing these things.” Still, she was inspired by her father’s love of reading and writing. “That’s how we were close,” she says.
At the age of five, Joe was writing stories based on Disney princesses. As a teenager, she kept a journal as a way of expressing herself. In 2013, during a creative writing course, one of Joe’s teachers presented Indigenous history through a non-colonized lens, something Joe had never experienced. Topics such as the Indian Act and residential schools, of which her father was a survivor, were emotionally intense for Joe.
As she consumed everything she could about Indigenous history, Joe’s career path became clear.
“I wanted to marry my passion for Indigenous issues with my passion for writing. That’s what brought me to SAIT.”
She credits her instructors at SAIT for much of her success. They encouraged Joe to keep writing, and told her that, as an Indigenous writer, she was needed. Her confidence in herself, her heritage, her voice and her skills, grew.
Journalism has helped me gain understanding of myself, and brought me into my own.
Since graduating, Joe has written for publications such as WestJet Magazine, Windspeaker and various news organizations. In her current role as the Communications and Events Coordinator at AMPA, her days are built around helping Alberta magazines survive in today’s environment, and ensuring they have the resources to do so.
Behind the scenes images from Joe’s photo shoot in Calgary’s Nose Hill Park.
Her next step? Paying it forward by becoming a mentor for Indigenous youths interested in journalism.
“I hope I can help them gain the tools they need to tell their stories,” she says. “I want them to know their stories matter.”