Award-winning journalist Wawmeesh Hamilton is no stranger to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
He lived there once himself, having ran away from home as a teenager, and now returns periodically for nostalgic visits.
The Langara College Journalism program graduate also returns there for his work, which involves advocating for increased, deeper journalism in Canada about Indigenous people, communities and issues.
In June, he walked through the homeless camp at Oppenheimer Park, where at least 100 people are living in tents located between Powell and Cordova streets. He was chronicling the work of a Vancouver First Nations outreach worker originally from Kitimat who works in the area he once got high in, but now encourages people to seek supports.
“His job was to walk through the whole Downtown Eastside looking for his own people, to connect with them, to encourage them to seek services, detox and treatment,” Hamilton said. “That’s when we went through the homeless camp.
“It wasn’t the first time I’d been through the park, but it was the first time I met some of the inhabitants.”
After meeting inhabitants of the park, Hamilton noticed that most of them were Indigenous. He hadn’t seen mention of that fact in Canadian mainstream media, so he made a mental note.
“Two things struck me,” he said. “One was, who are these people and what First Nations are they from? Second, where are the Assembly of First Nations, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the First Nations Summit in all of this? Are they helping?”
With these questions in mind, he returned to the tents with his recorder and interviewed the inhabitants. Many people told him they felt forgotten by their leaders.
The web and radio stories were published on Nov. 5, and Hamilton hopes they will lead to further involvement by the three major political Indigenous groups in the province.
“It remains to be seen what the Assembly of First Nations and other groups will do with this,” he said. “If or how they get involved is up to them.”
That being said, Hamilton hopes they will decide to “wade into the fray.”
He also said the stories are a good reminder of why he continues working as a journalist.
“Speaking for people who have no voice, defending people who can’t defend themselves and holding bodies accountable that have influence over the lives of marginalized people, those things remind me why I got into journalism,” he said. “It’s the difference you can make.”
About Langara College’s 49 Langarans Celebrating its 49th year on 49th Avenue, Langara is honouring 49 Langarans; those who are making an impact in the community and have helped shape the College into what it is today. From theatre directors and journalists to small business owners, community advocates, and dedicated employees – the stories of the award recipients are as varied as the College’s journey over the past 49 years.
Meet the 49 Langarans at beyond49.langara.ca