“A gift and an honour”: Lisa LaFlamme shares one of her biggest projects since live TV days

After 35 years as the face and voice of national news in Canada, Lisa LaFlamme has finally been able to focus all of her attention on issues that she’s passionate about.

“I absolutely loved my work as a journalist, but you’re absolutely locked in,” she told Daily Hive.

“It’s been a real gift and an honour to be able to sort of just tackle things that have mattered so much to me for so many years with a little more time.”

The former CTV National News anchor joined us over FaceTime in Vancouver alongside former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine.

Ever the consummate professional, LaFlamme had finessed a makeshift camera setup in the Italian Kitchen’s restaurant manager’s office.

They had just stepped away from a lunch reception after attending the screening of their new video series, Understanding Indigenous History: A Path Forward, which is in partnership with University Canada West.

The six-part series, available for free on YouTube, aims to help Canadians better navigate and understand the complexities of Indigenous history and Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.

It’s just one of the many human rights-based projects LaFlamme has actualized.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, and I’ve got tons of energy,” she said.

We chatted with the veteran journalist and Fontaine about Understanding Indigenous History, other projects LaFlamme has been working on, and the state of Canadian media amid Bill C-18 and mass layoffs.

“History taught in our schools has been missing a chapter”

LaFlamme remembers going to school in the ’70s and ’80s and learning almost nothing about Indigenous history.

So, when Fontaine asked if she’d be interested in working on the series, she jumped at the chance.

“The truth is, my knowledge was narrow because of the school system,” she explained. “Certainly, I went on in university and my professional life to learn more, but this project… it’s all about being part of the solution going forward.”

The series’ setup is straightforward, almost like a roundtable, where LaFlamme acts as the moderator for Fontaine and human rights expert Kathleen Mahoney.

Fontaine shares his lived experience living in Sagkeeng First Nation on the Fort Alexander Reserve in Manitoba and being forced into the residential school system, while Mahoney provides political, historical and legislative context to Indigenous history.

“Reconciliation in this matter is about sharing our history, the true history of Canada, because the history that’s been taught in our schools has been missing one chapter,” said Fontaine.

Each episode delves into different eras of Indigenous history, from life on Turtle Island before colonization to the creation of treaties to the dark chapter of the residential school systems, and ends on an optimistic note looking to the future.

For Fontaine, the project’s key message is that Canada came to be through the efforts of not just two, but three founding peoples: the French, the English, and the First Peoples.

“It is of critical importance that we start correcting the misrepresentation made about Canada and its place in the world,” he explained.

“This country that’s ‘so fair and just,’ forgetting that it stole most of our land, took our children away from our communities, and denied us the agency so that we can control and manage our own affairs.”

LaFlamme adds that when the media covers Indigenous stories, it’s mostly bad news like poverty on the reserves and addiction.

She hopes that the project will introduce Canadians to Indigenous heroes who have been trying to make a change for over 400 years.

“The extraordinary women that should be on the tip of our tongue, and they would be if they were non-Indigenous,” she said. “It’s time we recognize these people who made such a difference.”

After reflecting on the past through the project, Fontaine says Canada has made progress and that First Nations people are still working to create more change, but they need the help of all Canadians.

“It’s a collaborative undertaking. It’s with all Canadians. It’s with the corporate sector, it’s with public institutions. Every sector in the country is involved in creating a different kind of future,” he said.

LaFlamme agreed, likening it to gender equality.

“Women can’t do it without enlightened men, and a better future for Indigenous people can’t happen without the help and support of non-Indigenous people,” she said.

Fontaine’s optimism, however, is tempered to some extent by the fact that Indigenous communities are still the poorest in Canada.

With health problems plaguing communities, low education levels, very disproportionate incarceration rates, and too many Indigenous children that are still under state care, there are still a lot of issues that need to be addressed.

“The change that will make a difference is Indigenous-managed and -controlled agencies,” said Fontaine. “Whether it’s about children or economic development in our communities, wealth creation, clean drinking water. Those all ought to be driven by First Nations peoples and communities.”

“Freedom to cover issues I’ve been passionate about for years”

With LaFlamme no longer chained to the time constraints of live television, she’s grateful to be able to cover issues like the Indigenous history project.

“It was a real luxury for me, who’s always been so dedicated as a broadcast journalist to time, to be able to take time and have these conversations,” she told Daily Hive.

The former news anchor now volunteers with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), travelling to places like Africa to tell the stories of how journalism is raising awareness of human rights abuses.

She was recently in the Philippines and met with journalists and human rights defenders whom the government has targeted to explore some of the issues they face in a podcast.

Outside of multimedia projects with JHR, LaFlamme also volunteers to work with Afghan refugees who have come to Canada to escape Taliban rule.

“Having spent so much time there during Canada’s combat mission, the oppression of women and girls has always stayed with me,” she said.

She says it’s become more urgent than ever to help Afghans, both in the country (the only one on the planet where education is banned for girls) and those who’ve now made it to Canada.

“It’s an incredible freedom to cover all the issues that I’ve been passionate about for all those years, but was never able to give it much time,” said LaFlamme.

“The fewer local news outlets… the fewer informed people”

A lot has happened to the state of Canadian media since Bell Media cut ties with LaFlamme in 2022.

Bill C-18, or the Online News Act, has come into effect in the country, and publishers like Daily Hive have been caught in the crossfire in an escalating battle between the federal government and some of the world’s most powerful tech giants.

Bell announced another round of massive layoffs in February, slashing 4,800 jobs and selling 45 radio stations.

Along with the cuts, local noon and weekend news shows in VancouverEdmontonCalgary, and other cities were cancelled.

LaFlamme is concerned about the media landscape in Canada and worries that the decrease in journalists only stokes the flames of misinformation.

“I worry about what society would look like if people lost knowledge of their local communities,” she explained. “The fewer local news outlets there are, the fewer informed people there are when it comes to elections. It means fewer people vote.”

She gives the example of local city hall coverage in cities. Before these massive cuts in news media, citizens were informed about what was happening in city council and could hold their elected officials accountable.

LaFlamme says the gaps in coverage of smaller communities are a significant problem.

“This always has a direct impact on democracy.”