GILL, Ian (1955- )

Author Tags: First Nations, Haida Gwaii, Journalism, Outdoors

Former Vancouver Sun reporter Ian Gill is the Australian-born author of several books pertaining to the West Coast including Hiking on the Edge: Canada's West Coast Trail (Raincoast, 1995) and Haida Gwaii: Journeys Through the Queen Charlotte Islands (Raincoast, 1997), both with photos by David Nunuk, and All That We Say Is Ours: Guujaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation (D&M, 2009). Gill arrived in Vancouver in 1981 and has received several journalism awards, including a Jack Webster Award for best TV reporting. In 1994 he became president and founder of Ecotrust Canada dedicated to building a "conservation economy."

Ian Gill's biting survey of Canada's media, and journalism in particular, is No News is Bad News (Greystone 2016), written when he was president of Discourse Media. See review below.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
All that We Say Is Ours: Guiyaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation

[BCBW 2016] "Outdoors" "QCI"

Revolutionary spirits that go bump in the night
Review (2009)

from Grant Shilling, BCBW

Former Vancouver Sun writer Ian Gill knows that talk is not cheap.

As he points out in All That We Say is Ours: Guujaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation (D&M $34.95) it is talk—oral history and storytelling—that has served the Haida nation as the basis for reviving its culture.

And it was a fervent conversation between two men after a chance meeting in the middle of the night that revolutionized the political landscape of Haida Gwaii.

in All That We Say is Ours, Gill has refracted the history of the Haida through the prism of one man, Gary Edenshaw, first known as Giindajin, a name that means “full of questions,” who was born in 1953 into a family of nine children at the town of Masset on Haida Gwaii. He did not go to residential school. As a young tough working at the Dragon Bowling Alley, rowing, singing and drumming, he gradually evolved into a man with answers, to be known instead as Guujaaw.

It was “the narrowest of threads”—dancing at the feet of his great-grandmother and demonstrating a keenness for listening to the stories of his elders—that connected Guujaaw to the Haida’s vast culture. Guujaaw's mother died when he was fifteen. He learned carpentry as a trade, leaving the island for a few years before returning to his hometown in the early ’70s, when Haida Gwaii had begun to attract some counter-culture types. Jenny Nelson, a flower child from Ontario, would become his wife and mother of his children.

In 1974, Thom ‘Huck’ Henley, an American setting up in Haida Gwaii, arrived at Masset. During his stay at a cabin, Henley literally bumped into Guujaaw in the middle of the night. They struck up a conversation and sat down and drew a line on a map of South Morseby that Gill describes as “the most incredible act of kitchen table cartography.” The line wasn’t arrived at through any science or protocol, “It was just a couple of guys in the middle of the night with the hare-brained notion that everything below that line” should be spared from industrial logging.

Today that line is the northern boundary of Gwaii Haanas, now a world-protected area.

Haida Gwaii (“Island of the People”) according to Haida legend emerged from a cockle shell at Rose Spit over 10,000 years ago, off the coast of British Columbia. A land of great abundance and beauty it was inhabited by tens of thousands of Haida for over six thousand years. On a clear day Alaska to the north is visible but mainland Canada is never in its sights.

In 1787, the islands were surveyed by Captain George Dixon and named by Captain Dixon after one of his ships, the Queen Charlotte. At the time of colonial contact, the population was roughly 10,000 to 60,000. Ninety percent of the population died during the 1800s from smallpox; other diseases arrived as well, including typhoid, measles, and syphilis, affecting many more inhabitants. By 1900, only 350 people remained.

Industrial logging arrived in the early 1900s. The Gowgaia Institute has estimated that 70,000 hectares were logged over the next century—enough wood to circle the earth with a six-foot diameter log worth about 20 billion dollars. Whole hillsides were laid bare as the increasing mechanization of forestry allowed loggers to travel further and take more.

From an aboriginal perspective, ownership of the land was never in question until someone arrived to contest it. Beginning with Sir James Douglas and the Hudson’s Bay Company, there was no real distinction between the goals of government and those of business. Successive B.C. governments went out of their way to avoid settling the land question, or even acknowledging there was a “question” at all. Native people were herded onto reserves and left to their misery.

By the 1960s, Masset served as part of the Canadian Forces supplementary radio system. Tension between the young soldiers and the young Haida men was growing. On June 3, 1978, Giindajin and a small gaggle of protesters came to protest the presence of the military base. This happened twelve years before the Oka crisis. Reaction from members of the community was mixed but it was clear that Giindajin and the concerns he represented were not going away.

During a potlatch in 1981 to celebrate the completion of a longhouse, Giindajin was given another name—Guujaaw (meaning “drum”). The name inferred he was authorized to articulate a Haida worldview through his oratory. His talk. There were very few Haida at in the early 1980s who were taking a prominent role in the South Moresby conservation campaign, or the other environmental campaigns on the island.

As the issue of logging grew, it became imperative to “restore what had become an environmental issue into a Haida issue.” As a result only Haida would man the blockades—an environmental issue, but a Haida responsibility. The first blockades opened a significant new chapter in Haida mythology, and gave rise to a song that today is a kind of national anthem for the Haida Gwaii.

On July 7, 1987, a deal was struck to establish Gwaii Haanas National Park. An elder was overheard at the signing ceremony saying it was “far more significant than the signing of the South Morseby agreement. It marks the rebirth of a nation.” It was also a milestone in the ascendancy of Guujaaw.

In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada had found in Delgamuukw, that aboriginal title had not been extinguished in Canada despite Canada’s and British Columbia’s claims to the contrary.

Ian Gill has provided a thorough analysis of the forces that contributed to the fall and rise of the Haida people. With All That We Say is Ours: Guujaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation, he has given voice to the struggles of the Haida people and their fight for self-determination while at the same time raising troubling questions about Canadian political values.

All We Say is Ours offers a social history of the transformation of a people and its relation to the logging industry in cahoots with the provincial government. While a more complete history of the Haida might be found elsewhere, what Gill contributes is a rethinking of the facts especially as personified by Guujaaw and his truly revolutionary ardor.

[Grant Shilling is the author of The Cedar Surf: An Informal History of Surfing in British Columbia.]

Nominated for All That We Say Is Ours: Guujaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation
BC Book Prizes (2010)

from BC Book Prizes catalogue
In the 1970s, after decades of rapacious logging, the Haidi joined forces with environmentalists in a high-profile struggle to save the Haidi Gwaii islands, a West Coast archipelago famous for its wild beauty. The battle found powerful expression through Giindajin Haawasti Guujaaw, the visionary artist, drummer and orator who would later become president of the Council of the Haida Nation. Combining first-person accounts with vivid prose, the author captures the excitement of their struggle, from high-octane logging blockades to defiant legal challenges. Guujaaw’s audacity, eloquence, tactical skills and deep knowledge of his homeland put him at the heart of the struggle, and All That We Say Is Ours reveals the extraordinary role he played in this incredible story. Ian Gill, a filmmaker, conservationist and award-winning documentary reporter, has spent fifteen years as head of Ecotrust Canada, one of North America’s leading conservation and community development organizations. He lives in Vancouver.

No News is Bad News
Review (2016)

The news about Canada's print media is grim.
Maclean's newsmagazine, over 105 years old and a weekly since 1978, will reduce its frequency to monthly. Chatelaine, around since 1928 and long-touted as Canada's largest magazine in paid circulation, will be printed six times a year instead of monthly.
Today's Parent suffers the same fate as Chatelaine. Other Rogers Media publications will cease to be printed altogether and instead will only appear online and through apps, including titles: Flare, Sportsnet, MoneySense and Canadian Business.
One of the few Rogers Media publications that will remain untouched by cutbacks is their celebrity gossip rag, Hello! Canada.
All hail piffle.
Whether it's The Georgia Sraight or the once-dominant Vancouver Sun, Canada's newspapers are also getting thinner. Puffery masquerading as content is increasingly common. Content that used to be labelled as "Advertorial" is losing that label altogether in some cases.
In No News is Bad News (Greystone $18.95), former newspaper editor and TV documentary reporter Ian Gill claims the "real villains" are "the owners and publishers." He alleges dim-witted media owners "have bankrupted and/or destroyed the value of Canada'a great media companies, and they've been getting away with it for decades."
One group that's really been turned off by Canadian media are the millennials who, Gill says, have the least confidence in the media. Without them, he writes, "there won't be two newspapers left in Vancouver - or in Calgary, Edmonton, or Ottawa - in just a few short years. In some cities there might not even be one."

Ian Gill
The loss of as many as ten thousand journalism jobs, he says, has hugely diminished the quality of our news. The erasure of billions of dollars of shareholder value from large media companies spells further decline. With the advent of "that darned thing called the Internet," newspaper revenues, primarily from advertisers, are spiralling ever downwards. Gill quotes research that between 2000 and 2008 revenue drifted gently downward, but then in the next five years plunged another third, from $5.8 billion to $3.7 billion.
So who will cover all the crucial news beats and public meetings? Politicians? Corrupt businesses? Gill quotes a New York Times article asserting that "nonprofit news organizations, digital start-ups, university-based centers and public radio stations are beginning to fill the gap... But they probably won't fully take hold while newspapers, even in their shrunken state, remain the dominant media players in local market."
Much of Gill's overview bristles with gleeful invective and scorn. "That giant sucking sound you hear?" he writes, "Oh, that's just the implosion of Canadian media." He dismisses local newspapers like those managed by the David Black chain foisting "truly execrable fare" on the public. He bashes the CBC with equal ease. Gill abhors the Walrus magazine as "a flaccid, self-satisfied kind of poor man's New Yorker."
Our media landscape is a horrid and almost hopeless mess. "It's as if Canada's journalists were assigned to cover a state funeral," he writes, "and only now are wising up to the fact that the body in the casket is their own."
The only smart people in Canadian journalism, it would appear, are Tyee columnist Ian Gill and his friend and collaborator David Beers, founding editor of the Tyee. They foresee the road ahead could or should be paved by philanthropies in Gill's fourth and final chapter Wither the Future?, arguably the weakest section of Gill's otherwise informative and highly entertaining romp.
Gill was able to undertake research for his analysis of Canadian media due to a senior fellowship in 2015 provided by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. If the future of high quality Canadian journalism can only be redeemed by having our best independent journalists cozying up to rich people and well-intentioned foundations, as Gill appears to suggest in No News Is Good News, some might argue the future of media in Canada will be even grimmer. But he has done a great service to the Canadian media community by providing this feisty diagnosis of Canadian journalism's ills.
As he noted on a CBC Radio interview, if Canada's roads and schools and hospitals fell into such decay, the public would not stand for it--and yet the news services of a nation are equally essential services to guarantee the well-being of a society.
So let's at least start talking about it.
- by Beverly Cramp

No News is Bad News
Review 2016

REVIEW: No News is Bad News: Canada’s Media Collapse -- and What Comes Next

By Ian Gill, foreword by Margo Goodhand

Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2016. $18.95 / 978-1771642682

Reviewed by David Wright


In No News is Bad News, the Australian-Canadian journalist and author Ian Gill asks why Canada’s media companies are collapsing and what can be done to keep journalism alive during the rise of corporate-model news outlets and the digital revolution that affects us all.
Reviewer David Wright gauges Gill’s perspective on this tumultuous time for the media in Canada.


Ian Gill’s No News is Bad News. Canada’s Media Collapse -- And What Comes Next is a dense commentary on the state of media and journalism as currently practiced in Canada.

A former reporter and editor for the Vancouver Sun and the CBC, Gill laments the collapse of the Canadian media and makes little attempt to hide his indignant tone. “Canada’s journalism is in ruins, and our nation is the poorer for it. Just look around” (48).

From the beginning, Gill lays out the paradigm for his critical survey of the Canadian media landscape, noting that “For me, a former newspaper journalist, what is happening to Canada’s newspaper industry feels personal, which might partly explain why my distress at the parlous state of Canadian newspapers veers toward the intemperate. I feel like we are being robbed blind, mugged by the oligarchs, and fed a diet of content you wouldn’t serve in a hospital during a power outage” (3).

No News is Bad News is divided into an introduction and four chapters, each of them devoted to a particular aspect of current news media and journalistic practice.

The introduction and first chapter deal primarily with that most traditional mode of journalistic enterprise, newspapers. Chapter 1, “No Country for Old Media: Our Shrinking Public Square,” taking up nearly one-third of the book, addresses what Gill sees as the perilous and decrepit state of Canadian media and journalism. He considers the death of newspapers as a primary space for journalistic practice and laments the current state of the Canadian news media landscape, especially the loss of local news and the increasing dominance of large, mainstream, corporate-model news outlets that tend to underserve minority populations while catering to a sometimes dubious corporate narrative that encourages biased viewpoints over objectivity.

The middle chapters -- “What’s Happening Across the Pond?” and “What’s Happening Closer to Home?” -- turn outward and examine how news media and journalism work in other places, particularly Europe, and how reportage must adapt and change to remain viable in what appears to be an uncertain and increasingly bleak future.

Gill surveys emerging journalistic practices and emphasizes how journalism and its institutions, both in Canada and abroad, are leveraging technology, philanthropy, and savvy user-pay funding processes to revive the industry.

Gill’s best is Chapter 4, “Whither the Future.” His rhetoric is reasoned, his purpose clear, and he has repressed all his earlier bitterness of tone associated with what he sees as the collapsing foundations of Canada’s media establishment.

His gaze now turns to representation, particularly indigenous representation in news media, and how journalism can be sustained in Canada by adopting new models, perhaps looking toward organizational models such as VICELAND, Neiman Labs, and The Knight Foundation, among many salient examples.

On the whole, No News is Bad News never really settles on a clear subject. Instead, it manoeuvres briskly through many different takes on news media, sometimes confusing the institutions of news media with the practice of journalism, so that one is not quite sure where the issues lie, or with whom. Gill presents an often-fractured rhetorical development that never quite allows a clear line through the mire.

Gill is careful to qualify his position, pointing out that “my time outside of mainstream journalism has given me a more multi-faceted view of the media than being a lifer would ever have allowed” (15) -- but I am not sure that his polemic can be taken as a “multi-faceted view.”

His commentary focuses almost exclusively on print, particularly newspapers, and The Toronto Star, The National Post, and The Globe and Mail all receive much attention. Gill is most interested in how these “legacy media” are transitioning into online venues. He provides hurried critiques of other spaces for news media, such as radio and television, and institutions such as Postmedia and the CBC, but such analysis is sparse and the arguments not as developed as when Gill takes on newspapers or the emerging spaces for long-form journalism on the internet.

At times, Gill is a little too glowing about left-leaning media outlets such as the Guardian, Canadaland, and Discourse Media. At face value, there’s nothing wrong with this positivity toward progressive journalism. However, given his frequently harsh asides about the former Conservative government, Postmedia, and other outlets for their conservative agendas, Gill’s obvious bias towards arenas with more liberal agendas taints the integrity of his critique of the right.

No News is Bad News is full of rhetorical flourishes that sometimes distract from what is generally a well-researched survey of the admittedly sparse and collapsing news media landscape. Concerning a robot journalist, Gill writes that such a machine “should send a shiver down the spine of whichever journalists are left who still have one;” and after critiquing a quote about the state of television news by The Globe and Mail’s television critic John Doyle, Gill opines that he “may yet find himself satiating his hunger by eating those words” (59, 62).

And venturing that “It’s hard to imagine journalistic standards sinking much lower” in the deployment of news-like advertisements in newspapers and magazines, Gill suggests “that is a thought best served hold” (60). This is not a typo for “cold.”

Readers certainly deserve flair and panache in essays, but Gill’s prose sometimes feels forced and his characterizations veer perilously close to the very rhetorical bombast that is beginning to dominate current political narratives, and which might well turn readers off.

But on the whole, Gill’s analysis is well researched, intelligent, and offered by an insightful and reasoned individual. When he ends the book with a glance at the possibilities that philanthropy and emerging Internet media might play in reviving journalism and enticing a distanced readership, he shows himself to be a thoughtful commentator on the future of journalism.

Indeed, when Gill restricts the idle tongue-lashing and passive aggressive tone, and addresses issues of inclusiveness in Canadian news media, No News is Bad News rises to remind readers of the power of journalism. And when he reminds us that “We need to become our own champions again,” it’s hard not to forgive his rhetorical bombast. His conclusion is both trenchant and urgent: “We need to change the collective imaginary and find powerful new ways to mobilize it so that everyone sees at least some of themselves in Canada’s evolving story” (149).


A faculty member of the English Department at Douglas College in New Westminster, David N. Wright leads the Digital Cultures Lab there. His current research and teaching emphasize the role of critical thinking and close reading in understanding, using, and building digital tools and emerging technologies.

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