Anishinaboy, Tim Fontaine | Twitter
Since its inception in 2017, Walking Eagle News has taken the Indigenous community by storm. Publisher, Tim Fontaine left his career in serious journalism to pursue satirical news online, as host of APTN’s The Laughing Drum, and recently doing stand-up in the 2019 Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival. Tim Fontaine talked candidly with MUSKRAT’S Erica Commanda about what it’s like to bring an Indigenous lens to satire and why he left ‘real’ journalism.
MM: Walking Eagle News has had a lot of success since it’s debut. Where do you see it going in the future?
TF: I have no idea yet. I hadn’t thought much of it when I launched it – other than it would be a lot of fun to do – but it keeps getting more and more popular. It’s going to keep doing what it’s doing. It certainly opened up a lot of possibilities which is incredible. I’m supposed to be working on a book, but I’m trying to see what the next logical step should be. Should I keep it going as it is or expand into podcasts? I still haven’t made that decision yet.
MM: Who are your favourite comedic writers that inspired you or influenced your work?
TF: I was inspired by artists. There was some American artist that created American Indian art that I liked – they had some funny, sarcastic way at how they were viewed by the world – Stan English. There’s a few others that blew me away with how they played with the image of being Indigenous. I was really struck by that when I was down there (in the USA). Then I started reading Drew Hayden Taylor, who wrote columns and books, so that influenced me a bit. I realised you don’t just have to be a comedian, you can be something else: you can be satirical and it didn’t just have to be just jokes. I read a lot when I was younger. I used to read stuff like Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. It was absurd, funny and dark, I think Walking Eagle has some elements of that as well.
MM: You mentioned the book, “On Writing” by Stephen King in a past interview; how did that book help with your direction?
TF: When I left CBC in 2017, I knew I didn’t want to be a journalist anymore and wanted to start creative writing again. I always heard of his book. I finally just got it and started reading it. I was just blown away by it. A lot of it is very practical- his advice was to just write. He said, “for you to say that you are a writer, or you want to be a writer, then you actually have to write.” It sounds so simple, but I think a lot of writers talk about writing more than they actually write. I started writing some stories and kept going back to some of the jokes I told as a journalist about the news I was covering. I just flushed them out, made them into articles and banked a few of them. That triggered it, I decided to start a website and put them up somewhere. That’s how Walking Eagle was born- from this desire to keep writing, to hone that ability again, and that feeling of being excited about writing again. I guess I can thank Stephen King for that as well, or for at least giving me a kick in the butt.
MM: Where did you study journalism?
TF: I didn’t. I never did go to school for journalism. I was living in Regina at the time and working for First Nations University of Canada. This was in 1999. I got involved with a bunch of creative people, started writing and doing live performances with a real comedic edge to it. We were getting into comedy more than anything, but then I needed to make money so I figured I can write and mimicked what I saw in the news papers and started writing articles.
I wanted to be a filmmaker and started to learn how to edit and shoot, stuff like that. These were skills that not a lot of people had at the time. In a small community like Regina, you could find work easily – at the time. That’s how I got into it. Then I started working at APTN. It was all self taught; I was lucky to work with people that were very generous with how to be a journalist. I got on the job training.
If we are talking about the future of my life, I may sooner rather than later retire the site and move away from this type of humour. I need to feel like I’m changing too. It’s the same thing I said about my journalism career. I didn’t want to be sitting at a desk for ten years, but ended up in it for twenty years. I don’t want that to be the same thing with Walking Eagle – I’d like to try other things.
MM: You’ve worked in journalism for over 20 years, I often feel that news, itself, can be quite depressing. How have you dealt on it? Do you have any advice on how to cope with that?
TF: That was the thing that made me quit being a journalist. It was the depression and not being able to speak out about the things that I see. I don’t have advice for people other than take a break sometimes. Having a partner as journalist was tough because for a while we couldn’t turn ‘it’ off either. We would go home and that’s what we would talk about. You have to find a balance between living your life and finding things that make you enjoy the work you do. Balance is important.
The toughest thing for me to do is remember that there are still good things happening in Indigenous communities. So much of Indigenous journalism, and journalism in general, covers the negative things which is too bad, especially when there are so many good things happening in our communities as well.
BIO: Tim Fontaine is the Founder, Editor-in-Grand-Chief and Head Writer. He started Walking Eagle News as a means of setting his illustrious journalism career on fire and dancing in its ashes. Tim Fontaine was a real journalist for almost two decades before becoming a pretend journalist and worked for APTN National News, iChannel, CPAC and CBC Indigenous. A member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, he grew up mainly on the Hollow Water First Nation and in Winnipeg. He currently lives in Winnipeg where he single-handedly invented and refined Indigenous journalism.