Al Jazeera contributor Brandi Morin has won Best Feature Story at the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) Awards for her story Canada’s ‘crying shame’: The fields full of children’s bones.
The top prize was conferred by jurors for the 2022 NAJA Awards for the feature, which was published through the Slow Journalism/Features unit for Al Jazeera English Online.
As part of her ongoing reporting about Indigenous communities, Morin’s feature delves deeper into the dark history of Canada’s residential schools, a network of some 139 institutions that forcibly separated Indigenous children from their parents and were established with the intention of eroding Indigenous culture, language, family and community ties.
From the time the first school opened in 1831 until 1996, some 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis (mixed race) children in Canada were forced to take up room and board at the schools that were notorious for the neglect and physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada estimates between 4,000 to 6,000 deaths at the schools.
In her story, Morin looks at the effect of the Canadian government-funded and church-administered schools from the perspective of those who survived them – men and women who, generations later, are still haunted by the abuses they and their loved ones endured.
When the Canadian government denied a 2009 request for funding to locate unmarked graves, some First Nations groups began using their own resources to hire specialists operating ground-penetrating radar. The first sets of bones were discovered in 2021, setting off a wave of similar discoveries near former residential schools across the country.
During an unprecedented visit to Canada 14 months later, Pope Francis publicly apologised to Indigenous people for the “evil” of residential schools.
“We are delighted to see Brandi’s unrelenting commitment to telling Indigenous stories and centring Indigenous voices and perspectives recognised with this award,” said Carla Bower, managing editor of Al Jazeera English Online. “And we’re grateful to the survivors who shared their stories with us. We must continue to hear their voices and to tell the stories of the children who never made it out of these institutions alive.”
Originally founded as the Native American Press Association in 1984, NAJA’s stated mission is to serve and empower Indigenous journalists through programmes and actions designed to enrich journalism and promote their cultures.
The Emmy-award-winning Al Jazeera documentary strand Fault Lines also won second place in the TV – Best Coverage of Native America category for Buried Truths: America’s indigenous boarding schools, a documentary about the United States’ own dark past with Indigenous boarding schools.
Honourable mentions also went to Al Jazeera contributor Delaney Nolan for The Louisiana Indigenous community fighting for hurricane justice and to the Al Jazeera English TV report Native American Children Faced Cultural Genocide in Boarding Schools.