How Indigenous reporters are elevating true crime
January 8, 2019 8:35 AM   Subscribe

In the podcasts “Finding Cleo” and “Thunder Bay,” First Nations reporters reinvent a common formula. Can they find even bigger audiences?

In May 2017, Connie Walker, a longtime reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, walked through Park View Cemetery in Medford, New Jersey. It was a sunny morning, with birds squawking, and Walker held a microphone to pick up the crunchy footsteps that she and her producer, Marnie Luke, made among the graves.

Walker knew what she was looking for; she’d seen a photograph of the squat headstone for 13-year-old “Beloved Daughter, Cleo L. Madonia,” born 1965, died 1978. “It’s quiet here, which is good,” Walker narrated, “because I imagine we’re a strange sight.”

posted by poffin boffin (10 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Cool, I’m gonna check these out.
posted by Secretariat at 8:46 AM on January 8, 2019

Coincidentally, Saskatchewan's premier just apologised to Sixties Scoop survivors yesterday. Cleo of Finding Cleo was a victim of the Sixties Scoop.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:52 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

FanFare page on Thunder Bay.

It's really good, even if the subject matter can get a little hard to listen to.
posted by Jugwine at 9:52 AM on January 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I couldn't get enough of Walker's reporting in the Alberta Williams and Cleo stories. Listening to people who've been through the Sixties Scoop talk about their experiences is... very many things. Humbling, enraging, terrifying. I'm very thankful for the exposure to stories like these, even though it's hard.

I haven't heard of Thunder Bay before, definitely going on my list.
posted by erratic meatsack at 9:58 AM on January 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

But both Thunder Bay and Finding Cleo are extremely well done.

McMahon nails the atmosphere in Thunder Bay itself really, really well. This post I did a little while ago includes the podcast, as well as some links to Tanya Talaga's work on Thunder Bay has some more detail on some of the elements of what's going on (specifically around documented systemic racism in the police department) there if people are interested.

There's also a little more backstory on the making of both Finding Cleo and Thunder Bay here...

The Making Of Finding Cleo And Thunder Bay

Host and creator Ryan McMahon reflects on the year-long production process, and he, Jesse and Connie Walker — host of CBC’s award-winning podcast Missing & Murdered: Finding Cleo —speak at ImagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival about the challenges that come with telling such sensitive, complex stories through the true crime genre.

McMahon's Red Man Laughing podcast, which he's been doing regularly for a while now, is also worth checking out.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:25 AM on January 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Finding Cleo is generally considered a true-crime podcast, giving it the advantages of the popular genre; at the time of this writing, six out of 10 podcasts in Apple’s top U.S. charts involved murders, swindlers or nightmarish doctors. Finding Cleo has been downloaded over 17 million times and frequently appears at the top of Canadian podcast charts, along with Thunder Bay, a podcast by Anishinaabe host Ryan McMahon that investigates crimes against Indigenous residents in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

But Finding Cleo doesn’t focus on a death for its own sake. The story’s true mystery lies in systems that dwarf a single event: the Canadian government, child welfare practices, Indian residential schools and the colonial legacies that shadow Indigenous lives. The Indigenous reporters behind Finding Cleo and Thunder Bay weave true crime and Indigenous history together — deploying a trusted formula to reveal a world frequently invisible to white listeners, but reaching beyond the violence that draws much of the public’s attention.


Thunder Bay profiles webs of crime and the colonial patterns that created them. It’s a collage rather than a case file, often highlighting the reporting of local journalists. One episode details the mayor’s involvement in protecting a lawyer accused of sex abuse; another explores the city’s community of sex workers; and another, one of the most affecting, traces the pattern of uninvestigated disappearances of Indigenous teenagers. As in Finding Cleo, structural racism connects the dots.

These are really important points, because both Walker and McMahon have talked about how they didn't set out to make a name in the true crime genre itself - they're looking at colonial systems that are still in operation.

From the link Ashwaganda posted about the Sixties Scoop apology:

Premier Scott Moe apologized Monday for Saskatchewan's role in the Sixties Scoop.

"There is nothing that we can offer that can fully restore what you have lost," Moe said, standing with Indigenous leaders from across the province in the lobby of the Legislative Building in Regina.

"What we can offer is the solemn assurance that government policies have changed."

Actually, Moe can't really offer that, because if he did, he'd be lying.

Over 80% of the children caught in the foster care system in Saskatchewan and Manitoba right now are indigenous. It's a staggering level of over-representation.

As McMahon asks in summary of the last episode of Thunder Bay, "What if Thunder Bay isn't broken? What if it's working just as it's supposed to?"
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:39 AM on January 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Another good book that talks about Thunder Bay is Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga, which I recently read just before reading the (non-Indigenous written) That Lonely Section of Hell: The botched investigation of a serial killer who almost got away by Lori (now Lorimer) Shenher who led the Vancouver Police Department's investigation of the disappearing women from the Downtown Eastside prior to the RCMP taking Picton seriously as a suspect, which is in large part about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and was a really good insight into law enforcement bodies after looking at things from the outside in Seven Fallen Feathers.
posted by urbanlenny at 1:31 PM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Over 80% of the children caught in the foster care system in Saskatchewan and Manitoba right now are indigenous. It's a staggering level of over-representation.

Removing children from their culture is a form of cultural genocide. Whether it may or may not be necessary to remove a child from a home is a matter to be decided case by case, but there is no reason that indigenous children should ever be removed from their communities. The system has to change to ensure that care happens within, and controlled by, their own communities.

sorry, I realize this is a bit off-topic. But every time I read (again!) about the massive, insane over-representation of indigenous children in the system, I think about how we've just renamed residential schools "Children's Aid".
posted by jb at 1:56 PM on January 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Finding Cleo is one of the most astonishing pieces of reporting - of any media type - I've ever encountered. I still start crying when I think about it. I want everyone I know to listen to it, I want every Canadian to listen to it. I grew up in Thunder Bay (but have lived now half my life elsewhere) and also listened to the podcast of the same name. I have recently read the report about the police services and am working my way through Seven Fallen Favors. I've always understood the racism of that place and where I come from but Finding Cleo literally broke something open inside me. I have no answers but all of this has made me ask much more pointed and much sharper questions. I am so grateful for their work.
posted by marylynn at 7:22 PM on January 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

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