(Tim Fontaine at APTN National News in Winnipeg. Photo: Ranee Dong/APTN)
The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The name, Walking Eagle perhaps, is the place to start.
“It’s a very corny old joke,” said Tim Fontaine, the man behind a new and increasingly popular Indigenous online news satire site called Walking Eagle.
“It’s a bird that’s so full of crap it can’t fly.”
Fontaine, a Winnipeg-based former journalist, may be a little sheepish about the title of his new comic endeavour.
But despite its name, Walking Eagle is taking off.
Launched barely a week ago, Walking Eagle’s mock news stories _ “Indigenous Services unveils new state-of-the-art honey bucket,” reads one headline _ are being shared and retweeted thousands of times. A publisher is already nosing around about a book, said Fontaine.
“It’s been incredible,” he said. “People are laughing.”
Walking Eagle’s brand of humour will be recognized by those familiar with comedy sites such as The Onion or The Beaverton. Daft and deadpan clash; laughs ensue.
“Proposed pipeline will cross through every single Indigenous community in country,” says one story.
“Earliest European settlers ‘huge a_holes:’ Indigenous researchers,” says another.
A third claims “Hundreds of wispy-whiskered Indigenous men pull out of Movember, calling it ‘unworkable.”’
It’s all, declares the Walking Eagle site, “News so authentically Indigenous, everywhere we step gets reserve status.”
When it comes to news, Fontaine knows what he’s talking about.
That scrupulously accurate reproduction of poker-faced journalism comes from Fontaine’s years of reporting for the CBC. He remains a national correspondent for APTN.
He’s done the serious stuff _ protests at Standing Rock, the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Time for something different, he thought.
“That’s always so heavy and it really weighs on you,” Fontaine said. “(Walking Eagle) is a nice way to break from that and have some fun.”
Fontaine continues to tell real stories as well as silly ones. He’s currently producing a documentary series for APTN.
But he describes Walking Eagle as “me setting fire to my journalistic career.”
He’s helping develop a comedy show for APTN that he says is inspired by late-night comedians Bill Maher and Jon Stewart.
Fontaine said he didn’t start Walking Eagle for any particular purpose.
He is aware, however, that it’s taking flight at a time when relations between Indigenous and settler communities are particularly fraught.
Sharing a laugh may be a way to ease that tension, he hopes.
“It’s a great bridge between communities,” Fontaine said. “Some people read (the site) and realize, ‘It’s OK to laugh.”’
Some don’t get the joke behind the straight-faced absurdity. There are readers who take seriously headlines such as “Study suggests Indigenous Peoples often studied.”
“There’s a lot of people that are falling for it,” said Fontaine. “People that I know, like academics or whatever, saying, ‘Oh, I thought this was real.’ It’s crazy.”
Maybe, he suggests, that’s a sign we all need to lighten up and stop taking ourselves and each other so seriously. Although Indigenous humour is not new, many seem surprised Aboriginal experiences can be a source of comedy as well as tragedy.
“I think people are surprised,” Fontaine said. “There’s the image of the stoic Indigenous person, but there’s a lot of laughter in those communities.
“I’m sure there is a role for humour in reconciliation. I don’t know what it is yet _ I just want to make sure our people aren’t the punchline.”