Aaron Hemens is a journalist with IndigiNews. He is a settler of Filipino and European ancestry, living as a guest in unceded syilx homelands in kiʔlawnaʔ (Kelowna), Canada. His pictures and stories have been published in the Globe and Mail, HuffPost, APTN News, Vancouver Sun, Inuvik Drum, and more.
What has been the biggest challenge you have overcome in your career?
I’ve only been doing journalism since 2019, but I’d say the biggest challenge I have had to overcome is imposter syndrome. Over time it has been hard to find the confidence and courage to put myself and my stories out there–especially being non-Indigenous trying to represent Indigenous stories and news for IndigiNews.
My work gets tough at times, and sometimes I ask myself, “Is this something I should be doing?”, “Is this something I can even do?” And it’s in times like these that I try to remind myself just how capable I am. I believe in myself, I trust my skills, and I trust my heart because I know the work I do is important, and I am in such a unique position to tell stories that make a difference. So with that, I’d say imposter syndrome is the biggest challenge I have needed to overcome, but right now, I’m in a position in my career where I feel like I know who I am and I know what kind of storyteller I am.
What industry would you work in if you were not in journalism and media?
Oh, this is a tough one. My first thought would be filmmaking or photography, but I guess those are still classified as media… so if I had to choose, I think I’d like to become some type of champion for the environment. I am really passionate about it, and in another world, I could see myself working for an NGO. But in reality, I feel I am already doing what I was born to do, and that is journalism.
What has been a highlight of your career?
Honestly, getting the opportunity to work with IndigiNews has been the highlight of my career so far. Before this, I was just working at random little local papers throughout Canada. I lived in the Northwest Territories for a bit and had my first job out of school there. Then I lived in other small towns and did general news reporting, which I am not a big fan of.
I really like doing the feature stories I do for IndigiNews. I get to take my time with the stories. I’m not just writing about trivial news–I’m doing impactful work that makes a difference in the community. It’s been a paradigm shift for me. The team I currently work with is made up of Indigenous women, and I am really the only guy there. These women have shown me a lot, and working with IndigiNews has changed how I see things living here in Canada.
What motivates you in your work?
Having the opportunity to right some wrongs is where my motivation comes from. I feel like we live in this age of truth and reconciliation where there is always talk about truth, but people want to skip the truth and get right to reconciliation. So, what truly motivates me in my work is finding the truth and sharing it.
There’s a violent history in Canada toward Indigenous people, and it’s ongoing. I want to use my voice to document this by listening to Indigenous people, working with Indigenous communities and sharing their truth. I feel it is so important to try and get people to understand the realities of what it’s like to live in Indigenous communities in Canada. I take pride in showing that part of Indigenous communities that you don’t really see in the media; that’s what really motivates me to honour telling the truth.
What are two tips you want to pass along to PR professionals that send you pitches?
Be specific. Do your research and know what I do and what I cover. Because sometimes, I get these general emails about covering something happening on the other side of the country, and that’s out of my capacity. The second part of that is to make sure to know who I am and what I do. So really, I’d recommend researching the journalist, finding out what they cover, and making sure your pitch is specific to them and their content.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone that wants to pursue a career like yours?
Don’t be afraid to put yourself in some scary situations. That’s where growth comes from. And be okay with being uncomfortable. For example, if you’re a non-Indigenous person like me telling Indigenous stories, be prepared to be uncomfortable. Because the truth is, it’s hard for many people to digest, and it kind of steers people away from doing that kind of work. But if you’re really serious about being a good ally…. you have to be okay with the uncomfortable parts of the job.
Sure, there can be heavy stuff, but at the end of the day, just know what you’re doing is appreciated. The community does care. People do care. They do see the work you do. And if your heart’s in the right place, you can do it. If you really believe in what you’re doing, you can really make a difference. You just have to overcome that imposter syndrome, lead with your heart, and always be a good human first. I think that’s the most important to note: just be a good human.
What are your predictions for the future of the media industry?
Honestly, I really don’t know what to expect. The media landscape is changing almost every day. I think there will always be good journalists out there who know what they’re doing, who have ethics and the skills to fact-check and write well. But as for outlets, it’s hard to say. Nowadays, anyone can call themselves a journalist because of personal blogs, Twitter, etc. It’s just so much more accessible to report on news and share your opinion. But I feel like there will always be a need for trained journalists who know how to fact check, who know how to balance the news, who have media literacy, and who know how to ask questions and truly report. I just think there’ll always be a place for people like me who feel obligated to tell the truth and don’t want to misconstrue or mislead anyone.