The Development of Aboriginal Broadcasting in Canada

Early in the history of Canadian television, when southern television began to bombard the airwaves in northern communities, Canada’s Aboriginal people made the connection between cultural survival and the ownership and control of media.

Community radio and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Northern Service short-wave radio had been an integral part of northern life since the mid-1950s. By the early 1970s, 16 per cent of Northern Service programming was in Inuktitut and, with CBC and government-funded training and technical support, radio began to be used throughout the North for everything from political information and local news to bingo and the communication of family messages.

The catalyst for Native-owned and -operated broadcasting came in 1973 when the CBC began beaming southern Canadian and American television via satellite into northern communities. The Inuit welcomed some programs, such as Hockey Night in Canada, but many Aboriginal leaders and elders saw southern programming as a threat to their language and cultural traditions. They were upset that the sounds and images entering every home failed to reflect anything of their own reality and values.

One young leader, Rosemary Kuptana, who later became president of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, likened the onslaught of southern television to the neutron bomb. “This is the bomb that kills the people,” she noted, “but leaves the buildings standing.”

Between 1976 and 1981, with large grants from the federal government, and new satellites Hermes and Anik B, Native organizations from Alberta to Quebec began to experiment with interactive communication and the production of original programming. The pilots were so successful that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada’s regulatory agency, licensed the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada in 1981 to set up an Inuit broadcasting corporation to provide Inuktitut-language television services to the Northwest Territories (NWT), Northern Quebec and Labrador.

Later that same year, the CRTC approved an application from two First Nations groups to establish a satellite radio network to deliver programming in several Aboriginal languages to communities in the Yukon and western NWT. By this time, CBC’s Northern Service had doubled its Aboriginal-language programming.

By the early 1980s, the components for Aboriginal-owned and -managed broadcasting were in place across the country: politicized Aboriginal organizations, 13 Native communications societies (Inuit, First Nations and Métis), a sympathetic regulatory body (CRTC) and a government with new policies and funding programs.

In 1983, the Canadian government set up a $40-million fund to stimulate indigenous radio and television production in northern regions of Canada. That same year, the federal government came out with the Northern Broadcasting Policy. It set out the principles of “fair access” by First Peoples to northern broadcasting distribution systems, so as to enable them to develop their cultures and languages. In most parts of the North, this meant access to the CBC’s distribution system. But the policy proved difficult to implement and failed to meet expectations for Aboriginal services.

In 1988, following years of persistent lobbying by Aboriginal communications groups, the federal government allocated $10 million for a dedicated northern satellite transponder. Television Northern Canada (TVNC) spanned five time zones and extended to the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Arctic Quebec and Labrador—one-third of Canada’s land mass. In 1991, the right of First Peoples to have control over their own communications was enshrined in the Broadcasting Act and, in 1995, the CRTC approved TVNC’s application to make Aboriginal programming available to southern communities.

TVNC’s success led to feverish lobbying to establish a national Aboriginal network. Support from the Canadian public was surprisingly strong at the time. According to an Angus Reid survey, two-thirds of Canadians were in favour of it, and 68 per cent said they’d be willing to pay 15 cents more on their monthly cable bill to make it happen.

In 1999, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) became a reality. As part of a first-tier (basic) cable service, APTN became available to 8 million homes in the North and across southern Canada via cable TV, direct-to-home and satellite.

The Globe and Mail captured this important milestone in an editorial:

“Just to be seen on TV makes people genuine in a way that almost nothing else in the 20th-century culture does. This is the psychological underpinning for the CRTC’s recent decision to grant a licence for an Aboriginal television network. Not only will the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network be a place for Native people to present themselves to one another in English, French and 15 Native languages, but it will be an electronic arena in which many Canadians will encounter Aboriginals in ways they might never do otherwise.”

APTN has opened many doors. It has provided Aboriginal artists, writers, actors and producers with the skills and the means to bring Aboriginal people their own images and messages—through documentaries, dramas, children’s series, educational programs, news, current events and even cooking shows. And it has provided an opportunity for Aboriginal people to cut through the oppressive stereotypes that dominate southern television and to present new models for youth. But the Globe and Mail’s prophecy about giving non-Aboriginal Canadians an opportunity to encounter Aboriginal society through television may have been overly optimistic. APTN’s position on the channel grid in southern parts of Canada forces Canadians to surf up to Channel 55 and beyond in order to find programming produced by Aboriginal people.

Nevertheless, APTN is a giant step forward. Every year, its development is imitated even more by other Aboriginal broadcasting and community radio services. Isuma.tv, an international website intended to develop Aboriginal audiovisual production from all peoples of the world, has also experienced unprecedented growth. According to sociologist Lorna Ruth, since the first broadcast of a show in Inuktitut 40 years ago, Canada has been identified “as a model of resistance to the oppressive uniformization of North American media.”

Today, many communities are working to develop their own community radio and several national radio networks have appeared, such as Aboriginal Voices Radio, a Canadian Aboriginal radio network. There is also Native Communications Inc. (NCI), which operates out of Manitoba; Aboriginal Radio, which is a forum for the issues of Aboriginals from North, South and Central America; Aboriginal CKCU, which mainly addresses Aboriginals from the Ottawa area; and CIHW FM, the community radio of the Hurons-Wendat in Wendake. You can use this site to keep up-to-date on most Aboriginal radio programs: http://www.turtleisland.org/news/news-radio.htm.

As a medium that makes it possible to connect various communities from the same nation with one another, community radio offers social connectivity. This is in addition to the large national Aboriginal radio stations, such as SOCAM (Société de communication Atikamekw-Montagnaise). And that’s exactly what interested a young Atikamekw, Patrick Boivin, in the award-winning short film Territoire des ondes (Land of the Airwaves). In this documentary, Boivin associates the drum, the traditional communication tool, and the radio, which today is a means of staying in touch despite the development of new media and virtual social networks like Facebook.

For example, here is a list of Inuit and Cree community TV and radio from the Canadian Arctic referenced from http://media002.tripod.com/nunamedia.html :

TAGRAMIUT NIPINGAT INC (TNI)

INUKJUAK TNI TV, QC, J0M 1M0
Tel.: 819-254-8977 Fax: 819-254-8510

TAQRAMIUT NIPINGAT INC TV
PO BOX 360
KUUJJUAQ, QC, J0M 1C0
Tel.: 819-255-8822 Fax: 819-255-8891

TAQRAMIUT NIPINGAT INC.
Suite 501
185 Dorval Ave.
Dorval, Quebec
CANADA
H9S 5J9
Ph. (514) 631-1394
Fax (514) 631-6258

Salluit Office (819) 255-8822 TV & Radio production centre

IVUJIVIK COMMUNITY RADIO STATION
APPALIMMIUT TUSAUTINGA FM
IVUJIVIK, QC, J0M 1H0
Tel.: 819-922-9966

CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORP
PO BOX 158
KUUJJUAQ, QC, J0M 1C0
Tel.: 819-964-2971 Fax: 819-964-2476

SOCIETE RADIO CANADA
KUUJJUAQ, QC, J0M 1C0
Tel.: 819-964-2594

CREE COMMUNITY RADIO STATION
PO BOX 189
KUUJJUARAPIK, QC, J0M 1G0
Tel.: 819-929-3421

F M COMMUNITY RADIO STATION
HSE 155
AKULIVIK, QC, J0M 1V0
Tel.: 819-496-2033

F M COMMUNITY RADIO STATION
KUUJJUAQ, QC, J0M 1C0
Tel.: 819-964-2921 Fax: 819-964-2229

F M COMMUNITY RADIO STATION
HSE 16
AUPALUK, QC, J0M 1X0
Tel.: 819-491-7088

F M COMMUNITY RADIO STATION
QUAQTAQ, QC, J0M 1J0
Tel.: 819-492-9946

F M COMMUNITY RADIO STATION
HSE 309
KANGIRSUK, QC, J0M 1A0
Tel.: 819-935-4258

INUKJUAK FM COMMUNITY RADIO STATION
INUKJUAK, QC, J0M 1M0
Tel.: 819-254-8967

MUNICIPAL FM COMMUNITY RADIO STATION
SALLUIT, QC, J0M 1S0
Tel.: 819-255-8046

QAKKALIK COMMUNITY FM STATION
PO BOX 64
KANGIQSUJUAQ, QC, J0M 1K0
Tel.: 819-338-3365

TASIUJAQ COMMUNITY RADIO FM STATION
HSE 153
TASIUJAQ, QC, J0M 1T0
Tel.: 819-633-9915

KUUJJUARAPIK COMMUNITY RADIO STATION
KUUJJUARAPIK, QC, J0M 1G0
Tel.: 819-929-3321

SOCIETE RADIO CANADA
INUKJUAK, QC, J0M 1M0
Tel.: 819-254-8817

SOCIETE RADIO CANADA
SALLUIT, QC, J0M 1S0
Tel.: 819-255-8947

UMIUJAQ FM COMMUNITY RADIO STATION
UMIUJAQ, QC, J0M 1Y0
Tel.: 819-331-7065

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