Peoples of Canada have become internationally acknowledged as having
the most advanced and fair Fourth World (indigenous peoples) broadcasting
system, based on a 1991 legislated recognition of their collective
communications and cultural rights as Peoples with a special status.
In the Canadian context, "First Peoples" is an inclusive term referring
to both the Inuit (known elsewhere as "Eskimos") and the Amerindian
populations, the latter also known as First Nations. The language
of the Inuit is Inuktitut. Aboriginal-initiated media in Northern
Canada (North of the 55th parallel line) has had a relatively long
history when compared with Fourth World/indigenous communities elsewhere.
The stages through which this broadcasting history has evolved were
initiated by First Peoples themselves as they struggled for their
inclusion in the policy and practice decisions pertaining to broadcasting
services to be received by their national communities. Partly
as a result of the pioneering and persistent activities of First
Peoples to make their programming an integral part of the Canadian
media infrastructure, Canada has also come to be identified as a
model of media resistance against the overwhelming forces of continental
integration in North America.
It is difficult to talk about the introduction of television into
the North without acknowledging its relationship to radio. This
is because radio set a very special attitudinal context for the
arrival of television. First Peoples expected that television would
have local and regional indigenous input, as well as national, Southern-produced
programming, as had been the case with radio. A brief overview of
Northern radio is, therefore, foundational to understanding why
First Peoples reacted the way they did to television.
entered the North in the late 1920s, at the same time that airplanes
began to develop easy access to the Arctic. By the early thirties,
trading posts, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police centres, and religious
missions were equipped with high frequency radios to maintain contact
with their headquarters in the South. Native peoples did not have
direct access to these early radio services. In 1958, the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation's (CBC) Northern Service was established,
taking over the infrastructure of shortwave transmitters established
by the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of Transport.
In 1960, the first Inuit-language broadcasts occurred and by 1972,
17% of the CBC shortwave service was in Inuktitut. Since the early
1970s, First Peoples have demanded access to radio in the North.
All three levels of government have responded positively to native
requests; seed money and core funding from provincial/territorial
and federal government communications and cultural programs have
assisted First Peoples in their radio development process. As a
consequence, culturally-relevant, native-language radio programming
has become an integral part of the Northern media infrastructure.
Radio is simple to learn, operate, and maintain; it is an important
information tool and readily adaptable to local indigenous-language
Canadian federal government's public subsidisation of native-produced
media began formally in 1974 with the development of its Native
Communications Program (NCP). Between then and 1996, 117 First Peoples'
community radio stations have become operational across Canada,
including those below the Hamelin line (the line at latitude 55
that separates the North from the South). With the exception of
the Inuit service in the Northwest Territories, whose CBC regional
radio programming has always been and continues to be satisfactory
and representative of their concerns, all other Northern regions
have both a network of local radio stations and one publicly-subsidised
Native Communications Program was terminated quite suddenly in 1990
by the Secretary of State, who stated that vertical budgetary cutbacks
were the reason for its dissolution. Evidence of concrete Program
successes and public outcry did not result in the program's reinstatement.
Funding for native local radio remains tenuous. In general, most
Northern communities do not have a large enough advertising base
to convert to private radio. They, therefore, depend on either public
subsidy or some guaranteed way of maintaining stable funding. To
date, most community radio stations operate radio bingos for their
baseline fund-raising strategy.
both radio and television broadcasting evolved rapidly in response
to the launching of the Anik satellite in 1972. In 1973, the North
was hooked up to the South through radio and television services
and for the first time, Inuit and First Nations were able to have
access to the images, voices, and messages that United States and
metropolitan-based Canadians produced with Southern audiences in
mind. The parachuting in of Southern, culturally-irrelevant television
programming into Northern communities by the CBC Northern Service
acted as a catalyst for indigenous constituency groups to organize
broadcasting services in their own languages (dialects), reflecting
their own cultures, as they had achieved in radio. Almost immediately
after its initial mystique dissipated, native peoples and their
Southern supporters began to lobby for their own television programming
and network services. They wanted participatory and language rights,
as well as decision- making responsibilities about programming and
Southern service expansion. By the mid-1970s, First Peoples across
the country had secured funding, established Native Communications
Societies (NCS) to be the responsible administrative party for their
communications activities, and begun operating local community television
in 1976, in response to their clearly articulated demands, the federal
government made large grants available for native organizations
to be used for technical experiments with the Hermes (1976) and
Anik B satellites (1978-1981). In 1976, the Alberta Native Communications
Society and Taqramiut Nipingat Incorporated (TNI) of Northern Quebec
received money to do interactive audio experiments with the Hermes
satellite. In 1978, funding was provided to Inuit Tapirisat (Brotherhood)
of Canada (ITC) of the Northwest Territories and TNI to complete
a more sophisticated interactive series of technical, community
development, and educational experiments on the Anik B satellite.
By 1981, after the establishment of five Northern television production
studios, after two and a half years of staff training, and after
six months of experimental access, it was unquestionably demonstrated
that the organizations involved were capable of: (1) organizing
complex satellite--based audio/video interactive experiments involving
five communities; (2) managing five production centres and satellite
uplink/downlink ground stations; (3) coordinating a large staff
in different locations, as well as a budget of over a million dollars;
(4) producing hundreds of hours of high quality program output;
(5) documenting technical data related to satellite experimentation
and viable uses of the satellite for Northern interactive communications;
and, finally, (6) documenting the whole process as evidence of their
credibility as a potential broadcasting licensee.
In 1981, based on the positive results of its Anik-B demonstration
project called Inukshuk, the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation
was licensed as a Northern television service by the Canadian Radio-television
and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada's regulatory agency,
to provide Inuktitut-language services to the Northwest Territories,
Northern Quebec, and Labrador. In this same period, other Native
Communications Societies across the North were at varying stages
of radio and television development, also in preparation for the
licensing process and all in support of the establishment of a legislated
recognition of their media demands as a distinct constituency group
within the Canadian state.
this time, the federal government undertook a one-year consultation
and planning process, the outcome of which was the Northern Broadcasting
Policy (1983), and an accompanying program vehicle, the Northern
Native Broadcast Access Program (NNBAP). These policy and funding
decisions became the foundation for the eventual enshrinement of
aboriginal broadcasting in the 1991 Broadcasting Act.
The Northern Broadcasting Policy set out the principle of "fair
access" by native Northerners to the production and distribution
of programming in their territories. It further established the
principle of consultation with First Peoples before Southern-based
decisions were to be made about Northern telecommunications services.
By 1983, thirteen regional Native Communication Societies had been
established to be the recipients of funding from the NNBAP. The
NNBAP coordinators set up a program structure within the Department
of the Secretary of State (Native Citizens Directorate) and were
mandated to distribute $40.3 million over a four-year period. The
money was to be used for the production of 20 hours of regional
native radio and 5 hours of regional aboriginal television per week.
Funding has eroded annually, but the Program is still operational.
the NNBAP implementation process proceeded, it became apparent that
fair distribution of radio and television programming was a key
problem because of the implicit assumption within the Northern Broadcasting
Policy that this task would be taken care of by either CBC Northern
Service or by CANCOM (Canadian Satellite Communications Inc.), a
Northern program distributor. In both cases, negotiations between
Native Communication Societies and broadcasters had become bogged
down over prime time access hours and preemption of national programming.
In 1988, the federal government responded to persistent native lobbying
by the National Aboriginal Communications Society (a lobby group
representing the interests of the NCS groups) for more secure distribution
services by laying out $10 million toward the establishment of a
dedicated Northern satellite transponder (channel). By 1992, Television
Northern Canada (TVNC) was on the air. Owned and programmed
by 13 aboriginal broadcast groups, plus government and education
organizations located in the North, it is a pan-Arctic satellite
service that distributes 100 hours of programming to 94 Northern
communities. It is considered to be a primary level of service in
the North. In 1995, TVNC applied for permission from the CRTC to
be placed on the list of eligible channels to be picked up by cable
operators in the South. In November 1995, approval was granted,
making it possible for TVNC to become available in a variety of
Southern Canadian markets, should cable operators decide to make
it part of their discretionary packages. It is already accessible
on an off-air basis to those who own satellite dishes because its
signal is not scrambled.
December 1995, TVNC joined together with two Northern companies,
Arctic Co-Operatives Limited and NorthwesTel, for the purposes of
designing an information highway infrastructure that will meet the
specific cross-cultural needs of Northerners.
Since 1992, First Peoples of Canada and consultants who have worked
with them have become involved in international media development
processes based on the assumption that sharing of communications
experiences and resources among indigenous nations can only be beneficial.
For example, initiatives encouraged by the United Nations, Canadian
International Development Agency, and private organizations have
included several media projects undertaken in Belize and Bolivia
and television program exchanges have already taken place among
Greenlandic, Alaskan, and Canadian Inuit, and aboriginal peoples
challenges for more secure, long-term funding and improved access,
First Peoples of Canada have established themselves as pioneers
in the development of cross-cultural television links across Canada's
vast (sub)Arctic regions. Currently, they are extending their media
knowledges outside of their Northern borders into the South and
beyond. Technical advances in local, regional, and national telecommunications
services, conjoined with the social and cultural goals of First
Peoples' broadcasters, have demonstrated that it is possible to
use media in a sensitive manner to express cultural heterogeneity,
rather than homogeneity. To date, from the rudimentary evidence
aggregated, it appears that First Peoples have refashioned television
broadcasting. They have indigenized it--transformed it into a tool
for inter-community and national development. They have utilized
television programming as a vehicle of mediation into their own
historically ruptured pasts and as a pathway into more globally-integrated
Canadian Radio-television Commission. Decision CRTC 91-826. Television
Northern Canada Incorporated. Ottawa, Canada: CRTC, 28 October
____________. "Native Broadcasting Policy." Public Notice
CRTC 1990-1989. Ottawa, Canada. 20 September 1990.
The 1980's--A Decade Of Diversity: Broadcasting Satellites and
Pay-TV. Report of the Committee on Extension of Service to Northern
and Remote Communities. Ottawa, Canada: Canadian Government
Publishing House, 1980.
of Canada. Broadcasting Act. Ottawa, Canada, 4 June 1991.
The Northern Broadcasting Policy. News Release. 10 March
Ursel. The Application of Communication Technologies in Canada's
Inuit Communities (Ph.D. dissertation, Simon Fraser University,
Gerry. In The Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology
& The Survival of the Indian Nations. San Francisco: Sierra
Club Books, 1991.
Lorna. Northern Voices and Mediating Structures: The Emergence
and Development of First Peoples' Television Broadcasting in the
Canadian North (Ph.D. dissertation, Canada: Concordia University,
Lorna, and Gail Valaskakis. "Aboriginal Broadcasting in Canada:
A Case Study in Democratization." In Raboy, Marc, and Peter A. Bruck,
editors. Communication for and Against Democracy. Montreal:
Black Rose Books, 1989.
Mark, and William Litwack. Native Broadcasting In the North Of
Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Commission for UNESCO-Report 54, 1988.
Valaskakis, Gail. "Television and Cultural Integration: Implications
for Native Communities in the Canadian North." In Lorimer, R., and
D. Wilson, editors. Communication Canada: Issues In Broadcasting
And New Technologies. Toronto: Kagan and Woo, 1988.
Thomas C. Ten Years of Satellite Television in the Eastern Arctic:
Cultural Implications for the Diffusion Of Educational Technology.
(Ph.D. dissertation,Concordia University, 1987).
Programming (Aboriginal); Canadian