Future of Indigenous Broadcasting convergence.

By Greg Macdougall

OTTAWA – The future of Indigenous radio and media in Canada shifted dramatically on June 14 with the CRTC’s awarding of Indigenous radio licences in five of the country’s most populous cities.

**Link of full decision: http://crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2017/2017-198.htm

“Literally my heart broke,” John Gagnon, CEO at Wawatay Native Communications Society, told the audience at the Future of First Nations, Metis and Inuit Broadcasting convergence yesterday in Ottawa. “It was a great wretching in my heart, because they threw away a plan that was for our youth, and for the future, and to build the capacity through our people, through our stories, by ourselves.”

Wawatay, a northern Ontario broadcaster and publisher in operation since 1974, had their applications for Toronto and Ottawa stations rejected in favour of a reduced version of APTN’s proposal for a five-city national Indigenous radio network.

The CRTC’s decision gives licences to regional broadcasters Northern Native Broadcasting in Vancouver and AMMSA (Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta) in Edmonton and Calgary, cities that APTN had hoped to also win as part of their proposal for their new First Peoples Radio network.

“We were trying to avoid … what happened in the final decision – trying to partition it to everybody to hopefully make it work for everybody but at the same time making it more of a financial challenge” said APTN CEO Jean La Rose, expressing his disappointment at how they wouldn’t be able to offer everything they’d hoped to in a national Aboriginal radio network, but affirming “we understand where the commission came from and we’ll do our best to make it work.”

He expects to have the stations operating within 8-10 months, if the CRTC approved the modified programming that will come with having less than half as many stations as their plan was based on.


The CRTC stated they didn’t think Wawatay’s proposed economic model was sufficient, with high programming expenses, not enough advertising revenue, and too much reliance on non-yet-solidified ‘third-party’ funding (they may have been influenced by Wawatay’s financial struggles of a few years ago).
** article link to embed re recent struggles http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/wawatay-native-communications-society-restructures-saves-radio-network-1.2901067

Yet it over-ruled APTN’s submission of a “non-severable” condition on their five-city network proposal, offering confidence that two FPR stations could still operate successfully on their own.

APTN had submitted that the bare minimum they’d need to offer their proposed programming would be four stations, including both Vancouver and Toronto, otherwise their news, spoken-word, Indigenous language, and local content would not meet the levels in their application.


Wawatay’s proposals had by far the highest amount of Indigenous language programming and diversity amongst all the applicants, with 42 hours weekly (second most was AMMSA with 23 hours, and then APTN with nine hours).”[[Info from” and taking out the “-” before “p17-18”)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations states (in14, iii) that “Th federal government has a responsibility to provide suffient funds for Aboriginal-language revitalization and preservation” and (14, v) that “Funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.“ This would seemingly be in line with Wawatay’s economic model including reliance on ‘third-party’ funding for such a high level of languages programming.


At the Indigneous Broadcasting convergence, Wawatay president Mike Metatawabin stated “CRTC’s decision yesterday to grant the AVR licences to entities that don’t respect the language mandate was greatly discouraging and surprising in light of the recent initiatives announced by Canada regarding language and culture.”

Canada’s Minister of Heritage Melanie Joly opened the event with a 10 minute speech focused on support for Indigenous languages, leaving 25 minutes for engagement with the convergence participants. The first question was regarding the CRTC decision; Joly responded by noting that the outgoing CRTC chairman’s mandate from the previous government didn’t necessarily include anything specific on reconciliation or Indigenous languages, but that the mandate she would be giving the new chair would include both as priorities. She stated that although her ministry governs the CRTC, it is an independent body with licencing decisions not subject to her approval.


The issue of Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination, in the context of ‘nation-to-nation’ relationships and Indigenous media policy, was also brought up during the CRTC process. But it seems to have not been considered by the CRTC, with not one instance of the word ‘sovereignty’ appearing in its decision.

Interventions from Indigenous political bodies that asked the CRTC to give the Ottawa and Toronto licences to Wawatay came from representatives of the Chiefs of Ontario, the Union of Ontario Indians, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the Treaty #3 Grand Council, and Shibogama First Nations Council, while only two First Nations (Temagami and Alderville) in Ontario supported APTN’s application (the Metis General Settlements Council supported both Wawatay and APTN).

During the hearings, CRTC chairperson JP Blais noted and apologized for the fact the CRTC has no Indigenous commissioners involved in making decisions.

Ironically, the only person of colour who would have had a say in the CRTC’s decision-making process – Raj Shoan, Regional Commisioner for Ontario, who’d been fired in June 2016 – had a court find a verdict ‘wrongful dismissal’ and order to have him re-instated in April, only for him to re-fired a week later (he is again challenging the firing).

The CRTC process to re-allocate these licences drew criticism for pitting the national TV station APTN’s application for a new radio company against the three established regional broadcasters, who hold seats on APTN’s board of directors. Chairman JP Blais commented at the public hearings that the CRTC had hoped the different organizations would have come together with a unififed pitch, but the CRTC was criticized for not allowing enough consultation or opportunity for collaboration.

Wawatay’s Metatawabin along with Gagnon expressed their optimism for the possibility that the CRTC decision could be changed or challenged, and that Wawatay may still obtain licences to serve Toronto and Ottawa. Gagnon also noted the damage to the company’s reputation and business caused by the CRTC decision, noting how companies of foreign countries are allowed to sue under trade agreements like NAFTA when Canadian state policy impacts their business negatively.

Bio: Greg Macdougall is involved in grassroots media, Indigenous solidarity, and other pursuits, based in Ottawa, unceded Algonquin territory. His website is www.EquitableEducation.ca. Disclaimer: He presented an independent intervention in this CRTC licencing process in favour of Wawatay’s applications: http://www.mediacoop.ca/audio/intervention-crtc-indigenous-radio-licence-hearing/36493

Melanie Joly video – response to CRTC decision

John Gagnon video response to CRTC decision

Mike Metatawabin video – history of Wawatay