Calgary has been without an Aboriginal radio station since November 2016, when Aboriginal Voices Radio aired its final broadcast. Now, three media groups have filed competing applications to fill this space and bring Aboriginal culture back to the airwaves.

Aboriginal Voices Radio had their broadcasting license revoked by the CRTC due to non-compliance with regulations. The network had stations in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa.

The frequencies they once held, including 88.1 FM in Calgary, are sitting empty, leaving many urban Aboriginal communities without a radio station that reflects their interests, needs and culture.

Preserving Aboriginal culture is crucial. In Calgary, approximately half of Aboriginal people are concerned about losing their cultural identity, according to the 2012 Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study.

To address the need for Indigenous radio, the CRTC issued a call for radio applications which states that “There is a pressing need to serve the Aboriginal community as a whole given that issues vitally important to Aboriginal Canadians are not fully covered or addressed at all in non-Native media.”

A hearing will be held on March 27 in Gatineau, Que. to consider the applications. The CRTC will evaluate the quality of the applications, the impact on the market, and the ability of the proposed radio stations to serve the needs of the Aboriginal population.

The applicants hope to hear a decision from CRTC within a few months after the hearing, but depending on which applicant is selected, it could take up to a year to set up the stations and air the first broadcast.

Regardless of which group is successful in obtaining the broadcasting license, the CRTC specifies that the new station should have a commitment to Aboriginal programming, foster Aboriginal culture and language, and create opportunities for Aboriginal people to participate in the operation.

In Calgary, the groups competing for 88.1 FM are:

● First Peoples Radio (FPR), based in Winnipeg. It was developed by the Canadian media organization Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN).

● Aboriginal Multi Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA), based in Edmonton. It operates CFWE, an Aboriginal radio network in Northern Alberta, and produces several publications including Windspeaker and Alberta Sweetgrass.

● VMS Media Group (VMS), based in Calgary. It is affiliated with SurSangam and Sursagar, South Asian radio stations in Calgary and Edmonton.

Tanya Kappo, a Cree activist who has been working with VMS to develop their application, recognizes there is a pressing need for Aboriginal radio.

“From my experience, I don’t feel that any particular radio stations reflect my interests as an urban Aboriginal person in any way,” said Kappo. “There’s been a real emergence of voices from the urban Aboriginal community in Calgary and Edmonton, so it only makes sense that there is a platform for them.”

Music is one way in which the proposed radio stations aim to foster Aboriginal culture, with 20-25 per cent of their music coming from Aboriginal artists.

“We have a lot of artists that are never heard on mainstream radio, and they are excellent artists,” said Jean LaRose, president of APTN. “We think that there’s an opportunity for such a network to give them greater exposure.”

In addition, the networks plan to use their news and talk segments to highlight the issues and stories that are relevant to Aboriginal communities and often are not discussed by mainstream media.

“Our news has to be important to Indigenous people,” said Bert Crowfoot, the CEO and founder of AMMSA. He believes that it’s important to discuss the difficult issues, such as missing and murdered Indigenous women, as well as positive news, such as the Indspire Indigenous awards.

Language is a large part of Indigenous culture, and according to the Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study, 61 per cent of Aboriginal Calgarians identified language as one of the most important aspects of their culture.

All of the stations plan to include programming in Aboriginal languages. The most prevalent languages among First Nations people in Alberta are Cree, Blackfoot, and Stoney, but others such as Dene and Dakota are spoken as well.

“It would give them the opportunity to hear their language and also to hear stories, to talk about the history of their community or some of the challenges they’re facing, all in their language,” said LaRose.

Crowfoot, who established Alberta’s first Aboriginal radio station, has experienced first-hand the value of Aboriginal language being expressed through media.

“I’m originally from Siksika, and I’ll tell you, the first time I heard Blackfoot on CFWE, that felt really good. It was so awesome to hear the language I heard growing up being spoken on the radio.”

 erop@cjournal.ca
The editor responsible for this article is Aysha Zafar and can be reached at azafar@cjournal.ca.