World’s First Independent National Aboriginal Broadcaster
APTN is the first national Indigenous broadcaster in the world, with programming by, for and about Indigenous Peoples, to share with all Canadians as well as viewers around the world.
The launch of APTN on September 1, 1999, represented a significant milestone for Indigenous Peoples across Canada; for the first time in broadcast history, First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples have the opportunity to share their stories with the rest of the world on a national television network dedicated to Indigenous programming.
Through documentaries, news magazines, dramas, entertainment specials, children’s series, cooking shows and education programs, APTN offers all Canadians a window into the remarkably diverse worlds of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and throughout the world.
Headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, APTN offers an unprecedented opportunity for Indigenous producers, directors, actors, writers and media professionals to create innovative, reflective and relevant programming for Canadian viewers. 84% of APTN programming originates in Canada, with 56% of the programs broadcast in English, 16% in French and 28% in a variety of Indigenous languages.
In 1988, an Angus Reid survey revealed that two thirds of Canadians supported the idea of a national Indigenous TV network, even if it would mean displacing a currently offered service. A subsequent poll conducted by Pollara Research indicated that 68% of Canadians would be willing to pay a 15-cent increase in their monthly cable bill to receive an Indigenous network.
With the strong support for a national network among Indigenous communities, producers and organizations, and the Canadian public, the CRTC announced in February 1999 that APTN would receive a national broadcast license. Through the efforts of countless Indigenous television professionals and supporters nation-wide, APTN became a reality on September 1, 1999, and has become an important entertainment, news and educational programming choice for approximately 11 million households in Canada.
APTN had its beginnings in the Canadian North more than 20 years ago. In 1978, the federal government initiated the Anik B experiments to test communications satellites in applications such as TV broadcasting, community communications, tele-education and tele-health. Inuit organizations in Nunavut and Northern Québec participated in these pilot projects for several years.
Anik B Satellite
In 1980, the CRTC established the Committee on the Extension of Service to Northern and Remote Communities (the Therrien Committee), which released a report that supported the development of broadcast initiatives that would assist Indigenous Peoples to preserve their languages and foster their culture. Soon after the report was released, the CRTC licensed CANCOM to deliver a range of southern programming into northern and remote communities and, at the same time, provide development assistance to northern Indigenous broadcasters.
A major breakthrough in the evolution of Indigenous broadcasting took place in 1983, when the Government of Canada announced the Northern Broadcasting Policy and the Northern Native Broadcast Access Program. Public funds were allocated for the production of radio and television programs by 13 native communications societies across the north. It was evident that northern communities would benefit greatly from a co-operative broadcasting system, but that this goal could not be fully realized without the necessary technical infrastructure. In 1985, the CRTC Northern Native Broadcasting policy statement recognized the need for a dedicated northern transponder to distribute television programming across the north. For the next several years, the federal government and northern broadcasters established the groundwork for a northern satellite distribution system.
In 1991, the CRTC licensed Television Northern Canada (TVNC) and, within a year, the network was launched in the north. The success and growth of TVNC in the 1990s convinced the network’s Board of Directors that a national Indigenous television network would be a positive and important addition to Canadian broadcasting. By 1997, the movement towards a national Indigenous network was underway
The Dream of a National Aboriginal Network
For the next two years, the TVNC Board of Directors and staff pursued their dream of a national network with great energy and enthusiasm. Presentations to national Indigenous organizations and submissions to the CRTC became a regular occurrence.
In February 1998, the CRTC released Public Notice 1998-8 that stated that TVNC was “an unique and significant undertaking” and that a national Indigenous channel should be “widely available throughout Canada in order to serve the diverse needs of the various Indigenous communities, as well as other Canadians.”
With the support of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and public recognition of the importance of a national Indigenous channel, TVNC submitted an application to the CRTC for a broadcast licence for the APTN. Throughout the review process and public hearings, TVNC was overwhelmed by the public support for a national network. By October 1998, it had received hundreds of official letters of support, from all regions of Canada.
February 22, 1999 will be remembered as one of TVNC’ greatest moments – the CRTC announced that it had approved its submission for a national broadcast licence. Just six months later, APTN was available to over 9 million homes throughout Canada via cable television, direct-to-home and wireless service viewers.
The dream of a national Indigenous television network has become a reality, and the rest, as they say, is broadcast history.