More Indigenous language and culture needed on Canada's airwaves
"If Canada wants to reconcile with First Nations people in regards to the
residential school area, it should be law to include First Nations programs
from whichever territory radio stations are broadcasting in," O'Sullivan
O'Sullivan first became involved with the National Campus and Community
Radio Association (NCRA) http://www.ncra.ca/ at its annual conference in
2008. As she was meeting with aboriginal community radio programmers from
around Canada for the first time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in
the House of Commons and apologized for the profound abuses of the
Government of Canada's residential school system
which he stated "aimed to kill the Indian in the child."
"They knew without language and culture, they would be breaking our spirits
and we wouldn't know really where we came from," explains O'Sullivan,
herself a former residential school student, of the system's architects.
She calls it healing. "History is attached to language and culture,"
O'Sullivan says. "Stories that are told tell us about where we came from."
Since the mid-1990s, O'Sullivan has helped launch two more radio programs
at Co-op -- both including language revitalization in their mandates, and
especially focused on three dialects of the Salish language. Children are
regularly involved in her programming, and she interviews aboriginal guests
from near and far. O'Sullivan draws particular attention to her former
co-host of the ongoing show Sne'waylh, Chief Ian Campbell, a local, young
and popular hereditary chief.
"The reason I'm [advocating for mandated inclusion] is because I've
recognized how the programming has enabled our own community here in
Vancouver," O'Sullivan says. After being involved in First Nations
programming at Coop Radio, she adds, people have gone back to their
communities and other places to spread the language. "They've continued the
work, even though they're not on the air."
"I think it has a lot of merit," says Jean LaRose, CEO of Aboriginal
Peoples Television Network (APTN) http://www.aptn.ca/ , when asked about
O'Sullivan's initiative. He notes there are 52 aboriginal languages in
not including dialects -- and it's impossible for APTN to sustain and
grow the languages on its own. "An initiative like this would help
supplement what we're doing."
LaRose explains that O'Sullivan's idea, if adopted, would help grow the
base of journalists working in First Nations languages, and actually help
grow and evolve the vocabularies of traditional languages. As an example,
he says APTN's journalists covering the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver came up
with new language to describe sports like snowboarding, where the existing
base of language was limited.
Lorna Roth is a professor in the Communication Studies department at
Concordia University and has a a background in indigenous television and
media history. She says there's no question there's of a lack of indigenous
programming on the airwaves in Canada, and despite her strong doubts the
CRTC or the Conservative government is willing to work on a policy that
would have indigenous language inclusion mandated, Roth says she thinks
O'Sullivan is promoting a great idea.
"It will restore a sense of pride that we don't have. Right now there's a
lot of shame in our communities because of the residential schools," says
O'Sullivan. "I think language and culture will give us a sense of
empowerment, a sense of well-being. It will fill that void that we're
feeling in our bloods and our guts."
Canada's Broadcasting Act allows for policy directives from Cabinet, which
can effectively direct the CRTC to mandate indigenous language and cultural
Joanne Penhale is a freelance writer, community organizer, innkeeper,
artist, gardener and fledgling beekeeper. She lives in Montreal with her
husband and two cats. She has a BA in Communication from Simon Fraser
University and completed a post-graduate journalism program at Langara
College in Vancouver, B.C.
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