History of Aboriginal Broadcasting

kootenay coop radio building

CBC Television series like North of 60 (1992) and The Rez (1996) gave many Canadians their first insights into the lives of Canada’s First Nations peoples, but broadcasting intended for these vast communities had already existed for many years, and continues to grow in both scope and content.

During the Second World War, 1939-45, the Canadian Armed Forces built small radio stations in the North, and the CBC began to supply them with recorded programs in 1950. The CBC began its own Northern Radio Service in 1958, and the first service to aboriginal peoples, in the Inuit language, Inuktitut, was introduced two years later, originating from studios in Montreal.

By 1972, programming in Inuktitut constituted 17% of the CBC’s shortwave service, and the Federal Government introduced its Native Communications Program (NCP), which provided subsidies for Aboriginal media, especially radio. Over the next twenty years, this funding was instrumental in enabling the establishment of over 100 community radio stations providing programming in a multitude of languages, specifically intended for Aboriginal groups in their respective areas.

Meanwhile, in 1971 Native Communications Inc. had launched CINC-FM in Northern Manitoba to provide Aboriginal language and cultural programming. The station expanded its reach to cover 95% of Manitoba by 2002, with 57 FM transmitters, moving its studios and offices to Winnipeg. In 1985, NCI began producing television programs for broadcast on the CBC and later on APTN (see below).

The advent of the Anik Canadian satellite in 1972 brought a whole host of new television signals to the North, including the CBC’s own Northern Service, but little of the material carried had relevance to the aboriginal communities. By 1979, the CRTC had been motivated to establish a committee, chaired by Real Therrien, to review this situation, and the committee’s recommendations eventually resulted in the creation in 1983 of the Government’s Northern Broadcast Policy, a byproduct of which was NNBAP, the Northern Native Broadcast Access Program, established to provide funding for the production of Aboriginal programming for both radio and television. However, the funding was not provided for the establishment of Aboriginal stations; the producers could only access the fund after having obtained the agreement of existing broadcasters, most often the CBC, to carry their programs. The first targets set by the NNBAP were to finance the production of 20 hours of radio and five hours of television per week.

In 1981, The Grand Council of the Crees in the James Bay area formed the James Bay Cree Communications Society (JBCCS). Its main focus was “to maintain regional radio and provide the technical maintenance services to the local radio stations”. JBCCS would take advantage of the NNBA program to produce radio programs for its owner stations, and would eventually set up a regional radio network, providing 13 hours of programming a week to its stations.

Also in 1981, the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation was licensed by the CRTC to provide television service in the Inuktitut language to the North-West Territories.

From the beginning the program content provided by these various services was, and continues to be, not dissimilar to that already broadly available to English- and French-speaking Canadians: documentaries, music, children’s programs, drama and current events, as well as service programs on such matters as cooking and home improvement. The only difference was in the languages used to communicate the mix of information and entertainment. The system has created its own star personalities from the numerous Aboriginal performers who have appeared on these programs, as well as offering an outlet for the many exceptionally talented writers, producers and creative designers in the community.

In 1986, the Caplan-Sauvageau Task Force on Broadcasting Policy included in its Report a strong reference to the importance of Aboriginal language broadcasting.

In 1987, The Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA) opened station CFWE-FM, which began operations in Lac La Biche, Alberta, with a varied, 12-hour daily program schedule which included Music, Arts, Ethnic programs, Public Affairs and News, the objective being to provide alternative programming targeted to the Aboriginal community. By 1989 the station had expanded to 24 hours a day and the studios moved to Edmonton in 1993.

CFWE-FM later established an Aboriginal Radio Network, to share programming via satellite with several other Aboriginal stations.

In 1988, the Government’s Standing Committee on Communications and Culture recommended additional funding for Aboriginal programming.

In 1989, Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation launched CJTL-FM in La Ronge Saskatchewan and gradually through cable and eventually by satellite distribution to transmitters covered more than 50 communities in the province by 2000.

In 1991, Section 3 of the Broadcasting Act was amended to state that “the Canadian broadcasting system…should…reflect…the special place of Aboriginal peoples within (Canadian) society…”, and that “…programming that reflects the Aboriginal cultures of Canada should be provided within the Canadian broadcasting system as resources become available for the purpose.”

It was also in 1991 that TVNC, Television Northern Canada Inc., was created, as an Aboriginal network unique in the world, to be run by and for the benefit of Aboriginal communities in the North. The service began a year later, and proved very successful.

In 1996, a Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples included several references to broadcasting and language in its recommendations.

On July 9th 1998, by means of Public Notice 1998-62, and having gone through a detailed procedure of inviting and receiving comments on the proposal from interested parties, the CRTC announced that, subject to certain conditions, native radio stations in remote areas would henceforth be exempt from licensing and from most sections of the Radio Regulations, 1986. Broadcasting Certificates from the Department of Industry would still be required for these exempt radio stations.

In 1998, TVNC, encouraged by the CRTC, applied for a licence for APTN, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, and received their licence in February 1999, with a mandate to supply a national Aboriginal television program service. Cable companies and Direct-To-Home satellite services were required to carry APTN as part of their basic service packages.

The CRTC decision stated that APTN would broadcast 120 hours of programming each week in English, French and up to 15 different Aboriginal languages. The program content would target a wide range of ages, groups and interests, and 90% of the programming would be Canadian. By 2005, when APTN was granted a seven-year licence renewal, the broadcaster was on-air with a twenty-four hour schedule.

In June 2000, the CRTC announced that Aboriginal Voices Radio had been granted a licence for a station in Toronto, with transmitter on the CN Tower. While only 2% of the content would be in Aboriginal languages, the Commission stipulated that the programming should be “…oriented to the native population, and reflect the specific interests and needs of that audience.” In October 2000, AVB applied for a licence to operate an Aboriginal Voices Radio Network (AVRN), and the application was granted in February 2001. AVR was later granted licences for stations in Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, Kitchener-Waterloo and Montreal.

While slow to start, radio and television for Aboriginal peoples has grown substantially in Canada, and continues to provide diversified quality programming in a multitude of languages to Canada’s Aboriginal communities country-wide.

The importance to Canada of its Aboriginal broadcasting services was further underlined when on April 12th 2006 CTV News announced the launching of an 12-week paid Aboriginal internship program in the summer of 2006. 11 CTV affiliate stations would each give an Aboriginal applicant an opportunity to work in a newsroom and gain practical hands-on experience, as part of CTV’s commitment to creating a greater Aboriginal presence in its newsrooms across the country.

On February 23, 2016 the CRTC announced that it had received 12 applications to operate radio stations serving urban Indigenous Canadians in major markets. Specifically, the CRTC had received two applications for stations in Vancouver, three for Calgary, three for Edmonton, two for Toronto and two for Ottawa. Five organizations had submitted applications: the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta, Watwatay Native Communications Society, Northern Native Broadcasting, VMS Media Group Ltd. and First Peoples Radio Inc.

Frequencies became available in these markets after the CRTC had revoked, in June 2015, Aboriginal Voices Radio’s licences for its radio stations. The CRTC took this decision due to numerous, serious and repeated instances of non-compliance with the regulations and the broadcaster’s conditions of licence. Aboriginal Voices Radio subsequently filed an application with the Federal Court of Appeal. The Court stayed the CRTC’s revocation and ordered that Aboriginal Voices Radio’s licences remain in effect until the appeal is determined.

The CRTC stated that it would announce a public process to consider these applications at a later date, if appropriate.

On June 14, 2017, the CRTC announced the licensing of new radio stations to serve the urban Indigenous communities in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto. The Commission approved applications by: (1) Northern Native Broadcasting (Terrace, B.C.) for a broadcasting licence to operate an English- and Indigenous-language Type B Native FM radio station to serve the urban Indigenous community in Vancouver. (2) Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta for broadcasting licences to operate English- and Indigenous-language Type B Native FM radio stations to serve the urban Indigenous communities in Edmonton and Calgary. (3) First Peoples Radio Inc. for broadcasting licences to operate English- and Indigenous-language Type B Native FM radio stations to serve the urban Indigenous communities in Ottawa and Toronto. The new stations went on the air in 2018.

Aboriginal Radio Stations

Call Letters City/Town, Region

CHMZ-FM Tofino, Vancouver Island
CHON-FM Whitehorse, Yukon 
CHLE-FM Yellowknife, N.W.T. 
CKLB-FM Yellowknife NWT 
CFWE-FM Edmonton/Lac La Biche, Northern Alberta 
CJLR-FM La Ronge, Saskatchewan 
CINC-FM Winnipeg, Manitoba 
CKWO-FM Fort Francis, North Western Ontario 
CHMO-AM Moosonee, Northen Ontario 
CHCR-FM Killaloe, Ottawa Valley, Ontario 
CKRZ-FM Ohsweken, Western Ontario 
CKTI-FM Kettle Point, South Western Ontario 
CKON-FM Akweasasne, Eastern Ontario 
CKUN-FM Christian Island, Central Ontario 
CFIE-FM Toronto, Ontario 
CHFN-FM Wiarton, Western Ontario 
CBVW-FM Waswanipi P.Q 
CFID-FM Acton Vale P.Q. 
CFIM-FM Isles De La Madeleine, P.Q. 
CFMF-FM Fermont, P.Q. 
CFNM-FM Nemaska P.Q. 
CFXM-FM Granby P.Q. 
CHFG-FM Chisasibi, P.Q. 
CFWR-FM Winneway P.Q. 
CHPH-FM Wemindji P.Q. 
CIMB-FM Betsiamites, P.Q. 
CIMI-FM Misstisini P.Q. 
CIUV-FM Raddison P.Q. 
CJIT-FM Lac Megantic P.Q. 
CJRH-FM Waskaganish P.Q. 
CKRQ-FM Whapmagoostui P.Q. 
CKAG-FM Pikogan P.Q. 
CKEM-FM Eastmain P.Q. 
CKOS-FM Ouje-Bougoumou P.Q. 
CKMN-FM Rimouski P.Q. 
CKNA-FM Natashquan P.Q. 
CKRK-FM Kahnawake, Montreal, P.Q.


APTN Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (Cable Network)