Backstage at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network

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Full disclosure right of the top: this is a shameless plug for a book. If you’re not offended by the blatant use of this space for tawdry promotion, read on.

One of the threads running through my career has been the evolution of Aboriginal broadcasting in Canada, from the original Anik satellite experiments of the seventies right up to the launch of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in 1999. To me, that movement has always seemed one of the great, unheralded success stories in Canadian media and in contemporary indigenous culture. In a little over two decades, a handful of producers in Canada’s most remote and poorest settlements successfully managed to change the Broadcast Act, pull together a national coalition of artists, political leaders, broadcasters and supporters, and create the world’s first native-themed, full-service TV network. I was lucky enough to been part of it, in a Forrest Gump kind of way, as a witness to some of the key events.

Another witness was my friend Jennifer David, a Cree writer and broadcaster who worked for APTN’s precursor, Television Northern Canada, and served as APTN’s Director of Communications during the crazy, exhilarating years when a small coalition of regional broadcasters serving a handful of settlements in the North to Canada’s became third national network. In the years since the launch of APTN, many of us veterans (including the redoubtable Shmohawk) have gotten together over dinner, or beer, or in airport departure lounges, and the talk invariably turns to 1999: to the crises averted, politics stick-handled, egos assuaged, and miracles wrought on a shoestring. And the reminiscing would always end with someone’s sighing: “You know, somebody should really write a book about all this…”

Well, Jennifer just did. She has written several books on contemporary Aboriginal arts and culture before: this September she’ll be publishing Original People, Original Television: The Launch of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

Since (blush) I edited the book, it would be immodest to praise its virtues overmuch: so let me quote Keith Spicer, former Chair of the CRTC. As an interviewee, Mr. Spicer received an advance copy, and offered the following:

“This is a vital story, now told with brio by Jennifer David. No dry history, her book is more like a detective novel. It’s a gripping tale about a little known part of Canada’s broadcasting mosaic. It’s packed with unforeseeable zigzags, and especially with colourful, outside characters. Canadians—and not just Aboriginal ones—should read this. First, because it’s an important story. Second, because its truly entertaining.”

If anyone’s interested, and if Dawg doesn’t mind, I’ll be happy to provide a couple of excerpts over the next month. If you’re curious about why Mohawk audiences crack up whenever Tonto talks, or How The Stage Caught Fire, or how Izzy Asper’s machinations opened The Door…all shall be revealed.

The official launches will happen in Winnipeg and Ottawa: here’s the site for information on the Winnipeg launch. Friend of the Dawg especially welcome.

You can find out more about the book - including some excerpts and reviews - at the official website.

You can also join the conversation about the early days of TVNC and APTN on the book’s Facebook page.

If you want to contact Jennifer regarding the book, you can email her at

This is a difficult time in the relationship between First Nations and Canada. Original People: Original Television provides a breath of hope, a timely and much-needed reminder of what can be achieved when people of good will put aside their differences and unite around a vision and a cause that matters.

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This page contains a single entry by Balbulican published on July 28, 2012 8:09 AM.

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