A Quick Plug While He's Away

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From Jennifer David, author of “Original People, Original Television: the Launching of APTN”.

Hello again. I’m delighted to invite the distinguished followers of this excellent blog all to our book launch at the National Library and Archives, Wednesday Sept. 5th, from four to six pm. Wine, cheese, reading, book signing, discounted books, free parking, nice people (including my favourite editor, Balbulican!) Let me know you’re coming so we can lay in enough nosh.

To whet your appetite - here’s brief excerpt describing APTN’s precursor, the quirky, popular Television Northern Canada, an Arctic network launched in 1990.

Following the exhilaration and hysteria of the launch broadcast, the TVNC Board quickly discovered a sobering reality long understood by couples everywhere. Weddings are fun: marriages are hard work.

But in between, there’s usually a honeymoon, and for a few weeks the northern broadcasters basked in the glow of their new network. The launch had proved that they could handle a challenging broadcast; and the national media and northern audiences were surprised and impressed with the new service.

TVNC was the North—raw, real, and unlike anything Canada had ever seen on television. Instead of how-to programs on home renovation, TVNC featured a detailed, close-up guide to making rope out of a freshly-extracted caribou intestine. Tamapta from the Inuvialuit Communications Society and Nedaa from NNBY were magazine-style shows in a familiar format, but there were no serial killers, wars, or celebrity sexual misconduct in the programs. Headline news was more likely the death of an elder or a community meeting on an impending self-government community consultation.

One of the most popular news segments ever aired on TVNC was the story of an eight-legged caribou foetus, discovered by a hunter in Baker Lake, Nunavut. The grisly footage of the mangled foetus was replayed for several days, by request, as northern audiences passionately debated what exactly this strange portent meant. The footage was included in TVNC’s promotional reel and, to the secret delight of northern broadcasters, inevitably made government officials blanch at screenings.

Many non-native viewers in Yellowknife and the South were shocked at the prominence of hunting programs, with their graphic footage of seal, caribou and muskox being shot and dressed, and frequently being eaten raw in the field. In some non-native circles, the new channel earned the sobriquet “the Killing Channel”. But most TVNC viewers lived in communities where hunting provided a significant portion of the household’s groceries, and such fastidious critiques were incomprehensible and irrelevant. Elders were fascinated by hunting techniques from other regions, and younger hunters eagerly absorbed the older hunters’ tricks.

And so TVNC found its groove. But their audience was strictly northern.

The need for an Aboriginal voice at the national level was brought home to Canadians that summer when a handful of Mohawk warriors took action to defend their territory from the encroachment of a golf course onto their traditional lands outside Oka, Quebec. The legal dispute erupted into a blockade, and then escalated into an armed standoff, with sympathetic demonstrators erecting highway and bridge blockades across the country. Dazed Canadian viewers were confronted nightly with images of violence, some of which have become iconic—smoke and burning barricades, steely-eyed confrontation, men with bandannas and warrior flags brandishing rifles. The perspective of the mainstream media was, once again, that of non-native onlookers watching violent demonstrators setting fires, threatening the peace, and confronting “our” soldiers and “our” police. During the occupation there was little or no serious media analysis of the legal foundation of the Mohawk claim to their land, or recognition of the ignorance, racism and frustration that had brought about the crisis. Media stereotypes prevailed—stereotypes not that far removed from the Wild Indian clich├ęs of the forties and fifties.

The Mohawk side of the Oka story would eventually be told by documentary filmmakers like Alanis Obomsawin. Alanis is Abenaki, from the Odanak First Nation in Quebec. Initially a singer, writer and artist, she became a filmmaker in the late 1960s, winning a reputation and many awards for her uncompromising documentaries on issues important to Aboriginal people. Alanis spent 78 days behind the barricades, recording shocking, heart-wrenching footage that would eventually form the basis of four powerful films on Kanesatake. But her award-winning documentaries of the stories and people of this time and place would only be broadcast in 1993. In the meantime, the story was told almost exclusively by non-native journalists, with the Aboriginal story largely limited to fuzzy silhouettes among the pines, filmed over the shoulders of soldiers and police.

History was being made, and there was no doubt whose perspective was going to dominate the record.

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This page contains a single entry by Balbulican published on August 27, 2012 9:53 PM.

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