Business and Economic Contributions Made by Indigenous Businesses to Canada’s Economy—Inquiry

By: The Hon. Andrew Cardozo

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War memorial, Ottawa

Hon. Andrew Cardozo: Honourable senators, it is an honour to speak on Inquiry No. 13, launched by Senator Marty Klyne, calling the attention of the Senate to the ongoing economic contributions made by Indigenous businesses to Canada’s economy.

I have chosen to speak about the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, or APTN, as it heads into its twenty-fifth year. APTN is part of a new and growing national Indigenous infrastructure — national organizations that advance the status of Indigenous peoples.

I will mention three others:

The first is the National Indigenous Economic Development Board, headed by Dawn Madahbee Leach, a national, non-political organization working to promote the growth of Aboriginal business in Canada. The second is the First Nations Financial Authority. Its mission is to help First Nation communities build their own futures on their own terms at the best rates. It is headed by Ernie Daniels, who was recently appointed to the board of governors of the Bank of Canada. The third is the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, headed by Keith Henry, which focuses on the growth of Indigenous tourism in Canada.

Now, regarding APTN, I have had a privileged front-row seat to watch the development of this innovative and essential service. As a commissioner of the CRTC, I had the great honour of being closely involved in its licensing in 1998-99.

Why was APTN necessary? Well, Aboriginal peoples were rarely seen in television and film, just as they were rarely seen in Canadian and American history. To the extent that they were seen, their portrayal was generally negative and stereotypical.

Let me give you one memorable intervention from the hearing for their application back in 1998.

Award-winning actor Adam Beach testified at the hearing. He had been developing a strong career in Canada and the U.S., but relayed an anecdote to us. He was part of a film and during its development, the director instructed him to run along this wall and “jump like an Indian.” That was a relatively positive stereotype from what we saw.

Colleagues, here we are in APTN’s twenty-fifth year. I am delighted to share an overview of its development. When APTN launched on September 1, 1999, it was the first national Indigenous broadcaster in the world. Today, the network has become a global leader in programming that celebrates the full diversity of Indigenous peoples, first within Canada, but also internationally. They now share their stories with nearly 10 million households in Canada and beyond. Interestingly, its ratings are on the upswing even while overall TV viewing in the broadcasting world is on the decline.

Much can be said about their stellar record. The network has won numerous awards, and consistently offers cutting-edge digital programming and interactive content. It has launched two radio stations as well as an on-demand streaming service, APTN lumi.

Let me share a few details. Since launching, APTN has consistently offered programming that aims to connect Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences across Turtle Island. I found their slogan particularly pointed when they launched in 1999; it went like this: “By Aboriginal Peoples, About Aboriginal Peoples, For All Canadians.”

So what will you see on APTN? Their programming ranges from news and current affairs to entertainment, live broadcasts and special events, to award-winning original programs by First Nations, Inuit and Métis creators. Given the diversity of Indigenous peoples in Canada, APTN has to work hard to provide something for everyone. It accomplishes this well.

Through the network, you will find programming in English, French, Cree — including the first-ever broadcast of an NHL game in Plains Cree — Inuktitut, and a wide range of other Indigenous languages. Since 1999, APTN has broadcast programming in 54 different Indigenous languages and provides regular programming in 15 Indigenous languages annually.

Increasingly, Indigenous peoples realize that knowing one’s ancestral language is important to recognizing and consolidating one’s sense of culture and identity. It is in this vein that APTN encourages Indigenous creators to speak their language with pride and tell their stories in their own voices.

Currently, over 80% of APTN’s scheduling consists of Canadian content with programming in English, French and more than 15 Indigenous languages. Colleagues, let me point out that 80% is considerably higher than the industry average, which is around 50%.

On average, APTN commissions over 500 hours of original programming each year; 46% of this programming is in English, 44% in Indigenous languages and 10% in French.

I will share a few words about the new kid on the block: Indigenous content on demand. APTN, 20 years after it began, launched APTN lumi, their Indigenous-focused streaming service that operates alongside their broadcast services. The current catalogue includes some 700 hours of Indigenous-language programming, as well as English and French offerings.

APTN lumi is also available via Chromecast and Apple TV channels, extending its reach and connecting new audiences with Indigenous stories. Now, those last few sentences are really CRTC broadcasting and programming gobbledygook. Let me translate and say that they do a big load of proudly Indigenous programming.

I want to highlight that APTN programming has won many awards over the years, including Canadian Screen Awards, Audience Choice Awards, the prestigious President’s Award from RTDNA Canada, the Press Freedom Award and the Michener Award.

To top it off, APTN CEO Monika Ille, a member of the Abenaki First Nation of Odanak, was named Playback’s Executive of the Year in 2022; the same year, she received the Desautels Management Achievement Award from McGill University, which honours prominent business leaders. I would add that her predecessors — Abraham Tagalik, the founding CEO, and Jean La Rose, who was CEO for many years and oversaw the growth of APTN — have done tremendous work in building and advancing APTN.

As of August 2023, APTN has 163 staff members. This includes full-time, part-time and temporary employees. Of these, 60% are Indigenous — First Nations, Métis and Inuit — and many young Indigenous people have started their careers in broadcasting at APTN. Some stayed and others moved on to other networks.

This corporation boasts a gender-balanced workforce with 52% of the staff identifying as female, 47% identifying as male and 1% identifying as two-spirit.

Importantly, 58% of APTN’s board of directors are women, including the board chair, Julie Grenier from Kuujjuaq in Nunavik, northern Quebec; she is a director general of a regional radio and television production company that serves the Inuit of Nunavik in Inuktitut.

Since its inception, APTN has either had gender equity or more women than men on its board while most other broadcasters would maybe have one or two women on their boards. Clearly, they have been ahead of the curve since they began.

APTN became the first-ever Indigenous Olympic broadcaster at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, broadcasting daily coverage in eight Indigenous languages, as well as in English and French.

I recently asked representatives of APTN how they would describe their success. The answer was long, but I will highlight a few points. This is how they see themselves.

News and current affairs is one of our top genres, and that’s because we cover the stories that others won’t. Our dedicated and award-winning news teams cover topics such as policing in Canada, child welfare, access to clean drinking water, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, treaty rights and more. Our news shows are APTN National News and Nouvelles Nationales d’APTN.

Out of all the national broadcasters in Canada, APTN is one of just two which have presence (bureaus) in the north (Yukon, N.W.T., Nunavut).

APTN audiences enjoy a wide variety of other programming . . . shows like The Other SideMoosemeat and Marmalade and Secret History of the Wild West.

We offer special programming for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in September.

APTN is responding —

— in all the work they do —

— to Call to Action 85 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which asks APTN to continue to connect Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians through its programming and to support reconciliation.

I will conclude with the following: APTN, in my view, has done very well in its first 25 years. It has confounded not only its critics but its supporters. It is clearly a channel that provides high-quality, thoughtful and entertaining programming. In a world that is becoming increasingly polarized and divided, a world where there is increasing pushback on Indigenous and minority rights, APTN provides an island of calm and sanity in a highly fractious and fractured world.

APTN is now clearly a veritable Canadian icon that Indigenous people and all Canadians can be proud of. I think Canadians have much to look forward to in the next 25 years. Thank you.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

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