Indigenous Communication in Canada

Indigenous Communications in Canada: Our History

Prepared by National Indigenous Media Association of Canada (NIMAC)

While Indigenous peoples have lived in Canada since time immemorial, we have only been permitted to own or control programming and/or distribution services in the electronic media for the last twenty-five years.

The following abbreviated history offers snapshots in time which are relevant to the history of Indigenous peoples in the broadcasting, telecommunications and internet sectors of Canada.

  • 1763 A Royal Proclamation notes Indigenous claims to lands and says treaties with natives will be handled by the Crown
  • 1864 British scientist James C. Maxwell develops theory of electromagnetism and predicts the existence of the electric waves now used in radio
  • 1867 The British North America Act makes the federal government accountable for Indigenous peoples and their lands.
  • 1875 In June Alexander Graham Bell hears a clock spring twanging when he uses the technique of the ‘harmonic telegraph’, and telephone technology begins development
  • 1876 Canada passes the Indian Act, essentially extinguishing any remaining self-government for natives and making them wards of the federal government.
  • 1885 The Metis people of Saskatchewan rise up under Louis Riel in the brief Northwest Rebellion
    The International Telegraph Union begins to draw up international legislation governing telephony
  • 1887 Heinrich Hertz demonstrates how rapid variations in electric currents can be projected into space as radio waves, similar to light waves
  • 1900 Canada’s Reginald Fessenden transmits a message over the air to an experimental receiver in Arlington, Virginia over a distance of some 50 miles: “One, two, three, four. Is it snowing where you are, Mr. Thiessen? If so telegraph back and let me know.”
  • 1901 Canada gives Guiglielmo Marconi an $80,000 federal grant to build a transatlantic radio station in the U’nama’kik Mi’kmaw region at Patalutik (Cape Breton, at Table Head) to make the world’s first wireless transmissions of sound across the Atlantic
  • 1906 While working for the US Weather Bureau, Reginald Fessenden makes the world’s first radio broadcast: he uses an ‘Ediphone’ to play recorded music by Handel and then himself performs ‘Silent Night’ on a violin, singing the last verse as he plays; the transmission from Brant Rock, Massachusetts is heard by several ships off America’s East coast
  • 1913 Canada enacts the Radiotelegraph Act, and defines radiotelegraphy to include “any wireless system for conveying electric signals or messages including radio-telephones”
  • 1918 The Federal Department of Naval Service grants the first radio station an experimental broadcast licence – XWA is a radio station in Montreal owned by Marconi
  • 1920 XWA Montreal broadcasts world’s first scheduled radio program (a concert) to a meeting of the Royal Society of Canada in Ottawa
  • 1925 There are 40 AM radio stations in Canada, all privately owned; to make money, they affiliate with the CBC or American radio networks
  • 1926 In Scotland, John Logie Baird gives the world its first demonstration of television
  • 1928 Prime Minister Mackenzie King appoints a Royal Commission on Radio Broadcasting “to determine how radio broadcasting in Canada could be most effectively carried on in the interests of Canadian listeners and in the national interests of Canada”; the Commission is chaired by Sir John Aird (President of the Canadian Bank of Commerce), with Charles Bowman (editor of the Ottawa Citizen), Dr. Augustin Frigon (director-general of technical education for Quebec), and Donald Manson (chief inspector of radio for the Department of the Marine)
  • 1929 With 56 AM radio stations in Canada, radio’s popularity is growing, along with interference on the AM band (the only one being used): as American radio stations use more power, it is estimated that four out of five Canadians listen to American stations
  • 1932 The federal government’s jurisdiction over broadcasting is established through In re Regulation and Control of Radio Commission in Canada, [1932] A.C. 304, heard in the United Kingdom; the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) is created to regulate private broadcasting in Canada and to mount a national broadcasting service; Indigenous broadcasting is not mentioned
  • 1936 The Canadian Broadcasting Act, 1936 1. Edward VIII, c. 24, creates the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; a Crown corporation, the CBC replaces the CRBC on 2 November, 1936, takes over the Commission’s staff and facilities (8 public stations, 14 private stations) and reports to Parliament through the Minister of Transport; the legislation does not mention Indigenous broadcasters
    First regularly scheduled telecasts take place in England, using 405-line system
  • 1938 The Board of Transport Commissioners for Canada begins to regulate federally-chartered telecommunications companies, called common carriers
  • 1940 Canada’s first FM station (CFRB-FM) goes on air in Toronto
  • 1948 Television stations go on air in the United States; their signals become available to Canadians
  • 1949 In the US about 100 television stations are on air, and more than one million homes have TV sets; the government instructs the CBC to establish television production centres in Toronto and Montreal, to provide a television program service for its own and privately-owned television stations
  • 1951 Major changes to the Indian Act remove a number of discriminatory rules, including a ban on native consumption of alcohol, although it is only allowed on reserves.
  • 1952 CBC television stations go on air in Canada (CBFT-TV, Montreal and CBLT-TV Toronto)
  • 1953 Nine non-Indigenous private television stations are licensed to operate in Canada in Regina, Windsor, London, Sudbury, Hamilton, Rimouski, Quebec City, Saint John and Sydney; they are subject to the AM Regulations and must carry 10.5 hours weekly of the CBC’s programming
  • 1958 The CBC Northern Service is created after Parliament allocates funding for that purpose to CBC; Parliament enacts the Broadcasting Act to create a Board of Broadcast Governors that will regulate and supervise public and private broadcasting
  • 1960 Indigenous peoples obtain the right to vote in federal elections; as well the first indigenous language radio program is aired in Inuktitut via shortwave; the program is produced in the CBC’s Montreal studios
  • 1961 The Federal Department of Indian Affairs supports community broadcasting in Fort Simpson and Pond Inlet, NWT, and Great Whale River/Kuujjuarapik, Quebec
  • 1964 Of the 60 hours per week of shortwave radio programming broadcast by the CBC to serve Northern Canada using obsolete transmitters controlled by the International Service in Sackville, 3.5 (5.8%) are in ‘Eskimo’; fewer than nine hours per day are allocated for northern broadcasting, to serve an audience spread across six time zones
  • 1967 CBC introduces Frontier Coverage packages that provide videotaped programming for transient southern residents in 21 northern administrative communities and resource centres – these “generally had little impact on native culture and languages”
  • 1968 The Broadcasting Act, 1967-68 (Can.), c. 25, comes into effect; it confirms CBC’s mandate as a national broadcaster; strengthens restrictions on foreign ownership; requires the predominant use of Canadian creators and talent; reaffirms a vision of the broadcasting system as a means of strengthening Canada’s cultural, social and economic structures, creates the Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) to replace the BBG – and does not mention Indigenous peoples or broadcasting
  • 1970 The CRTC licenses community radio stations in Tuktuoyaktuk, Rankin Inlet, Lonlac and Baker Lake
  • 1971 “NCI has been broadcasting in Northern Manitoba since September of 1971, providing Aboriginal language and cultural programming. The vision and initiative to create an Aboriginal radio station came from the grassroots. A group of people from Cross Lake, Wabowden, and South Indian Lake were instrumental in forming a committee which later evolved into NCI.”
  • 1972 In November Telesat Canada’s Anik A-1 satellite launches
  • 1973 In February 1973, CBC begins to provide live television to the north using the Anik satellite
    In the Calder case, the Supreme Court holds that aboriginal rights to land exist
  • 1974 CBC introduces the Accelerated Coverage Plan to communities with more than 500 people; this extends the coverage of the CBC’s national programming services
    Cabinet approves special $50 million appropriation for CBC’s Accelerated Coverage Plan, to extend over-the-air transmission of CBC English-language and French-language radio and television services to all communities with more than 500 people (Public Notice CRTC 1985-274)
  • 1975 Quebec signs the James Bay agreement with Cree and Inuit communities, opening the way for new hydro projects.
    The Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC), representing Inuit of the Northwest Territories, Northern Quebec and Labrador, begins to lobby for more control over Northern television; the Department of Communications (DOC), at the time trying to market Canadian satellite communication services, supported ITC through the “Inukshuk” Project, a two year experiment during which the DOC provided ITC with access to a transponder on the Anik B satellite.
  • 1976 Anik B carries an experimental interactive audio project run by the Aboriginal Communications Society Taqramiut Nipingat Incorporated across northern Quebecl Naalakvik I links eight radio stations
  • 1977 Canada passes the Canadian Human Rights Act, but section 67 prohibits Indigenous peoples from submitting claims about discrimination through the Indian Act
  • 1978 Under an experimental program sponsored by the federal Department of communications, two Inuit projects provide pilot television services to the Eastern Arctic and Northern Quebec Inuit communities, using the Anik B satellite; these programs are sponsored by the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada and the Taqramiut Nipingat Inc. (see Public Notice CRTC 1985-67); the NAALAKVIK II project introduces “the first Inuit television service to Northern Quebec in 1978, while the INUKSHUK project, coordinated by the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, introduced Inuit-produced television to the Eastern and Central Arctic.” (Public Notice CRTC 1985-274)
  • 1979 The CRTC establishes the Committee on Extension of Services to Northern and Remote Communities, which was chaired by CRTC Vice-chairman Réal Therrien, to study problems involved with extending broadcasting service to northern and remote communities, and to submit recommendations about the most effective ways of serving underserved communities. The Therrien Committee includes representatives from the provinces, native communications societies and the Commission
  • 1980 Inukshuk goes on the air, and sends 16.5 hours/week of television programming and teleconferencing to six communities in Northern Canada
    The Therrien Committee holds public meetings in several northern communities, receives over 400 representations, and provides a public forum in which the broadcasting needs of numerous interest groups could be discussed
    The Therrien Committee releases its report in July: The 1980s – A Decade of Diversity, (Ottawa, July 1980). It focussed on the impact of television services from the south on Indigenous languages and cultures, and recommended support for Indigenous broadcasting, and recommended the acceptance of Indigenous broadcasting as an essential component of the Canadian broadcasting system.
    The Therrien Committee said that Canada must fulfill its obligation to provide its Indigenous peoples with an opportunity to preserve the use of their languages and foster the maintenance and development of their own cultures through broadcasting and other communications.
  • 1981 The CRTC licenses Canadian Satellite Communications Inc. (CANCOM) to deliver a basic package of television and radio services to remote and underserved communities throughout Canada (Ottawa, 1 April 1981); its licence requires CANCOM to provide one video and two audio uplinks in the North for northern programming, and to substitute up to 10 hours per week of southern-originated programming with native television programming
    In Decisions CRTC 81-255 and 81-256 the CRTC licenses Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, and the Council of Yukon Indians and Dene nation, to serve programming needs of their communities
  • 1982 The Inuit Broadcasting Corporation issues a position paper proposing the creation of a true Northern service, available to all Arctic broadcasters, through a dedicated satellite transponder (Debbie Brisebois, Whiteout Warning: Courtesy of the Federal Government (Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, October 1990))
  • 1983 Telefilm Canada establishes the Canadian Broadcast Program Development Fund “to encourage the production of quality Canadian programming for the widest possible Canadian audience”
    On March 10, 1983 the federal government announces a Northern Broadcasting Policy with five policy principles, as well as a funding mechanism (Northern Native Broadcast Access Program or NNBAP) to facilitate the creation and production of indigenous programming; no policy for Indigenous broadcasting in the rest of Canada is announced
    The Northern Native Broadcast Access Program (NNBAP) has nearly $40 million over 4 years to assist northern native communications societies to produce up to 5 hours/week of television and up to 20 hrs/week of radio programming (“The 5 and 20 benchmark is based on a model developed in Europe as the minimum requirement for maintaining language and culture.” Public Notice CRTC 1985-274)
    The NNBAP funding “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.” (Canadian Communications Foundation, “History of Aboriginal Broadcasting in Canada” ”.)
  • 1984 The Inuvialuit Claims Settlement Act gave the Inuit of the western Arctic control over resources
    In late December 1984, the federal minister of Communications (Honourable Marcel masse) asks the CRTC to give urgent consideration to solutions to the fundamental problems inhibiting the extension of an adequate range of broadcasting services to Canadians living in smaller underserved communities throughout Canada
    The CRTC forms a Task Force on Access to Television in Underserved Communities, chaired by Commissioner Paul Klingle (the Klingle Task Force)
    In December the CRTC announces that it has formed a two-person Committee of CRTC vice-Chairman Réal Therrien and Commissioner Paul McRae, chaired by Commissioner McRae, to identify the broadcasting-related problems currently experienced by NNBAP groups through informal consultative meetings with native communications societies to incorporate their views and concerns in the development of a CRTC policy on northern native broadcasting:

The Commission has historically been supportive of native broadcasting, and has been active in licensing a large number of northern native broadcasting undertakings. There are now more than 250 radio and 300 television stations serving the North, many of which produce programming directed specifically at native audiences.

  • 1985 CRTC accepts recommendations of Klingle Task Force, so as to reduce costs of ensuring access by underserved communities to an ‘adequate’ range of Canadian broadcasting services at an affordable price
  • Changes to the Indian Act extend formal Indian status to the Métis, all enfranchised aboriginals living off reserve land and aboriginal women who had previously lost their status by marrying a non-aboriginal man
  • NCI ventures “into television production. NCI-TV programs have appeared on CBC Manitoba, North of Winnipeg, and on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). NCI-TV has produced hundreds of programs, including current affairs programs and children shows.” (Native Communications Inc., “About NCI”)
  • The CANCOM satellite distribution service is available to approximately 335 small and underserved communities, but 1.2 million Canadian households in small and rural communities receive 2 or fewer Canadian local services over the air (Public Notice 1985-60 (Ottawa, 22 March 1985))
  • In March the CRTC calls for comments on ‘northern native broadcasting’:

There are now ACP stations in over 600 remote communities throughout Canada, including 125 predominantly native communities. … No funds were allocated for the actual production of programming in the regions served, since the main objective of the ACP was to extend the national programming service to northern and remote regions. …
Thirteen specific regions have been identified, primarily on the basis of common languages, culture, and provincial boundaries. Native communications societies representing each region have received funding.
Of the thirteen societies, twelve are now operational. Of these, seven are presently broadcasting, and the remainder will soon begin programming. Although some regions contain a linguistic mix, each funded group must meet the specific linguistic needs identified in their research projects.
Some of the societies include experienced broadcasters who have been involved in community or regional radio programming or television production for several years, while others are relatively new to broadcasting. In all cases, the Committee has been impressed with the enthusiasm, dedication and professionalism that these communications societies have demonstrated.

The CRTC issues Northern Native Broadcasting, Public Notice CRTC 1985-274:

There are now more than 250 radio stations serving the North, with a substantial number operated by local native communications societies. In twenty-two native communities the CBC provides local access to its radio transmitters.
Television was first introduced to the North by way of the CBC’s Frontier Coverage Package program which, from 1967 to the early seventies, provided videotapes of southern network programming to residents of twenty-one northern communities.”
For the purpose of the NNBAP, the North was divided into thirteen regions, primarily on the basis of common languages, culture, and traditional administrative boundaries. Native communications societies representing each region have received funding. Twelve of the societies are now operational and the thirteenth will begin programming in April 1986. Although some regions contain a linguistic mix, each funded group is required to meet specific identified linguistic needs.

  • 1986 In Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, Decision CRTC 86-804 (Ottawa, 28 August 1986), the CRTC renews the Inuktitut-language TV network from 1 October 1986 to 30 September 1990
  • 1989 The CRTC issues a Review of Northern Native Broadcasting: Call for Comments, Public Notice CRTC 1989-53; the proceeding is paper based and does not involve a public hearing
  • 1990 The Oka Crisis focuses attention of native land claims.
    The CRTC issues Native Broadcasting Policy, Public Notice CRTC 1990-89 (Ottawa, 20 September 1990).  It defines ‘native’ undertakings in terms of their ownership, programming and target audience, and mandates that Indigenous broadcasting services be owned and controlled by non-profit organizations.  It also defines a ‘native’ broadcast programs as a “program in any language directed specifically towards a distinct native audience, or a program about any aspect of the life, interests or culture of Canada’s native people”, but does not impose “quotas” about the use of non-native language or music.  The CRTC creates three categories of Indigenous broadcaster:  Type A radio stations that operate in locations where no commercial AM or FM stations operate; Type B radio stations that operate in locations where commercial AM or FM stations operate, and television broadcasters.  While asking Indigenous broadcasters to set out their programming plans, the CRTC decides not to impose these plans (known as promises of performance) as conditions of Indigenous broadcasters’ licences.
    The CRTC issues Native Broadcasting Policy, Public Notice CRTC 1990-89 (Ottawa, 20 September 1990):
  • 1991 Canada has 29 Type A and 10 Type B low-power native eundertakings
    Parliament enacts a new Broadcasting Act; it is the first broadcasting statute in Canadian history to refer to Canada’s Indigenous peoples” under section 3(1)(o) Parliament states that programming that reflects aboriginal cultures should be provided “as resources become available for that purpose”
    In May, the CRTC renews the licences for the Native Communications Sopciety of the Western N.W.T (Decision CRTC 91-281), but denies its request to disaffiliate from the CBC and to affiliate with a commercial broadcaster to permit it to insert commercials at network breaks, to replace funding lost through federal budget reductions
    In October the CRTC issues Television Northern Canada Incorporated, Decision CRTC 91-826 (Ottawa, 28 October 1991) which grants the first ‘native’ television network licence to TVNC; it is licensed to offer northern Canada television service
  • 1994 The federal government announces a 22% budget reduction for each of the corporations funded under the Northern Native Broadcast Access Program operated by Heritage Canada, to take effect over the next three years (5%, 8% and 9%)
  • 1996 The Nunavut Implementation Committee releases a report on the role telecommunications could play in the new territory
    The Ardicom, a consortium of predominantly indigenous-owned northern businesses, launches a two-year project to connect 58 of the communities in the Northwest Territories to the World Wide Web
  • 1997 TVNC’s Board of Directors votes to establish a national Aboriginal television network
    In August the CRTC recognizes the importance of Indigenous radio in An Agenda For Reviewing the Commission’s Policies for Radio, Public Notice CRTC 1997-105 (Ottawa, 1 August 1997):

9. The Commission recognizes the importance of native radio stations in addressing the specific cultural and linguistic needs of their communities. The current policy for this sector is set out in Public Notice CRTC 1990-89 dated 20 September 1990 and entitled Native Broadcasting Policy. The Commission notes the suggestion made by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, in its final report, that the CRTC “consider simplifying the application process” (vol. 3, p. 633) for these types of services. In response, the CRTC has decided to review the regulations, policies and processes applicable to these services with a view to identifying how these procedures could be streamlined or simplified. To this end, the CRTC will canvass a number of the major native communications societies. These consultations will take place over the summer of 1997 and the results will be announced in the fall of 1997. A public process to consider any changes to the current regulations, policies and procedures will be initiated at that time. The Commission expects that a final public notice will be published in the spring of 1998.

  • 1998 All 58 of the communities in the Northwest Territories are connected to the World Wide Web
    The CRTC issues an exemption order respecting certain native radio undertakings, Public Notice CRTC 1998-62 (Ottawa, 9 July 1998)
  • 1999 Nunavut is created in the western Arctic, with lands set aside where Inuit can live, hunt and control sub-surface resources.
    In Television Northern Canada Incorporated, Decision CRTC 99-42 (Ottawa, 22 February 1999), the CRTC approves TVNC’s application for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, granting the service mandatory carriage by cable and satellite companies for a maximum monthly fee of $0.15 per subscriber (although the service will be available free to the 96 communities that already receive the service over the air)
  • 2001 In Decision CRTC 2001-172 (Ottawa, 12 March 2001) the CRTC grants the first radio station licence to serve an urban centre in Southern Canada – while meeting the other requirements for radio stations (35% Canadian content in musical selections) Aboriginal Voices Radio’s Calgary ‘native Type B’ radio station must also ensure that at least 2% of all programming is broadcast in a Canadian aboriginal language and that 2% of all vocal musical selections played during each broadcast week is in a Canadian aboriginal language
    In June the CRTC amends its 1990 Native Broadcasting Policy to remove previous advertising limits for Indigenous radio stations in locations where commercial radio stations operate, and to require Indigenous radio stations to ensure that 35% of their popular music selections are Canadian
  • 2006 In Commercial Radio Policy 2006, Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2006-158 (Ottawa, 15 December 2006), the CRTC permits commercial radio broadcasters to make contributions to Indigenous broadcasters as a way of supporting Canadian talent development
  • 2007 In Erratum, Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2006-601-1 (Ottawa, 31 July 2007), the CRTC corrects Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2006-601, in which it had required NCI to devote at least one-third of its weekly programming to local programming, in order to solicit local advertising; it notes that this provision does not apply to Indigenous broadcasters
    On 13 September 2007 the United Nations adopts a Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, “emphasizing the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations.”
  • 2008 In June Parliament repeals Section 67 of the CHRA, thereby allowing Indigenous peoples full access to the CHRA complaint mechanism to address discrimination – but the repeal is suspended until June 2011
  • 2010 In November, the federal government announces it will support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and issues “Canada’s Statement of Support on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”
  • 2011 In June a three-year transition introduced in 2008 ends, extending full application of the Canadian Human Rights Act to Indian Act band councils




A Review of CRTC Policies Governing the Use of Low-Power Radio Frequencies, Public Notice CRTC 1992-21 (Ottawa, 12 March 1992)
Valerie Alia, Media Ethics and Social Change (Routledge, New York: 2004)
Debbie Brisebois, Whiteout Warning: Courtesy of the Federal Government (Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, October 1990)
Call for Comments Respecting Northern Native Broadcasting, Public Notice CRTC 1985-67 (Ottawa, 27 March 1985)
CBC, “Our History”
Changes to conditions of licence for certain native radio undertakings, Public Notice CRTC 2001-70 (Ottawa, 15 June 2001)
Task Force on Access to Television in Underserved Communities, The Costs of Choice: Report (Ottawa, 25 February 1985)
CRTC Action Committee on Northern Native Broadcasting, Public Notice CRTC 1986-75 (Ottawa, 27 March 1986)
CRTC Response to the Report of the Task Force on Access to Television in Underserved Communities, Public Notice CRTC 1985-60 (Ottawa, 22 March 1985)
Robert Fowler, Marc Lalone, G.G.E. Steele, Report of the Committee on Broadcasting (Ottawa, 1 September 1965)
House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, Our Cultural Sovereignty, (Ottawa, 2003) chapter 10
ITU, “ITU Overview – History” ITU homepage.

Media Awareness “Radio in Canada: a timeline”
Native Broadcasting Policy, Public Notice CRTC 1990-89 (Ottawa, 20 September 1990)
Native Communications Inc., “About NCI”
Northern Native Broadcasting, Public Notice CRTC 1984-310 (Ottawa, 14 December 1984)
Northern Native Broadcasting, Public Notice CRTC 1985-274 (Ottawa, 19 December 1985)
Review of Native Broadcasting – A Proposed Policy, Public Notice CRTC 1990-12 (Ottawa, 2 February 1990)
Review of Northern Native Broadcasting: Call for Comments, Public Notice CRTC 1989-53 (Ottawa, 26 May 1989)


See also CRTC 1985-274 – Northern Native Broadcasting