'Like coming home:' New Indigenous radio stations get green light in Edmonton and Calgary
The CRTC granted the licence at a "crucial" time, in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report.
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For the first time in 15 years, the Indigeneous radio programming produced in Bert Crowfoot's Edmonton studio will be aired to almost every corner of the province — including to his childhood home in the Siksika Nation south of Calgary.
On Wednesday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission granted a new radio licence to Crowfoot's organization, the Aboriginal Multimedia Society of Alberta.
The society already has one station in Edmonton, but the new licence means they can soon open two new stations, one in Edmonton and one in Calgary, and expand their broadcast to reach almost province-wide.
Switching on that broadcast for the first time will be a meaningful moment for Crowfoot, whose family has a long history of public service in the Indigenous community. His grandfather was the famous Chief Crowfoot, who signed Treaty 7, while his father and brother both served on tribal council.
“I come from a line of leaders and I’m really proud of that ... I’m especially proud at this moment because it feels I’ve come full circle,” Crowfoot said. “It feels like I’m coming home.”
He said the new station will include alternative rock, blues and rhythm, compared to the society's current flagship station CFWE, which mostly plays country.
“We have a lot of Indigenous artists in that genre, so that will give them an opportunity to be showcased,” Crowfoot said.
The station will also include news and commentary. It doesn't have a name yet but will broadcast on 89.3 FM in Edmonton.
The CRTC says the new station must reflect the community it serves and include a large portion of local content. There is a mandate to address concerns of Indigenous people in the region, and part of the spoken programming must be in an Indigenous language.
“This decision comes at a crucial time, not only because it comes in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, but also because of the many major issues that affect these communities, such as the disappearance and murder of Indigenous women, water quality on some reserves and Indigenous youth suicides,” said CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais in a news release.
Crowfoot expects about 12 staff members, split between the two cities, to operate the stations. They plan to build a new studio in Calgary.
“We’re looking at probably another three months of installing, getting the equipment up, testing. So that gives us six months and we should be on the air,” Crowfoot said.
As for the CRTC’s decision, Crowfoot believes they recognize the urgent need for more programming focused on Indigenous people.
“I think one of the CRTC’s concerns … is that they feel with the truth and reconciliation and everything else, that it’s time that Indigenous people start having access to media they can depend on,” he said.
But he also noted that the success of his station for 30 years showed they have the ability to successfully operate a radio station. The new stations will serve as the first Indigenous-focused networks for Calgary and Edmonton since 2015, when the CRTC shut down Aboriginal Voices Radio Network due to non-compliance with licence conditions.
“I’m tired of seeing another Indigenous venture fail. We have proven we can be successful, there are so many successful stories that people don’t know about, all we hear about is the failures. And that’s the reason this licence was so important to us.”
The CRTC also approved new stations for Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto.