Bert Crowfoot, the publisher of Windspeaker and CEO of the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA), has headed off to Ottawa to address the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
On Nov. 17 he’ll be speaking to the committee about the importance of Indigenous media in Canada and how media concentration impacts our publications and operations.
The Standing Committee is attempting to ascertain how communities are “informed about local and regional experiences through news, broadcasting, digital and print media.” This is a wide-ranging discussion that has included information on the impacts of digital media on traditional media, the reality of diminished advertising revenues, which hits small publications like ours particularly hard, and the issue of unfair advantage.
On Nov. 15, for example, heavy hitters, including the Globe and Mail and Google, argued that CBC should not be provided Canadian taxpayer dollars to deliver its services. They want to level out the playing field, making CBC compete with other media organizations for advertising revenues. They say CBC is attempting to be all things to all people. That’s easy to do when you have an established revenue stream. Large media corporations don’t, and neither does AMMSA.
In the event you don’t know very much about Windspeaker or the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society, let us catch you up.
The Society was established 34 years ago in 1983. In those early days, the multi-media comprised of a radio show, and a single newspaper—Windspeaker. At that time, Windspeaker was devoted to media coverage of the Indigenous populations of Alberta, and it was a mightily successful publication. So much so, that it evolved into a national news publication.
AMMSA evolved too and developed a new publication to fill the void that was left in Alberta when Windspeaker went national. That publication is called Sweetgrass.
Two publications under the AMMSA banner led to four—Saskatchewan Sage and Ontario Birchbark—and then five—Raven’s Eye for British Columbia, with other specialty publications filling in the gaps of reader interest and need—Buffalo Spirit, a guide to Indigenous Spirituality and Culture, and Windspeaker Business Quarterly.
Radio went from a show to a station—CFWE—to a network with websites, YouTube channels and a mobile phone app. People can now listen to AMMSA’s multiple radio channels from a smartphone almost anywhere in the world. If you’re interested check out http://www.cfweradio.ca/
The pace of change experienced by all news organizations since those days has been dramatic. But for the last 10 years the sands have shifted under our feet like never before. For Indigenous media, it has always been a struggle to find the funds to do what we do. There is no government funding for this. We don’t get a percentage from every cable subscriber across Canada, as does APTN, for example. (Not complaining. We support APTN and their news staff, and we’re glad they provide the service that they do.) But we’re out here swimming with the sharks. We have been for a very long time.
It’s made us strong and resilient and we’ll carry on, because what we do is important; the Indigenous perspective is important, because what has remained consist over 34 years is the desire of our readers and listeners to have their own selves reflected fairly in news coverage.
They want their issues and concerns discussed from the position of their own worldview. They want value placed on their histories, their cultures and traditions.
While AMMSA has helped bridge the gap of understanding between Indigenous peoples and Canadian society, it has, even more importantly, helped Indigenous peoples learn about and understand themselves, through an Indigenous lens.
The worldview, cultures and traditions of Indigenous peoples are rarely accurately portrayed by mainstream media—yes, even now—and reports often take a pan-Indigenous view of Aboriginal people in Canada. They make no distinction between nations and this further skews understanding of Indigenous communities by Canadian society from coast to coast to coast.
News of Indigenous peoples by mainstream publishers is, generally, focused on the activities of Indigenous peoples that run contrary to the initiatives, values and perspectives of Canadian populations.
There is no coverage of potlatches or powwows, coming of age ceremonies, Indian rodeo, activities like fishing or beading or weaving. No coverage of what fills out our knowledge and understanding of family-based Indigenous communities. So, AMMSA will remain.
We are committed to upholding the highest journalistic standards of balance and objective coverage of Indigenous issues from the Indigenous perspective. We will continue to build trusting relationships with our readers and listeners.
AMMSA will continue to provide opportunities for Indigenous journalists, writers, photographers, artists and musicians, having already trained countless numbers of talented Indigenous people over 34 years.
However, without a consistent revenue stream, Indigenous media, including AMMSA, will struggle, and readers and listeners will suffer, and become more isolated and misunderstood in Canadian society than they already are.
All media, including Indigenous media, face significant challenges going forward. AMMSA has faced difficult times in the past, but remains optimistic. We must, however, be nimble. Financial resources will help make that happen and allow us to continue our important work.