The seeds of a national Indigenous television network were sown over 30 years ago. Today, APTN shares programming by, for and about Indigenous Peoples to all Canadians as well as viewers around the world.
The launch of APTN on September 1, 1999, represented a significant milestone for Indigenous Peoples across Canada. The network has since become an important entertainment, news and educational programming choice for over 10 million households in Canada.
APTN National News Milestones
APTN had its beginnings in the Canadian North more than 30 years ago. In 1978, the federal government initiates the Anik B experiments to test communications satellites in applications such as TV broadcasting, community communications, tele-education and tele-health.
Inuit organizations in Nunavut and Northern Québec participate in these pilot projects for several years.
Anik B Satellite
In 1980, the CRTC establishes the Committee on the Extension of Service to Northern and Remote Communities (the Therrien Committee).
Report is released that supports the development of broadcast initiatives that would assist Indigenous Peoples to preserve their languages and foster their culture.
The CRTC licenses CANCOM to deliver a range of southern programming into northern and remote communities, and in tandem, the CRTC provides development assistance to northern Indigenous broadcasters.
Major breakthrough in the evolution of Indigenous broadcasting in 1983, when the Government of Canada announces the Northern Broadcasting Policy and the Northern Native Broadcast Access Program.
Public funds allocated for the production of radio and television programs by 13 communications societies across the North.
Evident that northern communities would benefit greatly from a co-operative broadcasting system, but could not be fully realized without the technical infrastructure.
In 1985, the CRTC Northern Native Broadcasting policy statement recognizes the need for a dedicated northern transponder to distribute television programming across the North.
Federal government and northern broadcasters establish the groundwork for a northern satellite distribution system.
In 1991, the CRTC licences Television Northern Canada (TVNC) and, within a year, the network launches in the North.
Success and growth of TVNC in the 1990s convinced the Board of Directors that a national Indigenous television network would be a positive and important addition to Canadian broadcasting.
Come 1997, the movement towards a national Indigenous network is underway.
The Dream of a National Indigenous Network
For the next two years, the TVNC Board of Directors and staff pursue their dream of a national network with great energy and enthusiasm.
Presentations to national Indigenous organizations and submissions to the CRTC become a regular occurrence.
Come February 1998, the CRTC releases Public Notice 1998-8 that states that TVNC is “an unique and significant undertaking.”
A national Indigenous channel should be “widely available throughout Canada in order to serve the diverse needs of the various Indigenous communities, as well as other Canadians.”
With the support of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and public recognition of the importance of a national Indigenous channel, TVNC submits an application to the CRTC for a broadcasting licence for APTN.
TVNC is overwhelmed by the public support for a national network — throughout the CRTC review process and public hearings.
Come October 1998, TVNC receives hundreds of official letters of support, from all regions of Canada.
February 22, 1999 will be remembered as one of TVNC’ greatest moments – the CRTC announces that it has approved its submission for a national broadcasting licence.
Six months later, APTN is available to more than 9 million homes throughout Canada via cable television, direct-to-home and wireless service viewers.
The dream of a national Indigenous television network has become a reality, and the rest, as they say, is broadcast history.
Being a leader can be extra challenging when there’s no trail to follow. But that just means you have to create your own. APTN has been doing just that from the very beginning. Even though we arrived on Canadian airwaves on Sept. 1, 1999, our history stretches back much further…
Under the name “Anik” (which means “little brother” in the Inuit dialect), the first geostationary satellites launched in 1972 and relayed television signals to North America. This meant that any community with a satellite dish could rebroadcast them locally,even in the Arctic. This was the North’s first experience of real-time television.
Unfortunately, what northern audiences saw on their TV screens was completely disconnected from their reality in the North. The shows were all in English and the on-screen characters were mostly white, with virtually no Indigenous presence.
Initially a satellite experiment in Canada’s northern communities, a new program called Inukshuk would lead to the world’s first Indigenous television network. However, one problem remained: Indigenous audiences still needed Indigenous programming.
Around this time, the Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) created the Committee on Extension of Service to Northern and Remote Communities (Therrien Committee). This new committee believed that southern content threatened the Northern way of life and its urgent need for language and cultural preservation. It explicitly stated a solution to this problem: Canada needed to step up and provide Indigenous Peoples with opportunities to preserve their language and culture through broadcasting and other communications. It was a catalyst of change for Indigenous broadcasting.
In 1987, stakeholders met in Yellowknife and came up with a vision for a new organization: Television Northern Canada (TVNC). They secured $10 million in funding, and in 1992 TVNC hit the air with a live three-hour show from Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit. The launch was a success and proved that northern broadcasters could produce authentic and entertaining television.
In 1997, the CRTC announced it was calling for comments on new national networks. TVNC’s Board of Directors voted to move towards establishing a national Indigenous television network. Fueled by a 20-year-old vision, TVNC submitted its application to the CRTC in just three short months.
While they waited for the CRTC’s decision, TVNC launched a national contest to name its future network. The lucky winner received a SONY VCR, and the network received its name: The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.
Feb. 22, 1999 is remembered as one of TVNC’s greatest moments: the CRTC announced that it had approved its submission for a national broadcasting licence. The commission granted the network not only its licence, but the mandatory carriage and subscriber fees. The launch date was set: Sept. 1, 1999.
Six months later, APTN became available to more than 9 million homes throughout Canada via cable television, direct-to-home and wireless service viewers. The dream of a national Indigenous television network became a reality, and the rest, as they say, is broadcast history.
“A national Indigenous channel should be widely available throughout Canada in order to serve the diverse needs of the various Indigenous communities, as well as other Canadians.”
– CRTC – Public Notice 1998-8