Mohawk broadcaster Janet Rogers launches NDNs on the Airwaves
Indigenous radio programming has come a long way, says Rogers
By Stephanie Cram, CBC News, Feb 13, 2016
From the early uses of radio on reserves to communicate with hunters in the bush, to the creation of podcasts that explore indigenous arts, culture and politics — indigenous broadcasters have adapted with the times.
“Indigenous voices on the land and on the airwaves is another way to create presence,” says Mohawk writer and radio producer Janet Rogers.
Roger’s decision to go into radio 10 years ago was motivated by the desire to create a space for indigenous voices to be heard.
“Without authentic indigenous voices on the airwaves … we’d be really missing something in terms of what we’re offered in the mainstream media.”
Her newest passion project is NDNs on the Airwaves, a seven-part podcast that looks at the current state of Canadian indigenous radio.
The podcast takes the listener from a commercial radio station that is 100 per cent indigenous owned, to a community radio station in Six Nations, Ontario, to CBC’s Unreserved.
Rogers also interviews some of Canada’s top indigenous media makers from television, radio and podcasting, as she attempts to answer: what is indigenous radio?
Radio as a communication tool
In First Nation communities, the local radio station is a place where anyone can come to make an announcement, or perform a song live on-air.
The uniqueness of reserve radio stations comes up several times in Rogers radio documentary, and really speaks to how indigenous people are using the medium differently than the mainstream.
One of the ways radio is used differently on reserves is to communicate with people out in the bush — which still happens today in communities without cell phone reception.
“Radio was really just a telephone, that helped to share messages from their little communities out into the bush,” said Rogers.
“They’d have messages like, bring home some diapers, or your wife is having her baby come back from the trap line.”
Keeping language and culture alive
Today radio also plays an important role in keeping many traditional indigenous languages alive.
In the podcast Rogers interviews Native Communications Inc. CEO David McLeod about how their programming keeps indigenous voices on the airwaves.
“We have Cree and Ojibwe language programming, and the language itself carries cultures,” says McLeod.
“It’s not so much preserving a language, it’s about keeping the languages alive and communicating in those languages, which I think that radio does so well.”
Rogers also interviews Ryan McMahon, who is the voice behind the podcast, Red Man Laughing. For McMahon, radio should reflect the voices of our country – as diverse as they may be.
“I guess when I think back to my earliest contact with radio, I just always loved that your community or your voice seemed reflected in it,” said McMahon.
“Something about local radio gives you a sense of belonging, a sense of home.”
The future of indigenous radio
“Even though it’s an eight part documentary series, there’s still a lot more stories that have yet to be told about radio,” said Rogers.
With many stories to be told, Rogers believes indigenous voices will continue to lead the way when it comes to innovation in radio.
“[Indigenous radio producers] are completely embracing the technologies that are available to everyone else out there,” said Rogers.
“And as a result, we’re just going to keep creating presence using webcasting, satellite, podcasting, all that.”
Janet Roger’s seven part podcast, NDNs on the Airwaves can be streamed now. She also hosts Native Waves Radio on CFUV in Victoria, B.C.