More Indigenous language and culture needed on Canada's airwaves
"If Canada wants to reconcile with First Nations people in regards to the residential school area, it should be law to include First Nations programs from whichever territory radio stations are broadcasting in," O'Sullivan says.
O'Sullivan first became involved with the National Campus and Community Radio Association (NCRA) http://www.ncra.ca/ at its annual conference in 2008. As she was meeting with aboriginal community radio programmers from around Canada for the first time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons and apologized for the profound abuses of the Government of Canada's residential school system http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2008/06/11/aboriginal-apology.html , which he stated "aimed to kill the Indian in the child."
"They knew without language and culture, they would be breaking our spirits and we wouldn't know really where we came from," explains O'Sullivan, herself a former residential school student, of the system's architects.
She calls it healing. "History is attached to language and culture," O'Sullivan says. "Stories that are told tell us about where we came from."
Since the mid-1990s, O'Sullivan has helped launch two more radio programs at Co-op -- both including language revitalization in their mandates, and especially focused on three dialects of the Salish language. Children are regularly involved in her programming, and she interviews aboriginal guests from near and far. O'Sullivan draws particular attention to her former co-host of the ongoing show Sne'waylh, Chief Ian Campbell, a local, young and popular hereditary chief.
"The reason I'm [advocating for mandated inclusion] is because I've recognized how the programming has enabled our own community here in Vancouver," O'Sullivan says. After being involved in First Nations programming at Coop Radio, she adds, people have gone back to their communities and other places to spread the language. "They've continued the work, even though they're not on the air."
"I think it has a lot of merit," says Jean LaRose, CEO of Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) http://www.aptn.ca/ , when asked about O'Sullivan's initiative. He notes there are 52 aboriginal languages in Canada http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/languages-of-native-people -- not including dialects -- and it's impossible for APTN to sustain and grow the languages on its own. "An initiative like this would help supplement what we're doing."
LaRose explains that O'Sullivan's idea, if adopted, would help grow the base of journalists working in First Nations languages, and actually help grow and evolve the vocabularies of traditional languages. As an example, he says APTN's journalists covering the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver came up with new language to describe sports like snowboarding, where the existing base of language was limited.
Lorna Roth is a professor in the Communication Studies department at Concordia University and has a a background in indigenous television and media history. She says there's no question there's of a lack of indigenous programming on the airwaves in Canada, and despite her strong doubts the CRTC or the Conservative government is willing to work on a policy that would have indigenous language inclusion mandated, Roth says she thinks O'Sullivan is promoting a great idea.
"It will restore a sense of pride that we don't have. Right now there's a lot of shame in our communities because of the residential schools," says O'Sullivan. "I think language and culture will give us a sense of empowerment, a sense of well-being. It will fill that void that we're feeling in our bloods and our guts."
Canada's Broadcasting Act allows for policy directives from Cabinet, which can effectively direct the CRTC to mandate indigenous language and cultural programming.
Joanne Penhale is a freelance writer, community organizer, innkeeper, artist, gardener and fledgling beekeeper. She lives in Montreal with her husband and two cats. She has a BA in Communication from Simon Fraser University and completed a post-graduate journalism program at Langara College in Vancouver, B.C.