By APTN Communications

The story of APTN is a story of the north, the east and the west. APTN tells the stories of Turtle Island. When the network began 20 years ago, it became the world’s first national Indigenous broadcaster, speaking to, and for, the nearly 1.8 million Indigenous peoples living in Canada at the time. APTN’s mission has been to share our peoples’ journey, celebrate our cultures, inspire our children and honour the wisdom of our Elders.

These goals are respected to this day, a full 20 years after APTN began.

The Beginning: Where APTN Came From

It wasn’t until 1972 that the first geostationary satellites were launched, enabling northern communities to experience real-time television, but from a perspective that wasn’t their own.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) determined that content coming from the south threatened the northern way of life and that Canada needed to help preserve the languages and cultures of northern Indigenous communities.

This momentum helped launch a long-term funding initiative, the Northern Native Broadcast Access Program (NNBAP), to support the development of Indigenous television and radio programming. But, how would this programming make it to Indigenous audiences? The answer was obvious, but complicated. This opened the door for the creation of APTN.

In 1999, when the network debuted with only two channels (today there are four), the programming schedule consisted of National Film Board classics; reruns of movies featuring an Indigenous actor in any role at all; and NNBAP shows.

The Middle: Where APTN is Now

Today, APTN shares Indigenous stories in English, French and a variety of Indigenous languages. In 2019, APTN broadcast more than 50 hours of Indigenous language programming per week in 23 different languages.

During the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, APTN became the world’s first Indigenous Official Broadcaster of any Olympic event, broadcasting up to 14 hours of daily coverage in eight Indigenous languages, plus English and French. And, on March 24, 2019, it broadcast the first-ever NHL game in Plains Cree.

The network spearheaded a nationwide agenda in support of National Indigenous Peoples Day when APTN Indigenous Day Live (IDL) launched in 2007, celebrating not only Indigenous peoples’ languages, but cultures as well. IDL is still the largest event held in honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day.

There are many more milestones in APTN’s history to celebrate: the introduction of the first national call-in current affairs program about Indigenous issues, Contact, in 2000; the launch of APTN National News in 2002, with the first Indigenous television journalism team in the world; the debut of an HD channel in 2008; and the unveiling of radio station ELMNT FM in Ottawa and Toronto (Ontario, Canada) 10 years later in 2018.

It has not been an easy journey. APTN has had to push back against and convince those who did not see the need to let them tell the stories of our people, in the voices of our people. “Some people felt we wouldn’t be around for more than a year or two, but here we are,” said Jean La Rose, outgoing CEO of APTN. Now, APTN is a mandatory service available to nearly 11 million Canadian subscribers that helps to bridge the gap between cultures.

The Future: Where APTN is Going

Twenty years later, APTN is still growing and continues to blaze new trails in the broadcast industry. For example, the network launched Nouvelles Nationales d’APTN in August as the first national Indigenous newscast in French. And, on September 1, in celebration of its 20th anniversary, the network launched APTN lumi, a streaming platform that brings Indigenous stories all across Canada.

Still, more is yet to come. This year is meant to celebrate success and give a voice to all with stories yet to tell.