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
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 Canadian 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 also 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 satellite and wireless service providers. 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