January 19, 2023

This article was initially published in Playback on January 19, 2023

By Kelly Townsend, Playback News Editor

The APTN CEO wants to keep the network flexible as opportunities emerge for Indigenous-led storytelling.

APTN has been shining a spotlight on indigenous stories for more than two decades, and CEO Monika Ille has held steady at the helm for three years to keep the momentum going. “Monika Ille’s commitment to the community has been demonstrated by her passion and dedication to Indigenous storytellers over decades of work,” Indigenous Screen Office CEO Kerry Swanson tells Playback. “She is a charismatic and inspiring leader who proudly advocates for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. She creates unique opportunities for content creators at APTN and has established new partnerships in the Canadian broadcasting industry and beyond.”  

The network has led the charge in mobilizing and holding accountable Canada’s efforts around truth and reconciliation, both in its news reporting and entertainment programming, as well as supporting changes at the legislation level to ensure Indigenous producers and creatives can thrive in Canada.  

The domestic industry has taken notice, with APTN earning four Canadian Screen Awards in 2022 – three for its news programming and one for docuseries Spirit Talker (Tell Tale Productions, Rebel Road Films) – out of 14 total nominations.  

“It’s all part of Indigenous narrative sovereignty, right? Having the ability to control your stories and to some extent, also to control stories that are told [about] you by others,” says Ille. “All this plays in what APTN has been doing since the beginning, but I think now it’s getting recognition for all that hard work.” 

Ille is a member of the Abenaki First Nation of Odanak. She was appointed as CEO of APTN in December 2019, although she’s been with the network since 2003.  

She worked her way up from Quebec liaison officer to executive director of programming and scheduling before succeeding former CEO Jean La Rose, who Ille says was “very supportive” in giving her opportunities for mentorship and growth at APTN.  

Ille says her vision for the future of APTN is to focus on being adaptable in a fastevolving market, while upholding their responsibility to represent First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, including preserving their languages. Its attempts to modernize include the launch of OTT streamer APTN lumi in 2019 and bringing APTN News to TikTok in spring 2022. The SVOD has seen a 65% growth in subscribers over the last two years, according to APTN.  

It’s a steep hill to climb in the face of declining cable subscriptions, which Ille says remains APTN’s top revenue source, and a difficult ad sale climate.  

One of the solutions is within APTN’s broadcast licence, which is up for renewal in 2023. Ille says it is an opportunity to “rethink” their broadcast model and find ways for the network to thrive.  

Her strategies include partnerships with larger broadcasters to tap into their resources. APTN has partnered with Bell Media and Blue Ant Media on Indigenous-led productions such as Little Bird (OP Little Bird, Rezolution Pictures) and Dr. Savannah: Wild Rose Vet (Wapanatahk Media) and, in March 2022, signed its first memorandum of understanding (MOU) with CBC. 

Ille says the initial spark for the MOU was lit several years ago after she met the pubcaster’s president and CEO Catherine Tait at On Screen Manitoba’s All Access industry forum in Winnipeg. APTN and CBC had previously worked together on projects including the docuseries Taken (Eagle Vision), and the two discussed how the networks could “help the Indigenous production community to do more.”  

The two-year MOU covers entertainment, as well as news and information programming, and training programs. One of the first projects to come out of the MOU is an early-stage scripted development program for First Nations, Inuit and Métis television writers. Ille says it was important to set the terms of APTN’s relationship with CBC in writing to ensure a level of accountability.  

“It’s really to give a wider reach to those stories,” she says. “I believe as people get to understand Indigenous perspectives, our culture, our history, our stories of struggles, but also our stories of success… that appreciation of who we are usually comes [next], and it’s at that moment where stereotypes and myths start to fall away. I believe in the power of storytelling.”