Bringing APTN Into Focus

Reviewed by Candis Callison

In the wake of Aboriginal Peoples Television Network’s (APTN) widely-cited investigative reports on clean water issues for Aboriginal communities and the role of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former advisor Bruce Carson, mainstream Canadian media has been at loose ends to try and characterize the rise and status of Canada’s Aboriginal channel and its commitment to journalism. Indigenous Screen Cultures in Canada, edited by Sigurjon Baldur Hafsteinsson and Marian Bredin, steps into this gap admirably, providing context for how APTN emerged as well as a sense of what its future might hold.

Hafsteinsson, a cultural anthropologist who conducted an ethnography of APTN’s news production during its first years of operation (1999-2006), convened a panel for a 2006 conference that forms the basis for this edited volume. The volume features established and emerging scholars, and situates APTN within a broader framework of indigenous film, television, and to a lesser extent, new media. Theoretically, the volume primarily builds on Faye Ginsburg’s work that sees indigenous media as “processes of ‘transformative action.’”

Divided into three parts, the volume begins solidly with essays by Lorna Roth and Jennifer David that deal with First Peoples’ Television as a precursor to APTN and APTN’s approach to Aboriginal languages, a major issue for many communities who look to television to teach and reinforce language. While Roth is an established scholar who provides an authoritative overview of APTN’s emergence, David is an Aboriginal consultant who adapts a report originally commissioned by APTN for her cogent, comprehensive chapter on Aboriginal languages and television. The second part features four chapters that include Hafsteinsson’s research, Bredin’s work on APTN’s audiences, a critical look at programming and acquisition by Kerstin Knopf, and Christine Ramsay’s interrogation of APTN’s popular Moccasin Flats. This section provides dense, rich analysis, covering enormous terrain from urban Aboriginal culture and identity to APTN’s journalism as “deep democracy” and the challenges of reflexively responding to diverse audiences and license dictates.

The three chapters that comprise the third part on “transforming technologies and emerging media circuits” are not as cohesively focused on APTN. Doris Baltruschat’s lucid, engaging account of the production and implications of The Journals of Knud Rasmussen hints at the rapidly changing media landscape now confronting both audiences and producers active in Aboriginal film and television. Mike Patterson and Yvonne Poitras Pratt’s closing chapters on online communities don’t address the current hybrid world of social, converged media, but instead provide a more historical view of broadband access and early cyberspace forays. Pratt’s essay, in particular, provides rare and eloquent insight into what it means to be an Aboriginal researcher working in Aboriginal communities on communications projects.
Indigenous Screen Cultures is an accomplished and strong contribution to the growing body of scholarship on indigenous media. By bringing together interdisciplinary research and analyses, the volume sheds much needed light on the enormous challenges and successes of APTN and its ongoing mandate to cover issues affecting Canada’s diverse Aboriginal populations.


This review “Bringing APTN Into Focus” originally appeared in Spectres of Modernism. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 209 (Summer 2011): 161-162.

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