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Aboriginal Peoples Television Network: Canada

Indigenous broadcasting platform for Indigenous narratives, cultures, and languages in Canada and beyond

June 6, 2023
Author: Laura Maria Rojas Morales

The Aboriginal Peoples television network (APTN), launched in 1999, is the first independent Indigenous broadcaster offering programming by, for, and about Aboriginal and Indigenous populations across Canada and around the world. Its mission is to “share our Peoples’ journey, celebrate our cultures, inspire our children and honor the wisdom of our Elders.” APTN contributes to the preservation of Indigenous heritage in Canada, which continues to face underrepresentation and stereotypes in mainstream media. APTN has a viewership of 10 million households in Canada.

In Canada more than 1.67 million people identify as an aboriginal person from three main Indigenous groups: Indians (First Nations), Inuits, and Metis.1 APTN, launched in 1999, is the first independent Indigenous broadcaster available in Indigenous languages, English, and French to ensure that the heritage and diversity of Indigenous communities are preserved and passed onto future generations.2 Eighty percent of APTN’s content is locally produced and the remaining comes from international Indigenous broadcasters and producers. It seeks to connect with audiences through providing genuine and engaging entertainment through multiple platforms and contributes to greater understanding between Indigenous peoples and the rest of the world.3

The previous proliferation of commercial television programming in English and French facilitated the transmission of non-Indigenous cultural and social values, while also reinforcing stereotypes of poverty and criminality.4 At the same time, it contributed to the disintegration of Indigenous communities’ traditions and native languages. In fact, there are over 70 Indigenous languages spoken in Canada that are in danger of disappearing in the next generation.5 Given languages are vital for cultivating cultural identity and a sense of belonging, APTN has committed to preserving Indigenous languages in Canada, in addition to providing accurate narratives of Indigenous life by Indigenous people themselves. In 2019, the APTN’s four channels broadcasted more than 50 hours a week of programming in a variety of Indigenous languages.6

Moreover, the network, among other initiatives, produces the largest celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada; conducts its own annual national Indigenous survey to ensure its content connects with audiences; and has an Indigenous journalism team dedicated to reporting stories that are often ignored in mainstream media.7


APTN was made possible due to Indigenous activism and government support. In the early 1970s, the distribution of television by satellite began. Indigenous leaders were concerned that mainstream English-speaking non-Indigenous programming would exclude and threaten their traditions. As a result, Indigenous television production was initiated through public-funded programs known as the Inukshuk and Naalakvik projects. These government initiatives facilitated the establishment of production facilities, provided training in television production, and enabled broadcasting services for native communities.8 Eventually, these projects led to the formation of Indigenous broadcasting corporations, such as the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), which later became the foundation of APTN.9

In the 1980s, the Canadian Radio–television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC),10 which was created in 1976 to regulate and supervise broadcasting and telecommunications in Canada, formed the Committee on Extension of Service to Northern and Remote Communities (also called Terrien Committee) to set out a policy framework to improve access by northern native communities to the Canadian broadcasting system. The committee, comprising provincial government representatives and northern native associations, recommended providing Indigenous peoples with opportunities to preserve their language and culture through communication.

Between 1983 and 1991, the government launched a series of policies and programs to serve the needs and interests of Indigenous peoples, promote fair access to the broadcasting distribution system, and ensure consultation with native representatives on broadcasting policy matters. Some of these policies and programs are the:

  • Broadcasting Act,
  • Broadcasting Policy,
  • Northern Broadcast Policy,
  • Northern Native Broadcast Access Program (NNBAP), and
  • CRTC’s Native Broadcasting Policy.11

In 1987, the Northwest Territories and Yukon governments, along with various Indigenous groups and broadcasters, such as, the National Aboriginal Communications Society, and the CBC Northern Service, came together to create a new organization: Television Northern Canada (TVNC). TVNC secured CDN 10 million (approximately USD 7,481,000 million) of government funding and launched shows with high success. Consequently, in the late 1990s, TVNC board members agreed to establish a national Indigenous television network for the entire country and include it as part of basic cable packages. They applied for a broadcasting license, which was approved by the CRCT in 1999, resulting in the evolution of TVNC into the APTN.12


APTN generates revenue through subscriber fees, advertising sales, and strategic partnerships. In 2022 the expenses of the non-profit organization were CDN 46,878,969 (approximately USD 34,631,135).13 Content creation greatly depends on the Canada Media Fund (CMF), a public-private partnership founded by the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canadian cable industry.


APTN became the first national Indigenous broadcaster in the world. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people have pointed out APTN as a success story of broadcasting policy.14 Some of the achievements have include the following:

  • It is available in over 10 million households, broadcasts more than 51.5 hours per week of Indigenous-language programming in 16 different languages, and has won several industry and journalism awards, creating in the process a window into the diverse mosaic of Indigenous people’s lives.
  • APTN was one of the founding members of the World Indigenous Television Broadcasters Network, collaborating with native populations of other countries.
  • In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented 94 calls to action for advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. One of these actions was directing APTN to contribute to reconciliation by continuing to offer programming that portrays the cultures, languages, and viewpoints of Indigenous Peoples. As a result, special programming was developed to commemorate Indigenous survivors, families, and communities.15
  • APTN has become a platform for visibilization and empowerment of First Peoples, who have actively and publicly advocated against racism in the media and influenced discussions about Aboriginal issues in Canada.16
  • It is a “hub for indigenous talent”17 and strengthens the role of Indigenous creators, providing employment opportunities for hundreds of aboriginal professionals, producers, writers, and directors.18 The network has also built close and strong relationships with native communities, supporting ceremonies, festivals, and forums essential for Aboriginal cultures.

In 2019, the CRTC launched a process to co-develop a new Indigenous broadcasting policy with Aboriginal groups in Canada, to modernize the existing framework. During the consultation process, Indigenous representatives stated that the new policy must address challenges they have encountered in the past, such as limited funding, the need for new indicators to measure policy success (not based on colonial standards), and the expansion of Indigenous programming to other networks beyond APTN.19

The network has addressed the lack of representation and recognition of indigenous voices in mainstream media. It has gained political influence by raising awareness about indigenous issues and playing an important role in government accountability, seeking that public officials consider, respond, and be held responsible for issues related to aboriginal needs and rights.20 Although it has also faced criticism and resistance, as some viewers are uncomfortable with the portrayal of certain aspects of their culture, taken together, APTN has become a powerful platform for the hundreds of Indigenous communities separated by distance and identity and largely ignored by mainstream media, but united in their demands for greater recognition in Canadian society.21