The Participation of Aboriginal and Other Cultural Minorities in Cultural Development

Fil Fraser (University of Alberta)

Abstract: This paper is a review of the literature on Aboriginal and other ethnically based cultural industries. Participation in the cultural industries by organizations based in Native and ethnocultural communities has grown dramatically over the past decade. The emergence of Aboriginal broadcasting operations, mostly in, but not limited to, northern Canada, has had a dramatic effect on the cultural life of those communities. Broadcasting undertakings organized by ethnocultural groups have succeeded in a number of Canadian cities, with cable community channels providing an effective outlet. There are multilingual radio stations in some cities and a multilingual television station in Toronto. There is a small but important presence in the publishing industry, mostly at the level of periodicals, by Native and ethnocultural groups. There is, however, a dearth of research into cultural industries in these sectors. Much of the work touches on Aboriginal broadcasters but looks at them in social or anthropological terms, not as cultural industries. Recommendations are made for a number of baseline studies focusing on the impact of Native and ethnocultural organizations as cultural industries which create employment, cash flows, and have an economic life.

Résumé: Cet article passe en revue la documentation sur les industries culturelles autochtones et autres industries ethniques. Au cours de la dernière décennie, les organisations centrées dans des communautés autochtones et ethnoculturelles ont dramatiquement augmenté leur participation aux industries culturelles. L'émergence de radiodiffuseurs autochtones, surtout dans le Nord canadien mais ailleurs aussi, a profondément touché la vie culturelle de ces communautés. Les entreprises de radiodiffusion lancées par des groupes ethnoculturels ont réussi dans bon nombre de villes canadiennes, et les canaux communautaires au câble offrent un débouché efficace. Il existe des stations de radio polyglottes dans certaines villes, et une station de télévision polyglotte à Toronto. Des groupes autochtones et ethnoculturels marquent aussi une présence restreinte mais significative dans l'édition, surtout au niveau des périodiques. Il manque cependant de recherches sur les industries culturelles dans ces secteurs. Une grande partie du travail accompli se rapporte à la radiodiffusion autochtone, mais ces recherches tendent à considérer celle-ci d'un point de vue social ou anthropologique plutôt que de l'envisager comme une industrie culturelle. Cet article propose que des études de base soient menées sur les organisations autochtones et ethnoculturelles en tant qu'industries culturelles qui créent des emplois et des cash-flows, et mènent une véritable vie économique.


This paper is a review of the literature on Aboriginal and other ethnically based cultural industries, with comments on its range and adequacy, gaps in the work, and suggestions for further study.

Audley has defined cultural industries as:

industries involved in both the manufacturing of explicitly cultural products and the electronic diffusion of cultural programming. Cultural products or programs are identified as those which directly express attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity; provide entertainment; and offer information and analysis concerning the past and present. Included in this definition are both popular, mass appeal products and programs, as well as cultural products that normally reach a more limited audience, such as poetry books, literary magazines or classical records. (Audley, 1983, p. xxii)

In Canada one could say, with a certain ironic accuracy, that a cultural industry is one that has access to government funding. Ethnocultural industries might be described as activities which make and market products based on the work of creators who are rooted in, and draw their inspiration from, Aboriginal or other minority cultural communities. Like other cultural industries they generate economic activity, provide employment, and offer "products" for consumption. They are distinguished by being intensely ethnic, their subject matter found in the idiosyncrasies, the humour, and the heartache of minority life.

For the purposes of this discussion, I exclude "Francophone" cultural industries. Further, I have taken the practical position that, for the most part, mainstream "Anglophone" cultural industries fall into a generic North American, "English transplant," category. Canada has had more experience than most countries in the struggle to maintain its identity in an increasingly borderless world. The boundary with the United States has for generations been extraordinarily permeable to the movement of people, products, and ideas. The two countries share many values and an almost identical language spoken by all but a small continental minority in Quebec. Nevertheless, Canada has, to some extent, withstood the threat of cultural obliteration promulgated by American movies and television and the life styles and products they generate.

Canada's overarching raison d'être has been, from the beginning, to distinguish itself from the rebellious states to the south. As the United States won independence and began the development of a culture distinct from that of its British parent, Canada (the French fact aside) maintained its ties to Mother England, and became the haven for Americans who could not support the Declaration of Independence. As Marc Raboy has pointed out:

Canadians have for decades felt and understood the pressures of cultural homogenization that others, even dominant European cultures, are beginning to experience only now. As such, Canada is a community of communities united only by a desire to maintain social and cultural difference--diversity--in the northern half of North America. (Raboy, 1990, p. 8)

The extent of both our success and our failure to maintain a culture distinct from that of our continental neighbour is of increasing interest to other countries as the "Americanization" of the world follows on the heels of explosions of technology which have made access to information virtually universal, bringing, for example, the Cable News Network (CNN) to the most remote enclaves.

The Canadian Department of Communications has described culture as "the very essence of our national identity." Then-Communications Minister Flora MacDonald, in a statement released in April 1987, said:

It is in the cultural industries that the financial prognosis is more clouded. These industries--film, book and magazine publishing, radio and television, and sound recording--face the particularly long odds inherent in an era of mass communications. Canadian producers not only have to face high project costs and concomitantly high risks, but do so in an environment where imported cultural products are available at generally much lower unit costs. (Hon. Flora MacDonald, in Department of Communications, 1987, p. 7)

In the face of the foregoing, Canada is currently having a challenging time determining if, in fact, a truly "Canadian" culture exists, and if it does, what it is. Some contributors to this volume have made valiant efforts to define culture in the context of an open economy, even though others see the juxtaposition of "culture" with "open economy" as an oxymoron. Still, defining Canadian culture becomes increasingly difficult as the evolving mainstream of real life shifts from a primarily British and northern European given, to a new reality which now includes Aboriginals as de facto, if not constitutionally recognized, "founding peoples," and gives Charter equality to a rainbow of ethnocultural minorities.

Little activity takes place in cultural industries without some form of subsidy or protection, whether it is the preferential mail rates that allow magazines to survive, the content quotas which require radio stations to play Canadian recordings, limits on foreign ownership of major media, or the massive funding of television and feature film production by federal and provincial agencies. The rationale for much of this funding has three bases: first, that the taxpayers are merely priming the pump, and that the industry will in time become self-sustaining and competitive, which will eventually bring a return in the form of taxable revenues; second, that the industries generate useful economic activity, employing and training Canadians; and third, underlying these prosaic arguments, and necessary to selling funding and regulatory programs to politicians and taxpayers, is the premise that cultural industries also serve to define and promote a Canadian "culture" that distinguishes us from our neighbours.

It is worth noting that ethnocultural communities no longer exist only in geographic space. With increasing mobility individuals live in a number of communities, and may have more in common with persons who live half a world away than with their next door neighbour. The notion of a third level of government for Natives, to take another perspective, does not envision that the new governments will always operate within geographical boundaries. Canada's ethnic communities, which in the first generation may be concentrated in definable neighbourhoods in metropolises like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, tend to spread out with succeeding generations. The Chinatowns that reflected Canadians' relegation of Chinese to the periphery of the community in earlier times have become centres of trade and commerce, often occupying valuable land in the heart of the city. But most Chinese Canadians live where others live, scattered throughout the community according to taste and circumstance.

Moreover, ethnocultural markets transcend borders. People who share a common ethnic heritage have a sense of community that can be global. Aboriginal people in Canada, in certain localities, refuse to recognize the U.S. border. While increasingly prepared to acknowledge Canadian citizenship, they often have more in common with people across the border than with those who live next door in urban Canada. In their Circumpolar Conferences the Inuit consider themselves to be one people living on the cap of the globe. The fact that they live in Canada, in Scandinavia, in Russia, or in Alaska is of secondary importance to them. The Jewish Diaspora, like that of the Chinese and Africans, is a global community.

Canadians have both national and cultural citizenship. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act, of which few Canadians are aware, puts it plainly:

the Government of Canada recognizes the diversity of Canadians as regards race, national or ethnic origin, colour and religion as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society and is committed to a policy of multiculturalism designed to preserve and enhance the multicultural heritage of Canadians .... (Canadian Multiculturalism Act, 1988, preamble)

It is increasingly apparent that immigrants to Canada from scores of other countries have managed to maintain their cultural heritage at the same time as they have assumed membership in what a Royal Commission called The Citizens' Forum on Canada's Future described as an "evolving mainstream." At the same time Aboriginal peoples, after generations of attempts by "settler" societies to wipe out their languages and culture through forced assimilation or marginalization, are experiencing an astonishing cultural renaissance.

This seems different from the American experience only because the U.S. has long subscribed to the myth of the "melting pot," an idea that probably came from a Frenchman. Michel Guillaume, writing under the pen name of J. Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur, used the term in his Letters from an American Farmer, published in 1782. He argued that the "melting pot" would lead to the creation of a magnificent new race in America; one people with one culture, one ideology, into which all would be invited to blend.

It was and is a very persuasive idea. Had de Crevecoeur's ideal been realized, U.S. citizens would be a coffee-coloured race with wonderfully wavy hair and interesting eyes. But the melting pot was and is a fraud and a failure because it did not invite all citizens, notably Blacks, Aboriginals, Asians, and Hispanics, to participate. Ethnic lifestyles, languages, and neighbourhoods have not only failed to disappear, they have become a permanent and flourishing feature of the American cityscape. A July 1991 Time magazine cover story on "Multiculturalism in America" noted that

Some of the fundamental images of the American gallery of national icons have received a dramatic reworking. Gone, or going fast, is the concept of the melting pot of the U.S. as the paramount place in the world where immigrants shed their past in order to forge their future.... Instead there is a new paradigm that emphasizes the racial and ethnic diversity of American citizens, of the many cultures that have converged there, each valuable in its own rights and deserving of study and respect. (Allis, Bonfante, & Booth, 1991, p. 9)

The children and grandchildren of those who, generations ago, gave up their names and tongues to try to be "American" are reaching back to rediscover their roots, often taking back ancestral names, and reviving old world languages. A few months earlier, Time worried about what would happen to America when whites became a minority in America, a likelihood by early in the next century if present demographic trends continue.

The Americans are learning what Canada has known since before Confederation--that people, and their cultures, will not "melt." U.S. citizens whose ancestors crossed the sea generations ago still proclaim themselves proudly to be "Irish-American," "Italian-American," and a kaleidoscope of other hyphenated self-designations including the recent, and assertive, "African-American." The only settler group that seems to have completely cut the ties to its roots are descendants of those who came on, and in the wake of, the Mayflower. But then they were able to successfully transplant their culture to the soil of the "new world." Their cultural hegemony was so complete for so long that to be truly American was, for generations, to have an Anglicized name. Movie stars, politicians, and ordinary people dropped uncomfortable suffixes and "unpronounceable" (only to an English tongue) names. The extraordinary success of the English before World War II, and their overseas reincarnation (the Americans) thereafter, in making their language the primary tool of international communications is unprecedented. English is compulsory in schools from Slovakia to Sapporo.

The Canadian preoccupation with trying to develop and maintain a distinct culture while living under the American waterfall is surprising only in that it has persisted for so long. It has a particular resonance for those creators whose roots are in Aboriginal or other cultural and ethnic minorities. Because the Canadian market is too small to support, on its own, many of the cultural industries' ethnic minority players faced the double challenge of making their work attractive both to mainstream Canadians and to international markets beyond. Many tried to succeed with cultural products that could "melt" into the mainstream. But, with increasing success, led by Aboriginal Canadians, ethnocultural artists now present their work for what it is, and in the context of their heritage.

If Canada is to develop and maintain a distinct identity in a world where information knows no borders, it must continue to resist the temptation to create a generic "world class" culture, which can be interpreted as "American clone culture," devoid of local flavour. Success for Canada in the international marketplace of ideas and culture, and our survival as an evolving culture in an open world economy, can best be built on a recognition and celebration of our diversity. We need to be intensely local in developing our cultural products. We will succeed by staying as close as possible to our multistranded roots, because they are what make us interesting, and different.

Ethnocultural industries have an important role to play in the creation and evolution of a Canadian culture. It is our unique, though fragile, combination of bilingualism and multiculturalism, and our developing recognition of the special place of Aboriginal people, that distinguishes us from every other country.

This raises the question of how Canadians use and perceive the term multiculturalism. Since Pierre Trudeau made multiculturalism the policy of his government in 1971, the term has been seen as applying only to cultural minorities, not to the so-called mainstream, made up of people of British or French ancestry, or to those who could pass as members of those groups. The policy of multiculturalism was a direct result of the publication of Book IV of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, entitled The Cultural Contribution of the Other Ethnic Groups, the operative word being "Other." The Commission Report, discussing "The will to exist of cultural groups," said:

we can still state that there are a number of cultural groups in Canada with a clear sense of identity. They have their own associations, clubs, parishes, and religious organizations; they maintain their own schools and express their collective views through their own press.... To deny their existence would be to shut one's eyes to the Canadian reality. (Dutton & Gagnon, 1970, p. 8)

During the process launched by the Citizen's Forum on Canada's Future (a.k.a. The Spicer Commission), many participants expressed the belief that multiculturalism was for the "multicultural people"; that is, visible minorities and others from "non-traditional" sources of immigration who could not easily assimilate into what used to be the British / French mainstream. Aboriginal people have not been included as part of the multicultural community, nor do they see themselves as part of it. French-language minorities in English Canada, and English-language minorities in Quebec, may sometimes participate in multicultural events, but, because of the official status of their language, they still see themselves as different from the "multicultural people."

Yet it seems clear that Canada can only be accurately described as a collection of minorities. Only in Quebec is there a clear cultural majority of "pur laine" Francophones, born in Quebec of "old stock." Our national demography now includes no majorities. In the 1986 census only Atlantic Canada had a majority of citizens whose ancestry was British. The "melting pot" is not an option. Multiculturalism should describe us aptly. But it seems almost hopeless to battle the deeply rooted perception that it does not include Quebecers, "mainstream" Anglophones, or Aboriginal groups.

We need a new term to describe our "evolving mainstream," one that encompasses the spirit of the community of communities. The term must be inclusive of all citizens, while at the same time recognizing that each minority has its own special significance and makes its own unique contribution. That term will be synonymous with what it means to be "Canadian."

The cultural battleground of the decades ahead, here and abroad, will be the battle against homogenization, be it the friendly persuasion of satellite-borne American ideals and life styles, or the more sinister xenophobia chillingly symbolized by "ethnic cleansing." Policy-makers and politicians will wrestle with questions about whether it is possible to promote and develop culture without protectionism. And, if it is possible, is it wise?

These questions raise important challenges for researchers. If we do not know nearly enough about cultural industries in general, we know next to nothing about the ethnocultural industries that are just now beginning to emerge. Canada's rapidly evolving body of human rights legislation, supported by a growing commitment to the principle of equity for all citizens, has created an environment in which artists in ethnocultural communities feel increasingly free to publicly exhibit and celebrate their arts.

Aboriginal cultural industries

Cultural industries based in Aboriginal communities have clearly seen the most interesting and vibrant development over the past decade. This is aptly reflected in the amount of research devoted to them. The renaissance of Native cultures is almost miraculous in the face of centuries of intense cultural pressure from the North American majority. Aboriginal cultural industries have been among the most successful, both in seeking government financial support and in achieving their stated objectives (see Stenbaek, 1988).

Nowhere is this more true than in northern Canada where Inuit languages and traditions have been threatened by a satellite-driven invasion of southern Canadian and American television. Research has reflected a growing concern about the impact of satellite television on northern cultures (Valaskakis, 1988). But as Marianne Stenbaek has put it: "The Inuit in Alaska, northern Canada and Greenland have done a remarkable job with the new communications technologies, often doing the impossible and succeeding in setting up excellent television and other communications facilities in the Arctic" (Stenbaek, 1988, p. 331).

Rosemary Kuptana, who negotiated on behalf of the Inuit during the failed Charlottetown Constitutional Accord, appeared before the Caplan-Sauvageau Task Force on Broadcasting Policy to describe the inadequacies of broadcasting services to indigenous peoples of the north. As the then-President of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), she called for the recognition of Inuktituk broadcasting as part of the Canadian broadcasting system, proposing that the Broadcasting Act be changed to read "All Canadians are entitled to broadcast services in English, French and representative Aboriginal languages as public funds become available." The Task Force, of which this writer was a member, supported her proposal. "Recommendation: The broadcasting act should affirm the right of native peoples to broadcasting services in aboriginal languages considered to be representative where numbers warrant and to the extent public funds permit" (Caplan & Sauvageau, 1986, p. 519).

In a report to the same Task Force, J. Mark Stiles details the evolution of broadcasting in Canada's north from the early use of high frequency radio as a means of basic communication, through the introduction of the Anik B satellite television experiments, to the development of the Northern Native Broadcast Access Program. Announced in 1983, the program established a four-year, $40.3 million fund, designed to enable northern Native communications societies to produce their own regional radio and television programming in Native dialects (Stiles, 1985).

As Valaskakis has pointed out, the new, indigenous language television quickly caught on with up to 85% of Inuit in eastern Arctic communities watching up to three hours a week of IBC programming (Valaskakis, 1988).

In a 1988 presentation to a National Forum on Multiculturalism in Broadcasting, "Reflections from the Electronic Mirror" (organized and chaired by this writer), Rosemary Kuptana pointed out that Aboriginal peoples in Canada did not see themselves in the mainstream electronic mirror. When they were visible at all, it was only in the form of negative stereotypes. She pointed out that unlike members of other minority groups who came to Canada, Aboriginal peoples had no overseas homeland where their languages and traditions flourished and grew. By contrast, she said, Aboriginal languages and heritage were being threatened with extinction in their own land. Those were the reasons, she argued, why Aboriginal broadcasting undertakings like the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation were essential.

In the Yukon, Northern Native Broadcasting, operating CHON-FM, broadcasts audio signals to seven Yukon communities via satellite and developed television programming designed to reflect Aboriginal cultural heritage. Broadcasts were presented in seven Aboriginal languages: Loucheux, Han, Southern and Northern Tutchone, Kaska Dena, Tlingit, and Tagish, some spoken in the 1980s by only a handful of people. In a presentation to the Task Force on Broadcasting Policy, they said:

As Aboriginal people, our primary objective is to be masters of our cultural destiny. We sincerely believe that modern technology will accelerate our growth and development. Our participation in the broadcasting industry will ensure our languages and culture are promoted and preserved for the benefit of future generations. (Northern Native Broadcasting, 1985, p. 3)

Aboriginal broadcasting has had a longer but less sustained history in southern Canada. The Alberta Native Communications Society (ANCS), established in the early 1960s by Eugene Steinhauer, was the first Native broadcasting enterprise in Canada (Rupert, 1983). The ANCS, during the 1970s, was the highest profile Native communications organization in Canada, expanding into print while developing a base of radio and television programming distributed by mainstream broadcasters in various parts of the province. It was the forerunner of a large number of parallel organizations across the country. The Task Force on Broadcasting Policy received briefs and presentations from groups as diverse as the James Bay Cree Communications Society of northern Quebec, and the WaWaTay Native Communications Society of Sioux Lookout, Ontario. Similar organizations exist in Thompson, Manitoba, and Terrace, B.C. Communications societies broadcast to widely scattered audiences via satellite or remote transmitters. According to the CBC, there are approximately 200 Native radio stations operating in Canada today, if one counts the low-powered translators and repeaters (Smith & Brigham, 1992).

ANCS was forced to wind up its affairs in the early 1980s because of internal difficulties. It was replaced by the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta, which produces a successful weekly newspaper, Windspeaker, and The Native Perspective, a radio program broadcast from Lac La Biche. The 1991 Guide to Native Organizations in Alberta lists six Native communications organizations active in the province.

There have been other cultural industry initiatives in the Aboriginal community, which are, at this writing, unreported in academic literature. In 1991, after two years of consultation, the National Film Board (NFB) established Studio "I" (for Indigenous), a new studio within and funded by the Board devoted exclusively to Aboriginal production:

As First Nations people move into an era of greater self-determination, one of the important aspects of that self-determination is the ability to tell our own stories and to interpret our own realities in media. Living in an increasingly media oriented society means that the relevance of mass media has increased commensurably. Not only must we counter misrepresentation and non-representation, but we must take the means of production of our images into our own hands as ways of taking our place as distinct cultures in Canada. (Carol Geddes, Producer, News Release, November 1991)

And Studio "D," the successful women's studio within NFB, announced in the summer of 1992 that a special program would be devoted toward films by and for "women of colour," including Aboriginal women.

A number of Aboriginal production companies have successfully produced programs for exhibition on mainstream television. The series My Partners, My People, broadcast on private television stations across Canada, is an example. And there is a growing number of successful Aboriginal filmmakers whose works are beginning to win awards. These include Alanis Obomsawin, who has documented on film the events surrounding the Oka crisis, Gil Cardinal, based in Edmonton, whose documentary film Foster Child has won many awards and wide acclaim, and Maria Campbell, an author and professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, who has written and directed a number of films about the Native experience.

A major film festival is devoted exclusively to Aboriginal film productions from around the world. The project started in Pincher Creek, Alberta, in the mid-1980s as the Indian Summer World Festival of Aboriginal Films and continues in Edmonton with the annual Dreamspeaker Film Festival.

A group of Aboriginal filmmakers in Alberta has developed a proposal to research and implement a "Canadian Aboriginal Film and Video Production Fund" (private communication).

While there has been some research on Native cultural industries, notably in broadcasting, much of the work centres on the legitimate grievances and challenges faced by Aboriginal broadcasters, filmmakers, and, occasionally, publishers (Riggins, 1983). Very little research could be found on the operations of these enterprises as cultural industries. Research focusing on management, policy development, budgets, revenues, expenditures, and funding sources is scarce.

Other ethnocultural industries

If there has been little research into Aboriginal cultural industries, research into cultural industries activity by other ethnic minorities is even more sparse. The literature on ethnocultural minorities in Canada includes many studies (see Cultural Development in Canada bibliography) dealing with the portrayal and stereotyping of minorities in mainstream media. Substantial effort has been devoted to content analysis of print and electronic media as a means of identifying how frequently, and in what manner, minorities are depicted, or ignored (Singer, 1982; Karim & Sansom, 1991).

Other studies document and underline the fact that multiculturalism represents a very minor theme in mainstream cultural industries. Fleras (1992, abstract) argues that "the mass media have been singled out as visibly negligent in responding positively to Canada's ethnic and racial diversity." In his review of the literature on media-minority relations, he points out that "Research interests have settled in around the question of media responsibility in reflecting and reinforcing diversity in Canada" and argues that "coverage of media and minorities has been erratic in terms of output and quality" (p. 7).

Karim & Sansom have addressed concerns about "the portrayal of ethnic and religious minority communities in Canada in the mass media, school textbooks and other materials" in an annotated survey of Canadian materials with respect to ethnicity and the mass media (Karim & Sansom, 1991, p. 1).

It is almost as if the researchers believed that if the legitimate grievances of minority groups with respect to the media can be documented and made known, then steps will be taken to correct the injustices. As Fleras has pointed out, "Studies to date have emphasized descriptive accounts that rarely delve into causes, impacts and solutions" (1992, p. 40). The growing realization that pointing out wrongs and abuse does not necessarily solve the problem will, I hope, lead researchers to focus more attention on the growing, but still small, number of ethnically based cultural industries which try to give voice and validity to minority cultures.

There is a dearth of studies of minority television and radio broadcasters, not to mention the publishers of periodicals ranging from magazines and newsletters to weekly newspapers which serve substantial minority populations, often in third languages. Cable television community channels vibrate with cultural programming in languages from Urdu to Xhosa. Toronto has, for years, supported a multilingual television station, and there are a number of multilingual radio stations operating in other Canadian cities. Private broadcasters, but not the publicly owned CBC, have made time slots available for minority-language broadcasts organized on a volunteer basis by community members.

The CRTC's 1985 policy Reflecting Canada's Linguistic and Cultural Diversity officially recognized the importance of multicultural broadcasting. It established quotas for three new categories of broadcasting to minority audiences in English or French, and a combination of English, French, and a third language. The Report of the Task Force on Broadcasting Policy (Caplan & Sauvageau, 1986) recommended that "The Broadcasting Act should make reference to the need for programming reflecting the principle of multiculturalism in a bilingual society," and called on the CRTC to "create a special class of license for minority groups wanting to use the brokerage practice (entrepreneurs buy blocks of time from broadcasters and sell or `broker' them to organizations wishing to acquire program time) making them responsible for program content" (pp. 536, 538).

Another means of serving the needs of minorities is in the domain of what the Task Force on Broadcasting Policy defined as community broadcasting. Special CRTC licences are available to non-profit organizations such as university student radio stations and community groups in remote localities. Using low-power transmitters, usually on the FM band, these broadcasters provide a valuable service, often meeting minority audience needs. Community radio stations provide invaluable service in places as diverse as Poste-de-la-Baleine, Quebec, Moosonee, Ontario, Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, Old Crow, Yukon, and Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. In urban Canada, many minority organizations program regular program blocks on community cable television (Caplan & Sauvageau, 1986).

Nevertheless, there is little academic research on how these organizations are formed, operate, and survive. The role of ethnic broadcasters, both on television and radio, is therefore more difficult to assess within the framework at hand. Multilingual programming is offered by radio stations in a number of cities; foreign-language programs, often produced abroad, are seen on cable community channels and speciality pay television services like Chinavision and Telelatino. But there is no academic work about the cultural industries' elements of these activities.

Many studies and numerous conferences have been devoted to the role of ethnic minorities in Canada. The studies are universally preoccupied with questions of equity. Raboy examines "The democratic trials of Canadian broadcasting ... from cultural diversity to social equality" (Raboy, 1990). Noting that "presently, over one out of three Canadians is of ancestry other than British or French" Thomas proposes a framework for the analysis of the role of ethnic minorities in Canadian broadcasting (p. 1). In reporting on "Attempts to accommodate ethnic minorities" he asserts that "the economic imperative in broadcasting poses a specific threat to ethnic and racial minorities" (Thomas, 1992, p. 295). Private broadcasters earn their revenues through the sale of commercials, as do, to some extent, public broadcasters like CBC/Radio Canada and Radio Quebec. The caricature of broadcasters who exist to sell audiences to advertisers may somewhat overstate the situation in the highly regulated Canadian system. Nevertheless, any viewer can attest that broadcasters, particularly in prime time, program to attract the greatest possible number of viewers by appealing to the lowest common denominator of tastes and preferences. Volumes have been written about the manipulative strategies designed to attract and hold the largest possible audience. (See Wolfe, 1985.)

Equality Now!, the 1984 report of the House of Commons Special Committee on Visible Minorities in Canadian Society, called on governments and media to pay serious attention to Canada's changing demography. A symposium entitled The Challenge of Change focusing on changes in Canadian broadcasting (Hoskins & McFadyen, 1985) brought together a cross-section of industry professionals and academic researchers to provide an up-to-date analysis of the broadcasting system. The symposium was organized, to some extent, for the benefit of members of the Task Force on Broadcasting Policy, who were in attendance. Four of the 18 papers presented dealt specifically with cultural minority issues.

But the overwhelming reality confronted in the course of searching the academic literature in the course of preparing this paper is the inescapable fact that so little has been done in the area of ethnocultural industries. Much of the academic work found was focused on broadcasting, and most of that on Aboriginal issues. Little work was devoted to publishing, even though there exists a rich panorama of magazines and newspapers, some of them profitable, serving ethnic communities. No academic work was found dealing with sound recording from an ethnocultural perspective.

A key question for people working in cultural industries, particularly those that are marketable offshore, is the question of distribution. This should be the subject of a major study. Canadian film producers face the reality that the domestic distribution system for feature films is controlled by Americans. And even though there is no foreign control of Canadian airwaves, broadcasters compete in an environment where an overwhelming majority of what cable and satellite systems make available on television, and, in many markets, on radio, comes from U.S. sources.


The opportunities for research are boundless, the need pressing, the information critical to our cultural future. The recommendations which follow will be of practical value both to people working in the ethnocultural industries, and to researchers who wish to track the impact of these enterprises on society. I have kept the list relatively short, but my recommendations are for baseline research upon which much other useful work can be built.

  1. A jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction (provincial, territorial, and federal) study of the economic impacts of ethnically based radio and television broadcasters, newspaper and periodical publishers. The study should examine and analyze cash flows, salaries and rents paid, sources of income, profits and losses, and the overall economic viability of these cultural industries. The study would include an historical component to document the longevity of such enterprises, and to test the perception that many are short-lived.

    Included in the study would be Native and multilingual radio and television stations, and producers who "broker" ethnic- and third-language radio and television programs to cable television operators. It would also include daily, weekly, and monthly newspapers and magazines published in third languages and English- and French-language publications aimed at Native and ethnocultural communities.

  2. A province-by-province study of markets for ethnically based broadcasting and publishing enterprises. Focus groups and broader samples of the population should be interviewed to determine the needs and wants of members of ethnocultural communities for broadcasting and print cultural products which address their concerns. It should also attempt to determine how effectively "mainstream" media satisfy the information, entertainment, and self-identification needs of the communities.
  3. An examination of export activity with respect to ethnoculturally based cultural products. The research should determine the level of activity and the economic impacts of products exported to the source countries of Canadian immigrant communities. For example, Canadian filmmakers have produced materials about life in Canada and marketed them successfully to countries such as India. The study would include film and television products as well as newsletters and other periodicals.
  4. A baseline study of foreign markets for Canadian ethnocultural industry products. There is anecdotal evidence of interest in such products, both in countries which have been the source of significant numbers of Canadian immigrants, and in countries which perceive Canada as a desirable country that is different from the United States. Such a study could involve studies, coordinated by Canadian researchers, in target countries.
  5. A study of filmmaking activities within Aboriginal and ethnocultural communities. The study would examine economic impacts as in the broadcasting and publishing survey, but would pay particular attention to training and support programs funded by various levels of government and other agencies. It would include documentary and entertainment films produced for television, as well as for theatrical or other distribution modes.
  6. A national, provincial, and territorial survey of funding and other support programs for ethnocultural industries. There is a confusing mix of programs designed to support cultural industries. A national survey is needed to identify programs, and to determine funding levels, time lines, and other criteria. Such a survey should be updated periodically, since such programs seem to come and go with changes in governments and in ministries.
  7. An examination of cultural agreements between Canada and other countries, and their impacts on ethnocultural industries. This would include an overview of film and television co-production treaties, as well as special relationships which may enhance or restrict marketing of Canadian cultural products in other countries.
  8. An analysis of the implications of the tax and regulatory environments affecting ethnocultural industries, including tax breaks for potential investors, protective trade barriers against foreign products, and the impact of provincial regulations on the production and marketing of ethnocultural industry products.


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