Native Media are Surviving, but For How Long?
It’s been more than a year since the Secretary of State celebrated
the International Year of Literacy by cutting funding to Native
Because some last–minute “conscience” payments were arranged
and the current fiscal year doesn’t end until April, most of the
papers are still around. It’s too early to say if they will survive.
Still, a survey of the current situation indicates more may weather
the storm than originally forecast.
First, the good news.
Kahtou, “The Voice of B.C. First Nations.” is now
published monthly (it was biweekly) in Vancouver and has raised
its newsstand price to $2. The B.C. market is a strong one, with
its large Native population, and the future looks promising.
Windspeaker, “North America’s No. 1 Native Bi–weekly Newspaper”
was the most commercially successful of the Native publications
prior to the cuts. It continues that role, though no longer biweekly.
The ad sales staff, working out of Edmonton, is performing heroically.
gone, however, are the outstanding full colour photographs that
once made this one of Canada’s best–selling tabloids. Windspeaker,
also in a strong Native market, was the paper considered most likely
to survive when the cuts were announced.
Alberta’s other Native newspaper, Kainai News, “Canada’s
leading Indian Newspaper.” is still publishing weekly out of
Stand Off, and Indian community on the Blood Reserve in Southern
Alberta. But it’s thin, and even with a higher newsstand price of
75 cents, it will have an uphill struggle.
In Saskatchewan, New Breed, which barely survived with
government funding, is demonstrating surprising strength without
the taxpayers’ help. Ad sales for the Christmas issue totalled $12,000
– a record for a publication that was on–again–off– again for years.
But December is the big advertising month, and the publications
future is far from secure.
Wawatay News, a semi–monthly tabloid serving a vast audience
throughout Northwestern Ontario, is making a strong effort to stay
alive. Its advertising market, basically the Sioux Lookout and Dryden
areas, is tiny compared with the western papers’. But Wawatay
has had great continuity in staff and consistently outperforms the
non–Native competition, both editorially and commercially. For many
years, Wawatay carried few ads. Somebody is beating the
bushes hard up there these days. Ad content is way up.
Both Native papers in the Northwest Territories were helped out
by the territorial government. So there’s still federal money coming
in, but through a different stream.
The Native Press, out of Yellowknife, is now called the
Press Independent, published biweekly. Oddly, at a time
when street sales, advertising and commercialism in general would
seem to demand higher priority, the tabloid has gone to a much more
conservative layout, a sort of Globe and Mail change.
The Inuvialuit tabloid, Tusaayaksat, out of Inuvik, is unchanged
in format and is still quite thin both in editorial matter and advertising.
Through some innovative financial sleigh–of–hand and by tightening
a belt that was already straining, the Okali Katiget Society in
Nain, Labrador, has kept its newsletter, Kinatuinamot Ilengajuk,
alive. But it is now published only once every two months. Ernistina
Pijogge, all five feet and ninety pounds of her, is a one–Inuk publishing
band on Labrador’s north coast.
That’s the best news. Now the ‘other shoe’ drops.
The Micmac News, which established a well– deserved reputation
as the publications of record for Nova Scotia’s Native people, folded
late last year after making seemingly impressive gains in ad linkage.
The line rate must still have been too low. But Sister Theresa Moore,
President of the Native Communications Society of Nova Scotia, is
trying to resurrect the paper that played a major role in turning
around the wrongful murder conviction of Donald Marshall. The Micmac
News was published out of Membertou, the reserve on the edge
of Sydney where Marshall was born and where he lived when he was
charged and convicted. His father is the grand (hereditary) Chief
of the Micmacs.
Shortly after the Micmac News died, the Confederation
of Mainland Micmac Nations out of Toronto launched the Micmac
Nation News. The editor of the paper is aggressive former Micmac
News reporter–photographer Rick Simon. The new paper may define
its audience as all of Nova Scotia, but the Confederacy does not
include the many reserves on Cape Breton, including Nova Scotia’s
Part of the original rationale for the Secretary of State’s now
defunct Native Communications Program was that Native publications
should be free from undue influence by their own political organizations.
Through a politically aligned newspaper is arguably better than
none. the development in Nova Scotia may be a step backward for
the “free” Native press. Most Native papers were required
to have an arm’s length relationship with those organizations as
a condition for receiving federal funding initiated in the early
While skeptics may ask how “free” the publications were
from government while they were receiving federal funding, there
is little or no evidence that any of them felt any pressure to give
the government good press. The independence battle was mainly fought
within Native society. Many Native politicians fought hard for continued
control of the Native media. They played heavily on the conscience
of reporters and editors who believed their “objective”
role applied to both non–Native and Native politicians. The struggle
for editorial independence was achieved by most, though more by
some than others. The Native papers were still evolving from their
basically propagandistic beginnings when last year`s budget axe
There was no territorial government bailout for Dannzha
(once the Yukon Indian News). The paper tried to survive
on ad revenue and a much higher price ($2.50 per issue), but gave
up in December. In the small but competitive Whitehorse market,
attempts to restructure and renew the paper will face great difficulty.
The Saskatchewan Indian is also gone, while there is hope
that Indian organizations in that province will take it over, it
hasn’t happened yet. And most Native organizations had their federal
funding reduced in last year’s budget.
In Manitoba, where Native publications never really got on a stable
footing, a faltering attempt by the Native Scene died with
the Federal cuts.
Hopes to establish federally funded Native media for the large
and under–served urban Native populations in central and eastern
Canada were also dashed by the budget.
Where does all of this lead? Many of the surviving papers are barely
hanging on. They will face very severe tests when the current fiscal
year ends and they head, unsubsidized, in to the traditional summer
advertising doldrums. What now appears to be a reassuring and surprisingly
bright picture may grow dim as the last vestiges of government support
dwindle and die – and the recession deepens.
Of course, the government could rediscover its conscience. Or.
and this seems like a better bet, Canadians could get themselves
a new government. Unless something changes, most Native publications
will be hard–pressed to live out the year.
This article appeared in The Connexion
Digest #54, February 1992.
Bob Rupert, in Content for Canadian Journalists. Bob Rupert
is a journalism professor at Carleton University with an interest
in the Native press. Subscriptions to Content are $15/year from
Friends of Content, 36 Charkay Street, Nepean, Ontario K2E 5N4