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CBC lockout leaves Inuit adrift on the radio dial

A guest editorial from Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami



As the CBC lockout drags on millions of Canadians are left without programming they are accustomed to. In southern Canada, there are many alternatives, and the lockout will likely be devastating mostly to the CBC’s viewership and listenership.

It’s an entirely different story in the Arctic. There are few if any alternatives to the CBC Northern Service broadcasts in Inuktitut and English.

Radio continues to be king in the Arctic, the medium of choice for an oral culture. Inuktitut rules the airwaves on the CBC, and regular hosts — who are a part of the daily lives of Inuit across the North — are sorely missed. They are missed not only for their humanity, but for vital survival information transmitted over the airwaves. As fall and winter loom inevitably on the horizon, that survival information becomes more critical. Flight information, medevacs, school closings, weather conditions, high tides, low tides, winds and sunrise and sunsets are no longer part of broadcasts. Inuit hunters rely on this information before setting out.

The daily morning radio programming broadcast from Toronto by CBC management staff is the palest of the pale in comparison with regular CBC Radio morning shows originating from Goose Bay, Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Inuvik, and Yellowknife (to name a few).

From those locales, regular programming provided critical information for each day, cultural sustenance in the form of the Inuktitut language spoken in a somewhat official “newspeak,” and more colloquially in current affairs interviews and on-air banter between regular CBC hosts (northern personalities) and their guests.

Gone are well known radio shows such as “Labrador Morning,” “Qulliq,” “Tuttavik,” and “Tausunni,” with no replacements. The sole CBC television news show in Inuktitut, “Igalaaq,” broadcast from Yellowknife, is also off the air. Inuit elders are literally missing the news. Local, national and international news has dropped off the radar screen. Each day world news was translated into Inuktitut, and was the lifeline to the global community for Inuit elders. The lockout has made major news events such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the spike in gas prices, the Gaza pullout, and the announcement of a new Governor General invisible for unilingual Inuit.

Current affairs in the Arctic covers the political developments taking place in the four Inuit regions, as well as the infinite variety of daily life, and the trials and tribulations of living in the Arctic. It’s frequently a lifeline in cases when emergencies develop. Radio is there to keep the community together, and communities within regions connected. This is lost. Events that would be part of regular newscasts are not being covered. One example is the signing of a recent overlap agreement between the Labrador Inuit and the Innu of Labrador. It went uncovered by CBC radio or television broadcasters.

The CBC lockout sets Inuit communities adrift into a broadcast vacuum unable to be filled by management replacement shows, regardless of their origin. The last time a major labour dispute hit the CBC in the Arctic many thought that the CBC in the Arctic should be deemed an essential service. This is still the case today. The CBC Northern Service is a vital lifeline for Inuit across the Arctic. It ties our communities together, it ties our regions together, and it ties our home and native land together.

This lockout needs to be settled soon for the sake of Inuit, and millions of Canadians who live in small and remote communities who rely on local broadcasts from the CBC. Furthermore, the CRTC should legislate that the Northern Service of the CBC is an essential service, a situation our national broadcast regulator may be oblivious to.

As MPs and Senators return to Parliament thousands of names of northerners will be on hundreds of pages of petitions from the Arctic demanding an end to the CBC dispute. These pages will land with a thud on the steps of Parliament and will be impossible to ignore.

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