At the first Reconciliation and the Media conference, journalists, editors and news directors were invited to discuss diversifying their newsrooms and providing better coverage of Indigenous stories. Deborah Charles was asked to be a speaker at the first-ever conference. But she politely declined.
“I said, no, it’s my time to be a participant,” said Charles, who is chief executive officer of Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation. Despite her position, Charles keeps a low profile. She said her organization is unlike others at the conference.
“(MBC is) different and unique in any way you look at it,” she said.
MBC is a radio network dedicated to serving Indigenous audiences. It operates out of La Ronge and Prince Albert and broadcasts across the province 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The network plays a combination of country, pop, rock and traditional Indigenous music.
“Whether it’s your news perspective, your language perspective… it’s all about our culture,” said Charles, who has been with MBC since 1989.
MBC is widely known for its Indigenous language programs. The network aired its first Cree broadcast in 1985. What started out as a 15-minute segment once a day has grown into a two-hour daily radio show. MBC also airs a program in Dene and also incorporates Michif into its broadcasts as well.
MBC's Cree program, Achimowin, with host Able Charles, covers a variety of topics – from local, national and international news, to sports, weather and community stories. The program features in-studio interviews and special events coverage.
Achimowin focuses on reconciliation in a way that most other media outlets can’t – by sharing stories and speaking with Indigenous people in their own traditional languages.
“(If) it’s silent or it’s all English, we are further losing our language,” said Abel. “But if it’s booming from the radio, then it’s there, it’s still alive.”
Abel invites residential school survivors to share their experiences on his program. He also speaks with high-profile people like Chief Wilton Littlechild, a commissioner for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
“He speaks Cree and I talked to him about reconciliation: Why do we need it, what is it going to do for us, what little things can we do at home or in our community?” said Abel. “We need to let go of resentment, hate or maybe we need to forgive a little more.”
Darren Okemaysim, a language educator and Cree linguist at First Nations University of Canada, is a loyal listener of Achimowin on MBC. “Language is a celebration of life,” he said.
“The language has power,” he said. “It’s like dropping a pebble into a barrel of water and those ripples of water that transcend outward have effects upon individuals, upon our relationship with the world, upon our relationship with animals and plants even.”
Okemaysim said MBC’s language programs play an import part in reconciliation. “The initiative in itself is a demonstration of a language revitalization strategy – using media. At the same time, they are addressing all of the First Nations on issues directly affecting their lives and communities,” he said.
Deborah Charles agrees. “If you don’t have that language base and that culture base, you lose track of who you are – your insight and your whole identity,” she said.
“They listen to us for language retention,” she said. “It’s more comfortable to say something or express it in your own language. It’s more respectable. There is a calmness to it, and that’s (MBC’s) mission and mandate.”
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