Voices of the North
INCA received funding from the InSpirit Foundation to conduct research into Indigenous language community radio. Here are some of the inspiring people we've been talking with.
CIRL 97.7 FM
Local radio on the Internet helps communities stay connected
BY INCA Staff
No matter where you live, community radio can take you home.
That’s what Pauline Clarke discovered when the station she set up in her northern community started streaming local programs on the Internet.
Clarke studied journalism at the First Nations University of Canada. In 2000, she completed the Indigenous Communication Arts (INCA) Summer Institute and did an internship at MBC in La Ronge.
She was shy to go on the radio at first, but when an announcer didn’t show up for his shift, and she was the only Cree speaker available, she had no choice.
That experience inspired her to set up CIRL 97.7 FM in Southend, Saskatchewan– 222 km north of La Ronge, accessible only by gravel road, on the southern tip of Reindeer Lake.
Clarke got help from veteran broadcaster and mentor Robert Merasty, who helped found Missinipi radio in 1983 and is now the Cree/Michif broadcaster in Ile a la Crosse.
Merasty helped her set up a non-profit called Reindeer Lake Communications, apply to the CRTC for a radio license, and find money to hire an engineering firm that installed their tower and transmitter.
The CIRL signal travels about 20 kilometers out from the tower and reaches everyone in the community of 1,100 people. Many community members live and work outside the community, mostly in Prince Albert and Saskatoon.
Clarke goes on the air for four hours every weekday, plus evening BINGOs once a week. When she’s not on the air, she switches it to MBC’s programming from La Ronge.
About 10 years ago she realized that they had enough local programming to set up a live stream on the Internet. Their streaming service lets her see everyone who logs on.
Overnight their listening audience grew to include community members located all over Saskatchewan and as far away as Halifax, Las Vegas and Alaska.
Clarke says listening to the CIRL livestream gives people “a feeling of being at home.”
Everyone’s favourite show is the request hour, but she also does local news, weather and sports in Cree and English (for nurses, teachers and RCMP).
With their station streamed live on the Internet, people living away can participate in pledge drives to help community members experiencing iillness or loss.”In that way, they can show their support, even though they’re far away,” says Clarke.
During COVID, streaming radio helped people get news from home. “We had very important updates and they could tune in from wherever they were…because everything that happens here affects them as well,” said Clarke.
Reindeer Communication Society has a Facebook page with over 2,200 followers and a link to their live stream.
Île à la Crosse
Pandemic highlights importance of Indigenous community radio
By INCA Staff
Robert Merasty got his start in radio 40 years ago, doing Cree and Michif broadcasts for trappers and fishermen in northern Saskatchewan, and he was one of the founders of MBC in 1983; but, he had to learn new skills to keep his community informed during the pandemic.
Homes across northern Saskatchewan have one thing in common–the radio is always on. During the pandemic, radio announcers provided updates, translated medical information, addressed misinformation, and helped Elders stay happy and safe.
Merasty works at CILX in his home community of Île à la Crosse, a Métis village with about 1,500 people, 700 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon. CILX is one of 70 community radio stations on the Missinipi (MBC) network, which broadcast in Cree, Michif and Dene.
Merasty remembers one day early in the pandemic, the sunlight was hitting his microphone and he realized that he spits when he talks. Now he cleans all the equipment in the studio before he leaves.
Interviews have to be done over the phone, so he can’t read body language. And he can’t videotape the interviews for programs that were posted on the ICSI cable channel, Facebook and YouTube. “That was the best part of this whole job,” he said.
Merasty joined the community’s emergency response team. Every morning at 11, he takes off his headphones and plays music while he gets updates from the team of medical experts and community leaders. “I explain them all in English, Cree and Michif.”
Merasty responds to misinformation respectfully. “I say, ‘Ignore those comments and go to a proper source, like the Saskatchewan Health Authority or the clinic and don’t listen to people that are unreliable sources’.”
In Île à la Crosse, most Elders have limited English, so they need information in their languages.
“If you understand English it’s okay,” said 86-year-old Eliza Aubichon, who is a Kokum to everyone in Île à la Crosse. “But if you don’t understand English, then it’s no use to talk to somebody when they don’t understand.”
Even though Merasty is fluent in Cree, Michif and English, translating COVID terms is challenging. First he Googles, then, “We talk to Elders to get them to explain what they think…and how they would explain it.”
“Robert knows what to say,” said Elder Aubichon. “No matter if he makes a little bit mistakes now and then. That don’t matter. He repeats himself again and he tells us.”
Hearing Merasty on radio is reassuring for Elders whose children and grandchildren haven’t been able to visit. “They get lonely and (when) we hear somebody talk Cree, we’re happy. It wakes us up,” said Elder Aubichon.
In many communities, the radio stations held fund-raisers to help families affected by COVID. Merasty remembers that in one auction, a jar of home-made jam sold for $50.
As he closes in on his 70th birthday, Merasty wants to hand his microphone to someone who can keep speaking their language on radio. “Language played a major role for me doing what I love to do.”
Pandemic expressions in Cree
Social distancing: wāyawīskawik (walk around people); wāskahtīw (walk around); wāskāskaw (walk around someone)
Wash your hands: kwayask kisīpēkinicihcē (wash your hands correctly); kinwēsīs mīna kisīpēkinicihcē (wash your hands a little longer)
Wear a mask: ākwanahahkwīpiso
Isolate: kipahoso, piyakwapi (sit on your own); ta-kī-kipahosoyan (you should isolate yourself)
Cree spellings provided by FNUniv professor Solomon Ratt