2019 is a banner year for APTN. The network is marking 20 years on the air and in doing so, it’s proving the naysayers who said it couldn’t be done, wrong says long time CEO Jean La Rose.
For those who say “Indigenous people can’t manage their own affairs, no matter what you throw at them it’s either wasted or misspent, I think not only is APTN but many other organizations now are proving those conceptions to be totally false” says La Rose.
According to La Rose, APTN has “clearly demonstrated that it could be done. That we do have a voice and not only do we have a voice but we can use it in ways that others don’t dare to use it.”
“Indigenous people are no second cousins to anybody” says La Rose who adds “we can do anything we set our hearts and minds too and APTN is a prime example of that and so are the many institutions across the country.”
After 17 years at the helm of APTN, La Rose has announced he will be moving on at the end of 2019.
In part two, of a wide ranging Face to Face interview, La Rose says a key factor in his decision to move on was the recent five year license renewal decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
Another key factor is family, who are all in Ottawa.
La Rose says the APTN board of directors has indicated they may want to keep him involved with the company in one way or another.
Indigenous Day Live
One of the APTN milestones La Rose reflected on is the evolution of Indigenous Day Live, which started as a small lunchtime concert in the park outside of APTN headquarters in Winnipeg.
“The goal there was really to highlight our culture, our traditions, our history but also our musicians” says La Rose.
Another objective of IDL was to bring in more and more Canadians to not only participate in the events but to share and provide a better understanding of Indigenous peoples.
La Rose credits APTN Chief Operating Officer Skye Bridges who had the vision for IDL and grew it year after year.
In 2017, IDL was held in eight different locations, creating something that people thought was impossible.
La Rose says again, the APTN team “pulled it off. It was a unique win for the network and it’s people. Indigenous Day is a reflection of who we are as peoples but it’s also meant to be a stage where Canadians are invited in to join with us, to celebrate with us and get to know us better and get rid of their misconceptions, their stereotypes and their views about our community.
“It’s a way for them to learn who we truly are.”
The name of Indigenous Day Live also evolved.
It was originally called Aboriginal Day Live.
Don’t expect a name change anytime soon for the network.
“APTN itself is a recognized brand, it’s a very, very recognized brand and it’s a beloved brand in our communities. When we talk to our communities about it, they say don’t touch it” says La Rose.
However, La Rose does acknowledge ‘Aboriginal’ is a “colonial term for us.”
“So, you will have seen in the past year that we’ve pulled away from advertising as the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, we’re strictly advertising as APTN and that will keep moving in that direction” says La Rose.
A bold initiative launched during APTN’s 20th year is the move into the competitive streaming market.
Launched on June 3, lumi provides unlimited, ad-free access to APTN’s library of Indigenous programming.
Providing Indigenous focused content to your device, anytime, anywhere is something the network had been toying with for a few years.
“We’ve seen a huge spike in the use of phones and tablets in our community in the last two years and we have to respond to that” says La Rose.
lumi may also be APTN’s in into the United States.
In 2016, APTN announced a bold initiative to move into the U-S television market.
There was even talk at the time that the 24-hours All Nations Network could be up and running within a year.
“We think the time is right for Native Americans to have their own channel and are happy to see the positive discussions Castalia has had with major US Pay TV operators” La Rose said in a press release at the time.
Since that moment of “giddiness” the landscape in the U-S really changed with the election of a new President.
“All of the sudden, the distributors over there, what we call the cable companies here… they suddenly backed away and said well we’re not sure now is the time to launch anything new. We like what you’re doing but we’re not ready for it” La Rose says.
La Rose says APTN now hopes to acquire the necessary rights to extend lumi into the U-S.
“It may have actually been a blessing in disguise that we didn’t launch a TV channel that became redundant in a couple of years” says La Rose who adds “maybe that it played out this way will work out in our favour?”
La Rose says his key reflection on his 17 years at APTN is how the company has broadened the scope of what it does and the continuing evolution to share stories, culture and languages across the county.
“When you look at everything we’ve reached into, production, radio, distribution and everything else, I think there is an opportunity for APTN to keep growing and play a strong place in the media industry.”