‘We’re asking to be heard’: Innu musicians lead call for Indigenous music quota 

Group demands the CRTC impose a five per cent quota of Indigenous music on commercial radio in Canada.

Famed Innu musician Florant Vollant says the attack on Kanesatake, also known as the Oka Crisis, changed the trajectory of Indigenous music in Quebec.

At the time, Vollant was part of Kashtin, an Innu folk-rock duo from Uashat mak Mani-utanem that took the mainstream music world by storm in the 1980s.

But then radios in Quebec boycotted Indigenous music as Mohawks clashed with the Canadian army and non-Indigenous Quebeckers. 

“We were getting awards and all that in 1990,” said Vollant in French. “but, during the Oka crisis, they took us off the air because, for them, our music could be dangerous.”  

Vollant explained that this was despite not being Mohawk or singing about the crisis in their lyrics or interviews. 

“They took us off the airwaves during the crisis saying they’d put us back when it was over – that never happened.”

Fast forward to 2023, he and his son Mathieu Mckenzie, along with the Innu Nation, the Assembly of First Nations Quebec Labrador and non-Indigenous allies, announced at a press conference on March 28 that they are demanding a five per cent quota of Indigenous music radio airtime in Canada. 

“We have a lot of emerging artists in our community, in other communities, and not just in Quebec, but across Canada. We aren’t heard enough,” said Mckenzie. 

Through their record label, Makusham Musique Inc., Vollant and Mckenzie consulted in their home community of Uashat mak Mani-utanem and surveyed 312 people about their thoughts on how to promote Indigenous music in the province. Among those surveyed, almost 95 per cent “believe that a percentage of Indigenous people’s music content should be imposed on radio stations in Quebec and Canada” and 81 per cent agreed on five per cent as the quota.  

These results were compiled in a report called Dissertation on Indigenous Music Content submitted to the CRTC on March 28.

Currently, the CRTC imposes a 65 per cent French-language music quota on Quebec commercial radio stations and 35 per cent for Canadian music. Indigenous people’s music is currently included in the Canadian content quota. According to a 2021 study by ADISQ, a Quebec music association, Indigenous artists are “nearly absent” from airwaves and get less than one per cent of radio airtime in Quebec. 

Émile Bilodeau, a popular non-Indigenous francophone Quebec artist, gave an impassioned statement at the press conference.

“In Uashat mak Mani-utanem, there are young artists that just need us to fund their projects to walk in Florant’s footsteps… There are 11 languages in the territory of Quebec that are on life support,” he said in French.

“I can’t believe there are people who make the argument that if we make space for our Indigenous brethren that we won’t be able to protect our language.” 

Bilodeau explained that radio airtime can be key to accessing funding for projects in Quebec. 

“We start off with money, us francophones,” he said. “Radio gets you a lot of cash. And we don’t make any space for the people who allowed us to settle here.”  

In Quebec’s latest provincial budget, $649 million were allocated to the promotion of Quebec culture and the French language – including funding for francophone artists. There was no funding specifically allocated to Indigenous musicians. 

Last year, Anishinaabe artist Samian was booted off a festival lineup for not having enough French content to play at a festival. This kickstarted a discussion about inclusivity – and diversity – in the music scene.  

Mckenzie said he’s optimistic that incidents like this will soon be a thing of the past. 

‘“I think festivals, radios and cultural institutions will give more and more space to Indigenous artists and to do it in their own language,” said Mckenzie. “I see that light. I see it, I feel it, I live it because I’m in the cultural world. And I feel people’s support and openness.”    

In an email statement to APTN News, the CRTC says it will examine the recommendations and start a process of consultation, which is music to Florant Vollant’s ears.  

“It would be a shame if we were forgotten. If we weren’t known. It’s time to get to know us,” said Vollant. 

“We’re asking to be heard. Listen to us.” 

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