Indigenous Radio: is 5% Enough?

André Dudemaine

By Colin McGregor

Is 5% enough? Indigenous musicians from Quebec tell us: It’s our turn to be heard!

Radio plays an important role in introducing listeners to Canadian music and artists, even in an age of internet streaming. The policies and regulations of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ensure that Canadian works are broadcast by Canadian radio stations.

To that end, English-language and French-language radio stations in Canada must ensure that at least 35% of the popular music they broadcast each week is Canadian content (“CanCon”), according to the CRTC. And French-language radio stations must devote at least 65% of their weekly popular music programming to French-language music.

Imposed in 1971, these quotas marked a turning point for bands and music producers in Canada. Now they had a platform to shine their talents in the country. One thinks of the great Quebec bands of that time which were able to flourish on the radio: Beau Dommage, Harmonium…

But the regulations still do not specify whether this content must be produced by native Canadians or not. When we think about indigenous groups in Quebec, people of a certain age think mainly of Kashtin (a word meaning “tornado” in Innu-aimun, also known as Montagnais), the folk duo from Maliotenam on Quebec’s North

Shore. They enjoyed worldwide success at the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s. Their hit song Tshinanu, released in 1989, was constantly on the radio and on music video stations. But it is the exception, not the rule, for one or more indigenous musicians to be frequently heard on Quebec commercial radio.

The Land InSights organization (Terres en vues), a society for the dissemination of Indigenous culture, officially supports the CRTC’s request that a minimum quota of 5% of Indigenous music be established on radio stations in Canada.

“We are living in an era of rebirth of indigenous arts,” says their artistic director, André Dudemaine. Sadly, he informs us that “Indigenous languages are found in the foreign language category according to the CRTC.”

Commercial radio stations “tend to play the songs of very big stars. They obviously aren’t indigenous,” says Dudemaine, who has been active in indigenous culture for more than 30 years. The festival he and his colleagues founded, the Festival international Présence autochtone, is a multidisciplinary cultural and artistic event that makes Montreal, for ten days in August, the capital of indigenous creativity in the three Americas.

“Before that, there was nothing for indigenous music,” he says of his festival’s first appearance in 1991. He believes that 5% is enough to get young musicians in our province started and excited – but a regulation must be made to ensure that this is done: “If we want indigenous arts to shine, we cannot depend on the goodwill of radio stations. Kashtin broke through the glass wall, but that is very rare.”

And there’s easily enough music and musicians to fill that 5% on the airwaves: “Prizes for music albums and artists now have an Indigenous section. The music is out there.”

Certainly, there are native stations that play their own music in Quebec. The Mohawks have had their K 103.7, based on Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, since 1981. The station is extremely well listened to in Kahnawake and surrounding towns in the southwestern sector of Montérégie (Chateauguay, etc.). Reception is also possible on the island of Montreal, particularly in the south and southwest sectors of the island.

And there is, among others, the SOCAM (Société de communication Atikamekw-Montagnais) which brings together a network of 14 radio stations that serve Quebec’s three Atikamekw communities and 11 Innu communities. “When they have English and French guests,” says André Dudemaine, “it is translated back into the language of the listeners.”

SOCAM supports the efforts of Land InSights to establish a minimum quota of 5% of indigenous music in radio stations in Canada. “It’s a good idea,” says SOCAM President Alain Nepton, “because it will promote indigenous culture on the one hand, and the diversity of indigenous languages. There are many indigenous languages. It will make us better known, and it will promote artists.”

Nepton estimates that there are plenty of indigenous artists to fill this 5%. “On the Innu side, there are almost 200 artists who sing. On the Atikamekw side there are a little less, between 50 and 100.” SOCAM promotes its artists on their network of 14 stations as well as on their website, And, of course, its 14 stations play indigenous music over a vast territory that includes Quebec City, the North Shore, Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean, Wemotaci, and around Labrador.

Sadly, Kashtin, arguably the most successful indigenous music act of all time in Canada, hasn’t released a new album in almost 30 years. The band was formed in 1984 by Claude McKenzie and Florent Vollant, two Innu musicians from the Maliotenam reserve on the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec. Today they release albums independently, and occasionally play together on stage. But there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of other indigenous artists ready to take up their torch, people in the music world assure us!

Among today’s up-and-coming indigenous stars:

  • Willows (indie folk) – Métis
  • DJ Poptrt (techno, electro) – Mohawk / Kanien’kéha
  • Violent Ground (hip-hop) – Naskapi
  • Kanen (grunge) – Innu
  • Dan-Georges McKenzie (country-pop) – Innu
  • Elisapie (alternative, indie) – Inuk
  • Samian (rap) Anishnabe / Abitibiwinni
  • Kristopher Ricky Martin (rap) Mi’kmaq, Gesgapegiag


To hear the music, log on to Nikamowin, a platform where you can choose indigenous arists according to genre, nation/territory and language.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.