• By: OLM Staff

Inuit Broadcasting Corporation: Uniting Inuit Communities through Award-Winning Programming

While Nunavut makes up one third of Canada’s landmass, the region remains a mystery to many Canadians. It is home to one of our nation’s most fascinating cultures as well as the world’s first indigenous media project broadcast by satellite. Known as the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), Nunavut’s residents now receive award-winning television programming in the language they speak, Inukitut. This has also put IBC (and Nunavut) on the map as the first native language television network in North America.

IBC has successfully highlighted the rich and vibrant communities it serves and is now looking to the future with plans for continued growth as it enters its 30th year. Currently, the charitable organization is focused on the construction of a new building, since it is located in an outdated 40-year- old facility with little capacity for development.

“It’s been a long-term goal for IBC because we’ve always been in buildings that weren’t made for television production,” explained Okalik Eegeesiak, president of IBC. “We’ve been fundraising towards its construction and have installed the foundation. We would like to get public support and to have our two levels of government help sponsor the building. We would also like to pursue corporate funding.”

IBC will be launching a new fundraising campaign this year for the proposed project, the Nunavut Media Arts Centre, which will be located in Iqaluit. The Centre will include high definition equipment IBC requires as well as training for staff. The new building will be made for actual production and editing and house all media operations. Funding is not the only challenge. Access to building materials is another obstacle as transportation costs for supplies are exorbitant given the remote location.

Debbie Brisebois, Executive Director of IBC says “we’ll be able to produce more live and interactive programming with audience participation. It will also provide us with the opportunity to interact and engage with the rest of the cultural industries in Nunavut such as other arts festivals, performing arts groups and artisan associations.”

Funding continues to be their ulti- mate challenge and causes technical limitations. With additional support, IBC could begin producing in High Definition since the state of broadband in Nunavut is not as developed. Eegeesiak says that while “there is a strong commitment to keep IBC going, there still needs to be more from the government. But I would say that IBC has been resourceful, we have come a long way without major investment from the government.”

For the North, television has been the only medium to unite distant communities and keep residents informed of news and events. Unlike southern Canada, many do not have cellular phones or dependable means of communication. “IBC is a look at the people and the issues in Nunavut from the eyes and ears of people from Nunavut,” said Brisebois.

Most of IBC’s programming is produced in Nunavut with some operations in smaller communities. There are shows for kids, such as Takuginai (Look Here), a children’s program featuring locally-made puppets and young hosts, educating children on cultural values such as respect for elders, sharing and patience. Qaujisaut (To See, To Find Out) is a program directed towards older youth who face hard choices living between two cultures. Kippingujautiit, (Things to Pass Time By), is a light- hearted and entertaining show with humorous stories about traditional and contemporary ways of Inuit life. Other shows include Qanuq Isumavit?, (What Do You Think?), a phone-in program allowing the audience to discuss current issues and events in detail including suicide prevention, health issues, sled dog slaughter and climate change. Niqitsiat, (Healthy Food), is a cooking show on the preparation of traditional Inuit foods.

“We want to keep the audience engaged and respond to their needs,” said Brisebois. “We also got into animation through a project with the National Film Board a few years ago and are continuing with that for children’s programming.”

The production crew must be efficient and skilled in many tasks as there is no training school in television production in the region. “For example, if we have a camera that stops operating while someone is doing a shoot, you can’t run down the street for repair,” she explained. “Another challenge is that you might schedule a shoot and the weather goes out for five days. The weather is the boss in the Arctic and there’s no way around it. You wait until it clears.”

IBC were pioneers in developing training programs that have gained international recognition as successful models.

“It wasn’t the optimum thing to send people south, especially 25 years ago which would have been difficult for people to relocate,” she said. “The best way was to do it where people lived and we achieved this by bringing the experts to us.”

IBC has consistently proven itself as a viable and culturally important institution. Through adaptation, it has changed creatively to maintain its promotion of the Inuit language and traditions through a rather modern vehicle. They have also had to deal with consumer-oriented images from the south showing southern attitudes, values and behaviours during the 1970s –a threat to the Inuit way of life.

IBC was formed from the Inukshuk Project during this time period, which was an experimental project funded by the federal government. It lasted eight months and proved Inuit could manage broadcasting operations successfully and adapt to sophisticated technology. The Canadian Radio- television and Telecommunications Commission gave a license to the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada in 1981 and from there, the IBC was created with its first program airing on January 11, 1982.

“It’s quite amazing when you think of all the challenges and obstacles in the past,” said Brisebois. “A lot of people might have thought this was a project that would come and go but we’re still here. The success is definitely attributed to the people who have worked for IBC. We have a lot of long-term employees who have been extremely dedicated and committed to what we stand for. The direct audience we serve has always been and still is extremely engaged with IBC and has expressed positive feedback and how much people depend on it.”