Wawatay has always been a calling to me. The first time was in Autumn 2010, when I saw Wawatay in Timmins for the first time and I was compelled to walk in. That day changed my life forever. It was about a year I was with Wawatay, a short time, but integral as we managed to engage in a non-royalty contractual partnership with the NHL as well with an agreement with CBC Sports to use their video feed to broadcast an NHL game on WRN in Cree. We had a couple hitches but all in all it was fun to hear the excitement of the game manifest in the language. When I walked through those doors the first time, there was a familiarity that I felt, it couldn’t be seen or explained, it was a comfort that made everything feel inter-connected. Alas, when the short time was over, my services were no longer needed.
The second time I got the call, it was a literal call, by one of the broadcasters and they explained that no one was getting paid regularly. “Could you help!” I was asked. At that time, I had no idea what we were up against, but my heart wouldn’t let me walk away. It was stuck thinking about the people in the community having to hear the news that they would no longer be hearing the news on the radio.
The attempt our elders made 35 years ago to preserve the language, was about to die. At first glance, bookkeeping was a mess, although a deeper look showed that bills, payroll deduction and HST had not been paid in almost two years, the debt had exceeded $1.2 Million and the proposal for the following year’s funding had not been submitted. The journey Wawatay has taken in the last five years has been nothing short of miraculous, despite the negative reception from our funders.
We structured a deficit recovery plan and began working on re-instating the funding. At first the relationships was awesome and funders came by the Timmins bureau for a site visit to ensure programming was in operation. The Director General and a Senior Program Advisor both went on the radio with our broadcasters and sang Christmas songs. We all dug down and literally started pushing the broom and then sifting through the pile of paper work and rebuilding our central filing system. Although, this perfect working partnership turned quickly and we found that our support was diminishing, and with major funding cuts. Since, the stress on our administration has been heavy. Anyone can walk into a well-oiled machine and keep the oiling going, but to have to clean up a mess and rebuild a brand takes a special team.
Wawatay News had to be suspended due to an average loss of each print edition of $10,000 that was draining the cash flow; we lost half our work force, and lost more than half of our budget. After six months shut down we published the newspaper again, and we humbly thank Nishanawbe Aski Nation for giving us the re-start funds that reignited our newsprint division. An even greater feat is our Editor Chris Kornacki has managed to turn a profit with the newspaper every month since June 2015.
Despite losing nearly three hundred thousand in funding in the last three years, Wawatay Radio has been working diligently to expand. We applied for licenses in Toronto and Ottawa although we were denied, to us this was a chance to bring the language to the mainstream, so when our people traveled to these two big cities, they could proudly hear the language over the airwaves. We kept trudging our way on and managed to publish one academic paper working with the University of Ottawa. In over a year we completed five national conferences in five strategic locations across Canada. The outcome was a report for the CRTC on recommending a new Consultation Process and Policy for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Broadcasting. https://ruor.uottawa.ca/handle/10393/39010
Despite the five audits complete, including a sixth by our funders to ensure proper program spending-all expenditures were all accounted for; despite the loss of $300,000 in funding; despite being denied four years in a row for aboriginal language initiatives funding-meanwhile 35 years of our archives on magnetic video tape is slowly deteriorating, we have managed to survive. And we want to thank those communities who joyfully celebrate jamborees on our airwaves, without you we would not be here. Thank you sincerely. Also, thank you to all the NAN agencies who have supported us and our translation and broadcasting. Our next five years will be growth geared to the youth, with upgraded infrastructure and a new brand to be proud of in our distinct languages of Nishanawbe Aski Nation.