Earlier in the semester we watched an episode of “Blackstone,” an original Canadian series airing on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). The show held the same tension and drama as most American network series, yet with one glaring difference: the setting was a Canadian reserve, what we call a reservation here in the states. We found it refreshing to be exposed to this narrative and many of us continued to watch the series as it is streaming online. Yet, I found two things troubling: 1) it was difficult for me to watch the show critically out of fear of diminishing its representative importance, and 2) that we found it refreshing at all because the stories of Native Americans are non-existent here at home.
In February, the APTN announced that it was gearing up to launch a similar channel in the United States. An article on the web site Jezebel quotes CEO Jean La Rose saying “We think the time is right for Native Americans to have their own channel.” The idea of Native Americans creating, acting in, and producing their own stories is long overdue. Too often the stories of Native Americans are told by white historians, anthropologists, politicians—when those stories are told at all.
The introduction of a channel devoted the Native American stories has one large obstacle—the reality that it will be relegated to the upper reaches of the cable or satellite channel guide and be relatively undiscoverable to the average viewer. That Native Americans will be interested in a channel that streams their own stories does not appear to be in dispute, but the real challenge will be branching out to a more general audience, giving the American public a chance to have contemporary indigenous people and stories begin to overwrite the “Hollywood Indian” that is so much a part of American culture. I have has the same concerns about other networks devoted to one demographic—allowing people to create an echo chamber of their own thoughts or identity, but not necessarily reaching out to a broader audience.
I hope that the creation of this new channel not only creates huge opportunities for Native Americans to tell their own stories in their own way, but what I really hope is that the providers assign the channel a “remote friendly” number, so that the average viewer, switching between the Kardashians and ESPN will stumble upon something entertaining, engaging and unlike anything they have every seen.