CBC Digital Archives

Our Native Land: Haven or hell? Life on skid row

On Saturday afternoons for 21 years, dedicated listeners would "get their bannock and tea," and tune into CBC Radio for news from Our Native Land. The first - and so far only - national radio program focused on native issues and cultures, it chronicled the rejuvenation of native literature, art, culture and political activism beginning in 1965. Hosts included Johnny Yesno, Bernelda Wheeler, Albert Angus and Brian Maracle, who were part of the all-aboriginal production team.

"I don't want to live in white man society and I don't want to die, so we create another society of our own. But it's an ugly society," says one skid row resident. To salute the work of outgoing host Bernelda Wheeler, Our Native Land airs her powerful 1976 documentary about native people living on skid row. Reports on the West Coast fishery, the battle by children of mixed couples for Indian status, and alleged corruption by Navajo chief Peter MacDonald make up the show's first half. 
• Migration from native reservations to Canada's urban centers increased rapidly in the 1960s. Some native people saw the city as an opportunity to escape the poverty, abysmal housing and overcrowded conditions plaguing many reserves. In 1966, 70 per cent of Canada's First Nations people lived on reserves; by 1986, 59 per cent lived on reserves.

• While only a minority of native migrants lived on skid row, it offered a haven to the rampant racism and discrimination that plagued many new migrants from native reservations. "Skid row stands between the limitations and constraints of a rural reserve and the rejection and alienation of a white-dominated city life," reported Indians on Skid Row, published by the Indian Affairs Department of Canada in 1971.

• Bernelda Wheeler worked as a contributor, co-host and host on Our Native Land for more than 10 years. Born on the Gordon Indian Reserve in Saskatchewan, Wheeler started in radio as a DJ for CBC's Northern Service in Churchill, Man. She was one of the first female aboriginal journalists in Canada. Bernelda Wheeler died on Sept. 10, 2005 at age 68. 
Medium: Radio
Program: Our Native Land
Broadcast Date: Oct. 2, 1982
Guest(s): Maria Campbell, Emily Ghostkeeper, Peter Macdonald, Brian Maracle, Peter Pierce, Marlene Ranville, John Rivard, Kathy Saltzman, Sam Sinclair, Neil Sterritt
Host: Tom McCullough
Reporter: Bernelda Wheeler, Marc Schreiber, Greg Dixon, Mark Trehan
Duration: 43:29
This clip has been edited for copyright reasons.
Photo credit: Winnipeg Tribune photo collection, 1977.

Last updated: February 6, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

A Lost Heritage: Residential Schools extra cl...

In 1928, a government official predicted Canada would end its "Indian problem" within two gene...

The Battle for Aboriginal Treaty Rights

It's a battle over the land and its resources. The fight has taken place on the land, in the c...

A Lost Heritage: Canada's Residential Schools

In 1928, a government official predicted Canada would end its "Indian problem" within two gene...

1981: Native people fight for constitutional ...

Thousands of native people stage demonstrations over the omission of native rights in the new ...

Georges Erasmus: Native Rights Crusader

Georges Henry Erasmus has a dream: Self-government for the native peoples of Canada. The chari...

Phil Fontaine: Native Diplomat and Dealmaker

Don't be fooled by his soft-spoken and conciliatory manner. Phil Fontaine has been a dominant ...