Indigenous

Kanesatake Mohawk community rallies to revive its radio station

CKHQ Kanesatake United Voices Radio has been off the air for more than a year

Posted: January 15, 2019
Last Updated: January 15, 2019

CKHQ Kanesatake United Voices Radio was launched in 1987 as a way to promote Mohawk language and culture. (Syd Karahkó:hare Gaspé)

Kanesatake is rallying to get its radio station, which hasn't been on the air in more than a year and a half after facing a number of obstacles, back up and and running.

"We're pretty much at ground zero, as if the station never existed," said Syd Karahkó:hare Gaspé, one of the co-founders of CKHQ Kanesatake United Voices Radio.

The station in the Mohawk community just north of Montreal has been operating on and off since 1987 on a mostly volunteer basis. But it hasn't been on the air since July 2017 after the building suffered extensive water damage.

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Last year, a Christian rock station in Lachute, Que., applied to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for a licence on the same frequency. 

The CRTC released a decision denying the Christian station's application on Dec. 3. Since then, community members in Kanesatake have been meeting regularly to find ways to revive its station.

"The main objective of our radio station in the community is to promote our Mohawk language, history, heritage and everything culture around that," said Gaspé.

Proposals to various funding sources have been submitted, fundraising efforts are in the works, and Gaspé said there's been support from other organizations in and around the community.

The building received water damage in 2017. Only a few pieces of equipment were salvageable. (Syd Karahkó:hare Gaspé)

Gaspé said they plan to continue to meet on a monthly basis to keep the momentum rolling. He said it will be a long process, but in the end it's important for the community.

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"Each day I've been getting my two or three opportunities of people wanting to help and in very concrete ways and funding and collaboration. It's actually really encouraging," he said.

"The way things are in Kanesatake, I almost call it a snake that goes through the whole community and we've got to fight that snake with positivity and this project is a very positive one."

For the time being, they're hoping to install a temporary transmitter in a shed near the old station's antenna in order to rebroadcast nearby Kahnawake's community radio station K1037, which is willing to offer them airtime.

Myrna Gabriel, James Nelson (centre) circa 2013-14. Both have spent time as DJs on CKHQ and are now helping revive the station. (Syd Karahkó:hare Gaspé)

"It's important to help out our sister community in any way that we can," said program director James "Java" Jacobs.

"Offering them airtime on K1037 while their radio station acts as a repeater is just one part of it. Until they are able to broadcast their own programming, we are willing to offer them some airtime because that's what Onkwehón:we do — we help each other out."

'Language is our identity'

K1037's culturally-relevant programming is something Kanesatake resident Myrna Gabriel is looking forward to hear more of.

"It's so important to hear the language. Even though we're busy doing something, we're hearing it, even if it's on in the background," said Gabriel.

"It keeps us grounded, to be reminded this is who we are. Language is our identity, so we need to hear it, we need to learn it, and we need to practise it all the time."

Gabriel has been attending the meetings that Gaspé organized because she found her voice on Kanesatake's radio station as a teenager when she volunteered as a DJ with her friends.

"We just really developed ourselves," said Gabriel. "I want to see that vehicle come back for our kids today, so that our teenagers now could find a passion for having that role in the community."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Deer
Journalist

Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. A former staff reporter for the Eastern Door, she works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at jessica.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.