Hundreds of radio stations across Canada help give Indigenous people a voice

Turning on your favourite radio station is going to sound a bit different today.

“It’s going to be different, it's going to be fantastic, it's going to be an eye-opening experience for everyone I think,” said Bryan Cooper from Pure Country 91.7 in Sudbury.

For the first time, hundreds of radio stations across Canada are joining forces to help amplify Indigenous voices. A Day to Listen will include Bell Media, Rogers Sports & Media, Stingray Radio and many more.

“Typically we have fun games and we have fun segments and we’re actually going to skip the majority of those real fun things that we would typically do on a regular weekday morning and we’re going to dedicate it to this feature, this program that happens all day long – a day to listen,” said Cooper. “So you’re going to be hearing stories, again from residential school survivors, elders, musicians and teachers.”

“This is a collaboration of hundreds of radio stations right across the country, from all different markets and regions, it was a no-brainer for us. We had to take part and we’re very much looking forward to this, first of its kind.”

Stories from elders, teachers, Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors will all be showcased.

“There’s really a wide range of messages and experiences and perspectives being shared,” said Sarah Midanik, president and CEO of the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund.

“But I think one thing that I can say pretty confidently is there is a message of hope woven throughout the day.”

The project will see at least 17 Indigenous voices being showcased between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on radio stations across the country. Locally, people can also call in to share their own experiences or thoughts.

“I really hope this is just the start,” said Midanik. “I mean, these are just 17 voices and there are thousands and thousands across the country that all Canadians could really benefit from hearing from. So I hope that A Day To Listen is just the catalyst to have Indigenous content, have Indigenous broadcasters, have space continue to be held to hear Indigenous voices.”

The day is being staged in recognition of National Indigenous History Month and in light of the recent discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools.

Truth is coming out

“This is the truth that’s coming out,” said Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod. “And as uncomfortable as it may feel, and you know, for a lot of people I understand it kind of ruins their lily-white history of what they thought this country was about, but until we acknowledge it and face it head on, you know, we can’t move on to the part where we all heal and we can all move forward together.”

Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare said the day is appreciated, but more needs to be done.

“It’s long overdue,” he said. “You know, we’ve been talking about reconciliation for what, 50 plus years? And every time one of us gets killed or whatever, murdered and missing women, the government pops right up and you know, we need truth and reconciliation, we need this, they’re just words. But I’m sure we appreciate it now, now that people are listening and we want to move forward together.”

Hare said being treated as equals the right of all people.

"And a lot of people, over the years, every time we would talk about this, maybe in a restaurant or whatever, ‘oh you guys are just exaggerating or you just want money,’" he said.

"Well it’s not money now. It’s -- to the greatest extent -- it’s murder. In hundreds. And I know nobody wants to say that word, but what else can I call it?”

Being the first of its kind, officials hope it’s an eye-opening experience for everyone across the country.

“Whether it’s reading the Truth and Reconciliation 94 calls to action, whether it’s signing the 215 pledge at, whether it’s building relationships with Indigenous communities in your area, continuing to learn, enrolling in a free course, or really just learning more, listening more, and really just opening your hearts and minds to understanding the impact of these horrific tragedies inflicted upon Indigenous people in this country,” said Midanik.

“The hope is to be able to share the truths and have the rest of Canada, and not just Indigenous Canada,” McLeod added.

“If we're going to really move into the area of reconciliation, we first have to deal with the truth.”