The office space for the Indigenous Screen Office finally opened in the CBC building in Toronto in January 2020, following two years of remote work for our small team. The office closed on March 13, 2020 and has not reopened since. Such is the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on many places of work. Luckily, shifting to remote work was not hard, as that is how we began, and we were able to respond to the needs of the sector swiftly and effectively.
The pandemic, as it has for the entire cultural sector, not only caused a shift in working conditions, for many of the artists and storytellers we support, it meant a stop to work in the short and long term. The ISO was able to respond to the sector’s needs alongside the other major funders, by providing immediate assistance to First Nations, Inuit and Métis storytellers and companies. As outlined in this report, we distributed many times the amount we did the year before with only a handful of staff, and no built systems of support. Our goal was to help those in need, and to ensure that the sector would retain the momentum it had before the pandemic and be poised for a quick recovery.
At the same time, we launched a solidarity fund in the wake of ongoing police violence against Black people in both Canada and the U.S.. Our leadership has helped build capacity at some of our cousin organizations, while demonstrating our strategic and community-centered leadership, which further demonstrated that the ISO was prepared to grow and meet the needs of our community in the long term.
The sustained advocacy of many, including the ISO, yielded results over the last year in the currently proposed Bill C-10, which would update the Canadian Broadcasting Act. This update includes the elimination of qualifying language that had proven to be an escape valve for the Canadian broadcasting sector to avoid having to engage with Indigenous storytelling.
The proposed changes would require an increase in Indigenous-created content among the broadcast system and would require the CRTC to compel supports to aid in the meeting of these new service conditions. While we are still awaiting passage of the bill and the resulting CRTC direction, this is a long overdue win for the Indigenous screen sector and represents a new normal for the entire industry.
Finally, in its most recent federal budget, the Government of Canada announced a $40 million investment into the ISO over the next three years. While this figure amounts to roughly half of the requested amount, it is nonetheless the largest investment in Indigenous screen content since the founding of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) more than 20 years ago. This investment roughly doubled the amount currently earmarked for Indigenous storytelling at Telefilm and the Canada Media Fund (CMF).
While 2020 was a year of challenges, it was also a year of remarkable growth and accomplishment for the ISO. Not only did we deliver emergency funding while adapting to remote work, we also developed new programs, led the push for legislative change and received core funding for our operations and programs. We are incredibly proud of the work of all staff, past and present, and thankful for the support of our partners, the government, and our
communities. We would particularly like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank the ISO founding Board of Directors: Jean LaRose (Chair), Dorothy Christian and Brock Roe. We look forward to continued growth in 2021-22, including the launch of our programs, completion of our latest community consultation, and expansion of our staff and operations.
Jesse Wente and Kerry Swanson
Read the full ISO Annual Report here: ISO Annual Report 2020-21