The mission of Reviving Kanehsatà:ke Radio (RKR) 101.7 FM has a lot to do with the Kanien’kéha language, with preserving and broadcasting slivers of Kanesatake history, with strengthening culture in the community. In other words, talking to elders is a big part of what the radio station is all about.
So what better place to operate than the Riverside Elders Home?
This idea is finally on its way to becoming a reality after the Kanesatake Health Center (KHC), which manages the elders’ home, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with RKR on January 17, nearly a year after talks began.
“In our culture, we have a high respect for our elders and a lot of our fluent first-language speakers are elders today, and we need to record them. We need to record their stories. We need to record their voices so we can preserve the language and so we can learn from it,” said Karahkóhare Syd Gaspé.
The station was previously situated at Riverside in the early stages of its revival.
Gaspé hopes the location might be viewed as inviting by elders who live elsewhere in the community. Those who live at Riverside might also choose to get involved, he said.
A separate building is already planned for RKR on the Riverside site as the station’s future permanent home. This agreement has not yet been signed, but the previous Council approved it unanimously, according to Gaspé, and public consultations have been done.
Currently, the space inside the elders home – which has a separate entrance that will help ensure elders are not disturbed by station activities – should finally provide space for a working studio for the station, which has been relying on remote production. This has prohibited regular live programming and has even inhibited the station’s popular bingo.
“We’re only doing bingo once a month because we don’t have a place,” Gaspé said. “The reason is each time we do bingo, I have to set up all the equipment. It’s a very complex setup technically. It’s so complex I didn’t even bother showing anyone how to do it.”
Gaspé, a private contractor in the radio business, has accumulated a lot of used radio equipment over the years, including a transmitter that is on loan from a colleague. This hodgepodge of gadgets will be installed in the space provided by KHC to permit RKR to function more like a conventional radio station.
“Right now it makes me feel excited. It’s like you’re moving to another step. It’s a milestone,” said Gaspé.
“It’s just been running out of my home office, where the main automation computer is running,” he continued. “Having to ask collaborators to do recordings from home and teaching them and showing them, and everybody’s got a different type of setup, it’s very difficult to manage all of that. It’s going to be much easier to manage one place and have a home base. People can know where we are.”
The partnership is also an exciting step for KHC, according to its executive director, Teiawenhniseráhte Tomlinson.
“To me, it was easy, another opportunity to promote collaboration between community organizations, and RKR’s involvement with language revitalization efforts made things even more interesting,” said Tomlinson.
He noted that the partnership requires only minimal KHC resources, making it a win for everybody involved.
“When you first look at it, one could easily assume that we are outside the scope of our mandate, and I can understand that. But when you look from a different angle, when you take into consideration a broader scope, it makes perfect sense,” he said.
He noted that RKR broadcasts community events, helps local organizations communicate to Kanehsata’kehró:non, creates opportunities for youth, and is committed to promoting Kanien’kéha and other cultural tenets.
“Really, it’s a much-added value in terms of improving community wellness, and it is well within our scope and mandate to have a hand in helping with that in terms of mental health and the social and community context of the social determinants of health,” he said.
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.