“Indigenizing” the Bush Pilot in CBC’s Arctic Air
AbstractWhen the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) cut original programming in 2014, it cancelled the drama that had earned the network’s highest ratings in over a decade. Arctic Air, based on Omni Films’ reality TV show Buffalo Air, created a diverse cast of characters around a Dene bush pilot and airline co-owner played by Adam Beach. Despite its cancellation, episodes can still be viewed on the CBC website, and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) has continued broadcasting the popular show. Through a content analysis of Arctic Air and its associated paratext, read in relation to the stock Canadian literary figure of the heroic bush pilot, this article argues that when viewed on the CBC, the program visually “Indigenizes” the bush pilot character, but suggests only one way forward for Indigenous people. On the “national broadcaster,” the imagined urban, multicultural North of Arctic Air—in which Indigenous people are one cultural group among others participating in commercial ventures—serves to normalize resource development and extraction. Broadcast on APTN, however, where the show appears in the context of programming that represents Indigenous people in a wide range of roles, genres, and scenarios, Arctic Air takes on new meaning.
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