The Essentials of CKON By One of Its Founders
Radio CKON was designed to serve the needs of the Akwesasne Mohawk community, to encourage the growth and retention of our culture, to provide a Mohawk perspective on historical and current events, to promote aboriginal entertainment, to become a primary means of expression using Mohawk language and to enhance the region’s understanding and appreciation for the Nation.
The Akwesasne Communications Society was formed in the spring of 1982 to oversee a radio broadcasting facility including the drafting of rules and procedures designed to insure that all of its activities are consistent with our indigenous values while securing the economic viability of the Society. Radio CKON was meant to be an extension of the inherent sovereignty of the Mohawk Nation which is why the Society secured the support and approval of the only governing entity at Akwesasne which can historically, legally and logically lay claim to national status; this was the Mohawk Nation Council.
As part of its philosophy to promote unity and the concept of a single Akwesasne people undivided by the arbitrary actions of alien governments the ACS sought to forge a working relationship among all three councils: the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, the St. Regis Tribal Council and the Mohawk Nation.
The ACS was met with unique support from those three. This was expressed by the granting of land to the Society by the St. Regis Tribal Council and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne astride the imaginary boundary located in Kanatakon, which happened to be the highest point of natural elevation in the area. Its proximity to Kaniatarowanenneh meant its waters would enhance CKON’s radio signal while the physical location of the ACS building was a clear sign to all that we could work together to remove the restrictions the external agencies have imposed upon us and function in this instance as a unified people.
Essential credit for this historical act of diplomacy must be given to the late Salli Benedict who not only worked closely with all three governments but also secured the funds to construct the Society’s building, transmitter and tower. She merits formal recognition and I suggest naming the center in her honour.
While the Tribal Council and the MCA gave the Society vital economic and territorial support the Mohawk Nation Council granted a broadcast license, which enabled the station to begin on air operations on October 1, 1984. The license was not issued in perpetuity but was to be renewed by the Nation Council periodically to insure our actions were consistent with not only our stated intent but also whether we were continuing to be sensitive to the values and needs of the Mohawk people.
CKON was visible, tangible proof that the Mohawks of Akwesasne could work together regardless of residency. The founding members of the Society were: Francis Boots, Salli Benedict, Brian Cole, Lloyd Benedict, Diane Lazore, Frank David and myself. Others joined but we had procedures to insure continuity and fair representation. Our terms of service as board members was to be set by the Mohawk Nation Council since it was, as we all agreed, the most stable of governments at Akwesasne and less subject to political change and the influence which that brings about. The Nation Council also sponsored the publications Akwesasne Notes and Indian Time, overseeing both publications through a special committee. It was successful in doing so, hence the logic of extending that to the ACS.
The ACS was designed to be objective in its operations with regards to religion, politics and economics. Its membership could not receive financial rewards for their service other than extraordinary expenses incurred at the specific approval of the board. All ACS board members served because they demonstrated a true care and compassion for Akwesasne beyond mere money.
Language was all-important to the ACS. In a time of linguistic stress and loss it was deemed essential to broadcast as much of CKON’s content as possible in Mohawk. This directive was central to the Society and underscored its hiring practices. We actively sought, and hired, those individuals who could speak Mohawk on the air. We were fortunate in having broadcasters during that time who could be heard on a daily basis using Mohawk as the primary means of expression. We also offered elementary Mohawk language lessons throughout the day.
Radio CKON’s call letters were selected because they were close to “sekon”. We debated about secured licenses from Canada and the US but in our research determined there were no rules, no legislation, no court ruling which in any way qualified our aboriginal right to use our air space for radio transmissions according to our needs. It was our goal to move into telephone telecommunications (cell phones) and internet service for all of Akwesasne once we had the resources and technology.
The current situation at Radio CKON and the Akwesasne Communications Society needs to be examined by the community. After 30 years changes are inevitable providing we adhere to our primary goal: to make Akwesasne stronger in terms of a distinct, growing and creative aboriginal community. As to how we achieve that there may be differences of opinion and intense debate but in the end it is the duty by the Mohawk Nation Council to insure the end resolutions are peaceful, respectful and lead to a restoration of harmony for the good of the people.
CKON was, and must be, by the Mohawks, for the Mohawks and with the Mohawks.