First-ever indigenous people’s channel launches with limited distribution

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The United States’ first 24/7 television channel for indigenous people has begun airing on a handful of public television stations across the country. The channel’s launch was limited, as producing station KVCR in San Bernardino, Calif., seeks a national distribution deal and additional funding.

In addition to KVCR, FNX: First Nations Experience is carried by KEET in Eureka, Calif., LPTV in Bemidji, Minn., and Navajo Nation TV-5, which covers parts of New Mexico and Arizona. Chicago’s WYCC and Oklahoma’s CATV-47 plan to begin airing the channel soon. Meanwhile, technical difficulties with FNX equipment have delayed its launch on Wyoming PBS.

The mission of FNX, as described by General Manager Kenn Couch, is to explore the culture and history of Native Americans and indigenous people around the world, topics largely ignored by mainstream media. Original content includes In Our Words, featuring short interviews with noteworthy community members; People of the Pines, presenting 30- to 60-minute documentaries; and FNX Now, a series of short news segments. The channel also airs programs from Vision Maker Media, the Native media production nonprofit funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

The grant that provided startup funding for FNX — $2.5 million a year awarded by California’s San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians — will run out in 2014.

“We are currently settling commitments for future funding, but that’s just not something I can talk about,” Couch said.

Couch has talked with PBS about offering FNX’s programs nationally, but thus far nothing has come of those conversations. Couch has requested distribution of FNX through the public TV interconnection system, which PBS manages, according to Jan McNamara, PBS spokeswoman. PBS agreed to assist with a formal request to the Interconnection Committee, she wrote in an email.

“My understanding is that we are organizing some material now,” she said.

There is certainly a market for what FNX is selling. Several station programmers told Current they are excited about the channel and believe it will help them improve service to Native American communities.

“When you think of Native American culture, what you’re used to seeing on television is historical figures,” said FNX production director Frank Blanquet.

FNX aims to show the diversity of contemporary Native American communities, Blanquet said.

“It’s a regular community. It just happens to have a native or indigenous ancestry.”

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