by Carly Forbes

Carly Forbes: Can you start out by sharing with us how you became involved in community radio?

Gunargie O’Sullivan: For the 18 years I lived in the Fraser Valley, I listened to CKNW (Vancouver Talk/News Radio) 12 hours a day. I realized that a lot of people, especially the government didn’t value our First Nations people. They didn’t value our values, our morals. They didn’t want to hear about the fish anymore or any injustices. It always seemed like they were always yelling at us about something or another. It usually had to do with resources, the fish, the trees, the timber, the water, the oil. Everything.


It was a lot of stereotypical material out there about First Nations people. Listening to mainstream radio really gave me a hate on for myself. I didn’t know what it was that I was feeling. I couldn’t identify it because I was living in it. I never got a break from it.

One day when I was 19 years-old I went into Mission to get my status card. While I was there, you have to fill out all of your statistics. Who your Mom was, who you maybe thought your dad was, what year you were born and so on. We had a local newspaper here at the time called Kahtou. My brother, Raymond Williams, who worked on a show here at Coop radio, here on a show called When Spirit Whispers. He went and he put in an ad for this local paper and said he was looking for his sister, who was probably adopted in the 70s and was probably around 19 years-old. And our mom is Thelma Williams.

It just so happened that the lady who helped me fill out my application at the friendship centre read the ad and she put one and two together. She called my adopted mom and said, you know Cheryl, that’s my first name, her brother is looking for her. My Mom met Raymond first and made sure everything was copasetic. And then they contacted me. And then I got to meet my brother for the first time when I was 19 years-old. He worked at the radio station and he recognized that I had a gift for words and he thought that radio would be a good fix for me and he brought me into the station.

Carly: How has being involved at Coop radio helped you build community for yourself?

Gunargie: I have managed to build a really great community of artists. We had a lot going on in our community that simply wasn’t being covered. I knew that we had a strong group of literary artists based in Vancouver, who were poets and writing short stories. We had the union of BC Indian Chiefs right here in our back yard. We had theatre and musicians. And we have issues and news that needs to be addressed. When I started out, I mostly played music and PSAs (Public Service Announcements). I was stuck in a colonial mind and it was radio that drummed it out to me. I started playing music and then I started going out to events. When you do radio there are events that are happening that you need to cover. There are book launches, poetry readings. These events got me out into the community and they still do to this day. I can record things with my phone, I can pick up some interviews and I can bring them to the station. Just those things alone help me as a journalist, as a reporter but it also helps me build that relationship with people in the community. Community radio, at this radio station especially, Coop radio is becoming like my second home. I know a lot of the other programmers and I make a point to talk to them and build that relationship of understanding. There’s no better place than Coop radio because we are a multi-cultural establishment. We have every kind of person you could imagine at this station.

I go out into the community sometimes and people if they are having problems with the ministry, the police, or an organization, they will come and tell me. I have become a maternal person for people. Someone they can go and tell if they are not being treated equal.

Community radio has helped me become comfortable in my own skin as a First Nations Woman. In the 90s, the Oka crisis affected me deeply when I saw the coverage that we were getting. It tarred us with a really bad brush. It painted us as violent people, as aggressive people. It made us seem as if we had no rights. And if we look at what’s happening at Standing Rock. We have people out there who recognize that the media isn’t covering it. It does not matter what mainstream media wants to cover anymore because it’s in our hands. If we left it to mainstream media, we would believe that the water Protectors are being violent yet we have all over social media images of them praying, singing and dancing in ceremony peacefully while the are being rioted by police and and bullied with their pepper spray and dogs.

When the Oka crisis happened it made me feel sick to my stomach. It also turned me around from wanting to be a white girl to wanting to be First Nations and wanting to be proud. I wanted to stand alongside my people and do what I could. Communicating with others build that bridge and relationships.

Carly: I was wondering if you could talk a bit about the people who have mentored and inspired you?

Gunargie: Obviously the first one to inspire me was my brother Raymond Williams. He at the time was working with a few women, Panechi, Kelly White, and Kerry Chanley. They were all basically women at the time who were running the shows here. They inspired me a lot. They had strong cultural background, they had backbone, they were articulate and they were committed to community radio at a time that was crucial. A lot of people were coming back to their families. They were making their journey back to their people. It was important to have strong culturally minded people culture and the traditions. I think that turned me around from being shy of being native and of the culture and traditions to accepting it and embracing it.

I was also influenced by CKMW and mainstream media. I grew up on it. I am not kidding you when I say 12 hours a day. I learned that a broadcaster has a lot of influence on how people feel about Indigenous people. There was a need for First Nations broadcasters. We needed to be heard, to celebrate our skills and our talent. I know that we have a strong background in the arts. We are oral storytellers, we are dancers, and we are singers. The only way that we can influence other people who are on the same journey as me, coming back to their people, coming back to being who they really are. It’s hard to ask questions. It’s a hard place to be to have to go back and meet your brother. It’s a hard place to be to have to go back a find out who your dad was. For a lot of people out there who haven’t experienced child apprehension, or displacement. You don’t realize, knowing when your mom was born and when your mom died, it’s not a luxury. It doesn’t just end there. We don’t know anything about ourselves and there’s a big void and that’s where we come in here at this station. We fill the airwaves with positive things and also things that need to be addressed. I have also learned from those I have mentored like os12 aka Ronnie Dean Harris and Suzette Amaya on how to take it to the next level. The advice I would give is to take charge of your media, honour and allow your community to tell truths of matters we are most affected by.

Carly: Could you share with us, some of the work you have done as part of Resonating Reconciliation?

Gunargie: We had shows here at Coop radio way before Truth and Reconciliation raised its head. One of those was called Hidden From History and another was When Spirit Whispers. I was taking an employment course at YWCA, during that time, the announcement for the residential school agreement came out. And people had to sign this agreement, opt in or opt out. When I found this on the internet I was thinking, Wow I haven’t seen this anywhere and I’m a residential school survivor and an intergenerational survivor. The proposed agreement had been out for a month or two. I had applied to go to the Gulf Island Film School for an intensive week or two of filmmaking. I proposed PSAs and a little short on the residential school agreement. That’s how I began covering the residential school agreement and also the idea of truth and reconciliation. I continued to work on stories about residential schools and ideas of reconciliation. At the same time, I became engaged in the National Community Radio Association (NCRA). I started networking with others and collaborating on projects. I did a show on CJSF which is on Burnaby Mountain called Nation to Nation. One year we went to the National Community Radio Association Conference (NCRC). Sarah Buchanan and I collaborated on recording the UN declaration on Indigenous people. We engaged a whole bunch of other people from the NCRA. They lent us their voice to read articles from the UN declaration. We were building relationships from station to station, from nation to nation. Another year I went to the NCRC and the residential school agreement had just been approved and we got the national apology.  CBC was there and the approached the native caucus and they said they wanted to shoot the native caucus watching the apology on TV. Just before the camera crew came in and the apology was being announced, I ran from one workshop to another and banged on the door and said “I’m Gunargie O’Sullivan, from the Native Caucus, and CBC is going to be filming us watching the apology and I think it’s important that you come and sit with us.”

That’s what really piqued my interested. That is how I began building a stronger relationship with the members of the NCRA and the board. In particular, the Executive Director Shelley Robinson, who was a really, enthusiastic, inspiring, and compassionate. At that point, Shelley and I got together and I told her about this funding that was available. We talked about doing a project that would fund forty stations across the country, and they would go out and find people to train as producers and they would go out into the community that they were connected to to collect stories about residential schools and reconciliation. They got funding to hire a producer or two producers from their community. Those producers went out and did a documentary on residential survivors and intergenerational survivors. That was a year long project. Some of those stations felt the need and compelled to make two or three documentaries and we ended up with 70 radio documentaries about truth and reconciliation in Canada.

It takes more than one person to reconcile. I think we’re just at the beginning. We are just at the point where we get to reconcile with ourselves. We can begin mending the ways with our families but it starts with us. It’s important that you listen to those documentaries so that you understand what it is that we’re reconciling. It’s important for us to tell those stories through radio, through film, in plays, until we get what it is that we are trying to fix.

UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples: Indigenous Media

“Article 16 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in their own languages and to have access to all forms of non-indigenous media without discrimination.

8 2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that State-owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity. States, without prejudice to ensuring full freedom of expression, should encourage privately owned media to adequately reflect indigenous cultural diversity.”

Listen to Gunargie Live on Coop Radio

When Spirit Whispers Mondays 1pm PST

Sne’Whaylh Tuesdays 1pm PST

Late night with Savages Wednesdays 11pm PST

Kla How Ya Thursdays 5pm PST

Listen to The Resonating Reconciliation Documentaries

UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples: Indigenous Media

“Article 16 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in their own languages and to have access to all forms of non-indigenous media without discrimination.

8 2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that State-owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity. States, without prejudice to ensuring full freedom of expression, should encourage privately owned media to adequately reflect indigenous cultural diversity.”

Carly Forbes

Carly Forbes

Carly Forbes is a queer settler living and working as a nurse on Anishinaabe territory in Thunder Bay, On.  She has volunteered as the National Coordinator of GroundWire Community Radio News and is a member of the steering committee.
Gunargie O’sullivan

Gunargie O’sullivan

Gunargie O’sullivan is essentially a multi media artist whose specialty is in communications. She has mentored several people of all denominations in radio production .Most recently she served as NCRA (National Community and campus Radio Association ) National Program coordinator in the production of over 40 radio Documentaries. She is producer and host of 4 radio shows at Co op Radio. and is one of the content producers and hosts of Access Community Television.Gunargie has also produced three short films, Unsettling, Power of Prayer and Demolishing  Grief.She is the proud mom of Nimkish who is 23 years-old nd Aisha Grief.She is the proud mom of Nimkish who is 23 years-old nd Aisha who is 11 years-old who she describes as multi talented and self motivated