Indigenous radio archive project works towards preserving three decades of First Nations history

Photo of Dan Smoke, Marni Harrington and Mary Lou Smoke

By Kritanjali Battig

April 2022

Project co-leads Marni Harrington (pictured) and Paulette Rothbauer are working with Dan Smoke and Mary Lou Smoke (pictured) to preserve decades of work produced through the Smoke Signals Radio Show

Since the 1990s, the Smoke Signals Radio Show—a First Nations radio program hosted by Dan Smoke and Mary Lou Smoke—has explored the nuances of Indigenous culture, customs and beliefs and featured guests with diverse stories and worldviews. As the longest-running Indigenous radio program in Canada, the show has provided listeners with an expanse of invaluable knowledge and provided a local Indigenous, grassroots view of historical shifts, music and current events. Dan Smoke, a member of the Seneca Nation, Killdeer Clan, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, and Mary Lou Smoke, a member of the Ojibway Nation, Bear Clan, from Batchawana Bay on Lake Superior, have carved a space for meaningful discourse to showcase the multifaceted and diverse forms of Indigeneity by Indigenous peoples, for Indigenous peoples and others in local, national and international communities.

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The Smoke Signals show was sparked in 1990, when Dan and Mary Lou Smoke were invited to host a 15-minute guest segment on Western's CHRW to help explain the events of the Mohawk Resistance from an Indigenous perspective. They were subsequently offered their own timeslot on the station and Smoke Signals was born.

The depth of Indigenous knowledge and traditional teachings contained in the collection of program episodes is extensive and offers an opportunity to inform and educate both the local and international communities. To ensure that the content will be accessible to the public, and to honour the work of the Smokes, faculty and students from Western University have been working with Dan and Mary Lou to create an online digital repository and archive to showcase selected episodes from the 1990s to the 2000s.

“Although each episode is its own discrete piece, there are so many offshoots. It’s the musicians, it’s the music, it’s the guests they’re talking to, it’s the events they’re talking about. These are all so far reaching and a part of history,” said FIMS Library Director Marni Harrington, who is co-leading the project.

The Smoke Signals Radio Show Archive project aligns with FIMS’ work towards decolonizing the library and curriculum by bringing forward diverse voices and narratives from a wide range of sources.

The focus is on transcribing the episodes, cleaning up the digitized files, and journaling the metadata so that it can be searched easily by filters such as time period, event, guest, or nation.

Harrington notes that the project is still at an early stage of development, with the goal to make three episodes available for each year spanning 1991 to 2009.

Orange graphic for Smoke Signals Radio Archive“The impact of the project is huge. Whether it’s a confrontation on a reserve or a fight over racism and discrimination, the first episodes that Dan and Mary Lou recorded in the early 90s include themes that come up over and over. It’s a deep well of historical Indigenous knowledge for Indigenous people in the area and across North America,” said Harrington.

"The archive demonstrates work that can be done to decolonize libraries by making Indigenous content like this available." - Marni Harrington

The hope is that the digital archive will appropriately honour the work and legacy of the Smokes, who have been educators, journalists, activists and Elders in the community and beyond for so long.

“Dan and Mary Lou are an inspiration. People know them from the volunteer work they’ve done, whether it's with the Juno Awards or other community organizations like Atlohsa. And it’s hard work. They have had their fair share of discrimination and roadblocks as journalists and the inspiration for the project comes from them.”

The archives project has received funding from the Faculty of Information and Media Studies and the FIMS Graduate Library, with digitization costs covered by the Faculty of Social Science. Harrington anticipates that the research team will be applying for funding across faculties to bring support to the project across the university.


This profile is part of a series written by graduate students in MMJC 9604 Professional Writing, during the Winter 2022 term. Profiles have been edited by FIMS Communications staff for clarity.