Ottawa, February 21, 2018 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of the song “Squaws Along the Yukon” by Hank Thompson on the SiriusXM channel Willie’s Roadhouse. The CBSC concluded that the broadcast breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Equitable Portrayal Code, as well as the Human Rights clause of the CAB Code of Ethics due to the use of the word “squaw” and the portrayal of Indigenous women in the song.
“Squaws Along the Yukon” is a 1958 song by American country singer Hank Thompson. It contains the refrain “The squaws along the Yukon are good enough for me” as well as lines such as “She makes her underwear from the hides of grizzly bear” and “There’s a salmon-colored girl who sets my heart a-whirl”. A listener complained that the song is offensive.
Canadian satellite radio provider SiriusXM agreed to abide by the broadcast codes administered by the CBSC. SiriusXM argued, however, that the context of the song must be taken into consideration, namely that it is an old song played on a “classic” country station and that “older recordings may at times reflect the insensitivity and ignorance of past eras and on occasion may use language and convey views that are now viewed by society as outdated and inappropriate.”
The CBSC English-Language Panel acknowledged that context, but pointed out that, even historically, the word “squaw” had negative connotations. It also stated that the age of a song will not “save” it from breaching the codes and that “while the Panel does not believe the intent of the song was necessarily to be offensive, [...] the noted elements of the song demean and belittle Indigenous women.” The CBSC found breaches of the CAB Equitable Portrayal provisions relating to human rights, stereotyping, degradation, and language & terminology, as well as the human rights clause of the CAB Code of Ethics. One adjudicator did, however, emphasize the difficulty the CBSC faces when examining historical works.
The CBSC was created in 1990 by Canada’s private broadcasters to administer the codes of standards that they established for their industry. The CBSC currently administers 5 codes which deal with ethics, equitable portrayal, violence, news and journalistic independence. Around 800 radio stations, satellite radio services, conventional and discretionary television services across Canada participate in the Council.
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All CBSC decisions, codes, and related information are available on the CBSC’s website at . For more information, please contact the CBSC Chair, Sylvie Courtemanche, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 613-233-4607.