EDMONTON (CP) _ Its cringe-inducing, racist humour is what strikes film audiences first. A merry radio-style jingle and a man playing an aboriginal announcer named Ernie Scar draw listeners into a phenomenon known as "Brocket 99" _ an underground audio tape that critics say has spread hatred against aboriginals for over two decades.
The tape, made in the mid-1980s by a disc jockey in southern Alberta, purports to be a broadcast from an aboriginal radio station in Brocket _ home to the Piikani First Nation, the smallest segment of the Blackfoot tribe in southern Alberta. It is filled with racist jokes, cruel fake newscasts, tasteless public service announcements and music by the rock band AC/DC.
Now a Vancouver filmmaker has documented how its racist message spread to thousands of Canadians through an underground network of bootleg tapes and eventually an official website.
One part of "Brocket 99" features Scar solemnly announcing the death of a man killed while lying on the highway. While a piano softly tinkles in the background, the announcer _ speaking in what’s supposed to be an aboriginal accent _ discusses the man’s funeral and adds that "everybody who knew him is asked to attend and bring a case of beer."
In another segment, a man calls a substance abuse help line, only to receive directions on where to score alcohol and drugs. A phoney commentary on substance abuse pretends to denounce the notion that "most Indians are drunken bums" with the announcer explaining that "only three are not drunkards and bums, but we’re working on them very hard to get them associated with the rest of us and make sure they see our way of thinking and drinking."
The cult status of the tape and what it says about racism in Canada were irresistible to filmmaker Nilesh Patel, 31.
His film "Brocket 99 _ Rockin’ the Country" is making the rounds of film festivals in Canada and making audiences squirm.
Patel, an Indo-Canadian raised in Prince George, B.C., first heard a bootleg of the tape in the early 1990s, when he and his teenage friends huddled in a car in his high school parking lot to listen. During the making of his film in 2004, Patel discovered it was an experience likely shared by thousands of teens just like himself _ who were repulsed by the tape, but who also laughed at its nasty native stereotypes.
"I started realizing that people who grew up outside of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal had a very good chance of hearing this tape at some point," Patel said while preparing for a screening at the Edmonton International Film Festival.
The film documents his journey through such places as the Calgary Stampede midway and the South Country Fair near Fort Mcleod, a southern Alberta town where he finds beer-drinking louts and hip kids who’ve all heard copies of the tape.
"It’s a super-racist and offensive tape, but it still makes you laugh," says one young man.
"I went to school with a large native population who thought it was pretty funny," says a woman clutching a beer bottle. "But there’s a line you have to draw."
Drew Hayden Taylor, an award-winning Ojibwa playwright, author and humourist, isn’t laughing. It’s clearly racist, he says, "considering it’s coming from non-native people and every portrayal of native characters within that radio show is negative, derogatory and unappealing."
"But I don’t think it’s indicative of a large part of Canadian culture," Hayden Taylor said from Ann Arbor, Mich., where he’s a university writer in residence.
Martin Whittles first heard the tape as a professor of anthropology at the University of Lethbridge in 1995, when a student asked if he could write an essay on it.
Whittles, now an interim dean at Thompson Rivers University in central B.C., calls it "vile and vicious."
"To isolate those particular icons that non-aboriginal people tend to focus on … things like the stereotype of ‘just another drunken Indian’ _ and to use that as the hinge of humour in order to make light of that … is really not only hurtful, but I think it’s actually inspiring hatred in the non-aboriginal community."
Patel, who showed his film at September film festivals in Thunder Bay, Ont., Calgary and Edmonton, says he hopes it helps people understand the nature of "silent racism" in Canada.
The film’s next screening is set for Nov. 5 at Vancouver’s Asian Film Festival.