Student researchers taking a Native American Studies course have been digging into the underground phenomenon that is Brocket 99 and believe the information they've uncovered is worthy of a police investigation.
Professor Linda Many Guns outlined the students' findings at a presentation recently at the University of Lethbridge. Brocket 99 is an audio tape thought to have been created by Lethbridge radio figures in 1986. The tape's premise was a fictional radio station called Brocket 99 with a program hosted by a character named Ernie Scar. The tape parodies aboriginal people and excerpts can easily be found on the Internet.
"I'd never heard of it personally," said one of the student researchers. "When I looked it up I was like appalled; it was just disgusting. I think I got maybe five minutes in. I couldn't handle it, I shut it off because it was just that bad.
"It talked about how they . . . were all drunks and the only couple that weren't they were trying to convert them, I guess you could say, into being drunks and being the proper native way, being just a bum," she said. "Taking Native Studies classes I know a lot of native people and I know they're not like that; they're all really wonderful people and they're not how they were portrayed in that recording."
Another student researcher recalled hearing about Brocket 99 when she was in elementary school. She said she didn't find the content funny because a non-aboriginal person was making the jokes; it would have been a different matter if Brocket 99 had been created by an aboriginal person.
"If you knew the satire in aboriginal people it would be a lot different for us to hear a joke amongst our own, just like another different ethnic person," Weasel Fat said.
Many Guns said she came across the CD when she was looking for class material in the library.
"I brought it home and took a look and I was just appalled. I was astounded," she said.
Then she asked a couple of university students from Brocket about it.
"I asked them what they thought of it and their immediate reaction was shame and I realized at that point that something needs to be done," Many Guns said.
The students set to work. They say their research revealed the founder of Brocket 99 was a local DJ named Tim Hitchner and that Hitchner died in February 2011. In July 2003, United States-based Michael Anthony bought the rights to Brocket 99 from Hitchner. Anthony confirmed in an email he then started a website that sells CDs and downloads of the original parody and unreleased audio, interviews, out-takes and other merchandise, such as mugs and T-shirts.
The Brocket 99 website claims to donate a portion of proceeds to Friends of the Oglala Lakota, based in New Hampshire, and Caring for First Nations Children Society, based in Victoria, B.C.
Many Guns contacted Nancy Cayford, president of Friends of the Oglala Lakota, to ask about donations the organization received from Brocket 99. Cayford told Many Guns her organization hadn't received any donations from Brocket 99, something she also confirmed in a telephone call to the Lethbridge Herald. Yet the website posts a link to a thank-you letter it says is from Cayford. Cayford said she wrote the letter to a person who donated to the organization through PayPal.
"I can't believe they're using my letter without my permission," Cayford said. "It causes me a lot of concern."
In his email, Anthony said "I started donating sporadically two years ago. Donations to organizations are made from proceeds of Brocket 99. They are made via PayPal using my name and personal email address."
Anthony said he's donated less than $1,000 in total to various charities since Brocket 99 has never been a money maker and only affords him the odd tank of gas or the chance to take a friend to dinner.
A spokesman from the Caring for First Nations Children Society said the organization received five donations totalling nearly $30 from June 2010 to October 2011.
Anthony, who said he was not contacted by the students concerning their research, indicated he became aware of Brocket 99 in 1992 and initially thought it was simply a parody of a radio station. After he started the website he became aware of the controversy and opinions surrounding Brocket 99.
"I understand and respect the viewpoint of the students who say that Brocket 99 is racist," Anthony wrote. "I have spoken with people who live on the reservation and laugh. I have spoken to others who are angry. Every opinion has its own personal validity . . . Can Brocket 99 serve a greater purpose? I am believing that it can. Can we use something like Brocket 99 to begin to communicate about bigger issues? Racism. Alcoholism, poverty. Quality of life. Can we allow this parody to set a stage for real communication? I believe Brocket 99 can help to do just that," Anthony wrote.
Many Guns' students took their information to Piikani Nation chief and council and the tribal council committed to doing more research into the people and places that may be affected by images linked to the Brocket 99 website. They also contacted the city's inclusion consultant and invited three Lethbridge regional police officers to the presentation.
Sgt. Dan Walton said the police will review the information to see if there's evidence of fraud or a hate crime.
"It's very early in the preliminary stages. We'll have to sift through all the information and see what we're actually dealing with," Walton said.
When it comes to laying charges in a hate crime incident, police have to be able to prove a specific group has been targeted and that someone has been singled out under the definitions of hate crime. Jurisdiction could be a challenge for police with activities occurring outside Canada.