HOLLYWOOD - In 1995, the American Indian cable network (AICN) got its start in Downey, Calif., by founder and owner Chuck Marshall (Muskogee Creek). Then, his show reached 11 cities with 115,000 homes spreading across Bell Flower and Orange counties. It was a wild idea for Marshall who knew nothing about television but he received good feedback from Indians and non-Indians at pow wows across southern California.
In partnership with the Los Angeles American Indian commission, Southern California Indian Center, campuses across the state, flyers and by word of mouth, the AICN has grown to an audience of nearly 3 million in 2003.
Local cable companies such as Time Warner and Adelphia are hooked up to the AICN and its one hour weekly format on all that is American Indian. Marshall says that the two-part program ranges from issues like alcohol and drug abuse to casinos, politics and entertainment. Over the years it has been hosted by Native personalities including Salina Jayre, Jackie Ol Coyote, Valentina Lopez and Yvonne Russo. Michelle Brown is the current hostess.
Many Native performers have been on the show and support Marshall 100 percent. Musicians who have been on the show include Robert Mirabal, Arigon Starr, Tracey Nelson, Burning Sky, Rita Coolidge and record producer Tom Bee.
Actors have also appeared including James Cromwell, Irene Bedard, Wes Studi, Tim Sampson and Harrison Lowe. Marshall's fondest memory is of an Adam Beach interview in conjunction with the "Windtalkers" premiere in 2002. AICN showed up at a press conference in their beat up, run-down car as the European and U.S. press showed up in limousines. Adam Beach was so happy to see some Indians that he felt at ease and gave Marshall complementary tickets to the "Windtalkers" premiere.
In the beginning, Marshall's idea was to educate and inform the non-Indian community that the American Indian is here and needs to be heard in California. Marshall says he learns something new each and every week.
AICN is also about giving back to the urban Indian community. In order to tackle the wide range of issues Marshall decided that the AICN needed flexibility on what to cover.
But AICN has not been without its controversy, Marshall says. One year AIM activist Russell Means raised a few eyebrows throughout Orange County when he appeared on the show.
In another instance, Marshall was asked to do a press kit for the film "Naturally Native" and met Valerie Redhorse who was to star alongside Irene Bedard. The film was not in agreement with the Indian community. It was criticized for its inappropriate depiction of Indian stereotypes. There seemed to be no technical advisor for the issues covered including alcohol, abuse, mascot use and blood quantum issues. On the other hand, "Naturally Native" was loved by much of the non-Indian community.
Pechanga Indian Casino also sent a representative to talk about the controversial Proposition 1A that was to be voted on for Indian gaming in California. Orange County residents agreed with Prop 1A and AICN received positive feedback from the non-Indian community.
Marshall is talking with people at the Satellite Network in San Raphael, Calif., to broadcast his cable network to a bigger audience. Currently his show is also heard over the radio airwaves in the Midwest. He hopes to expand in order to educate more people, one topic at a time.