Al Jazeera America takes a look at why radio is so crucial across Indian Country.
“There aren’t the basic emergency response services. There’s no fire department on Hopi,” said Richard Davis, manager for radio station KUYI, 88.1 on the dial, serving the Hopi reservation. “When there’s a wildfire, we’re going to be the only people that let folks know where it’s burning. When there are icy road conditions, we’re going to be the only folks letting people know where to drive a little more safely.”
When floods hit the reservation in 2009, KUYI became the lifeline many communities needed to survive. For nearly three weeks, plumbing was wiped out on one mesa, and the station broadcast where people could use bathrooms and get water. A year later, a blizzard left five-foot snowdrifts across the reservation, and KUYI became the only way tribal members knew where to pick up food air-dropped by the National Guard.
“Outside in the mainstream culture, a lot of folks think radio is dead, but tribal radio is very strong,” said Davis. “We really are the lifeblood of what’s going on.”
Currently 53 Native stations are broadcasting across the country, and it’s estimated that 92 percent of tribal radio stations create local programing, 75 percent produce hyperlocal news and 70 percent air tribal programming. According to NPM, 57 percent of stations are broadcasting in their local tribal language.
“We’re trying to work harder to get more language in, but it’s been a challenge because there are so few speakers,” said Margaret Rousu, general manager for Niijii Radio on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. “Language is incorporated in a few different ways in the station, and we’re actually working to incorporate it more because we feel, as a native station, we don’t have enough right now.”
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