Native Narratives: The Representation of Native Americans in Public Broadcasting

Native Americans in Contemporary News Media

Native tribes have a long tradition of producing their own media to inform their communities about significant issues and news. The Cherokee Nation established the first Native newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix, in 1828, which featured Cherokee perspectives on removal legislation and other events that led to the 1830 Indian Removal Act.56

There have been numerous tribal newspapers, including the Navajo Times and the now out-of-print Carolina Indian Voice. The online newspaper Indian Country Today currently is the largest provider of Native news. Established in 1981, the online news platform "covers tribes and Native people throughout the Americas."57

Beginning in the 1970s, Native communities continued this tradition in the form of Native owned and operated radio stations, such as KYUK-AM in Bethel, Alaska, and KWSO-FM in Warm Springs, Oregon. These outlets are discussed in the section, "Visual Sovereignty: Native-Created Public Media."

The AAPB holds more than 30 episodes of National Native News, a daily news program that highlights Native perspectives on events affecting Native communities. The series, which began in the 1980s, is now distributed to more than 400 radio stations through Native Voice One, a division of Koahnic Broadcast Corporation (KBC).58

The program represents an important milestone in Native-created media, as it marked the first time that Native Americans across the country could hear programming that reflected important issues and events within their communities. Former host Gary Fife (Muscogee and Cherokee) states that the show provides "real stories of Native America" because "the old beads-and-feathers story [presented in white media] just isn’t enough anymore."59 KBC also produces Native America Calling, a popular news program out of Alaska that brings listeners together "in a thought-provoking national conversation about issues specific to Native communities."60

Harlan McKosato (Sac and Fox Nation, 1966-2020), host of Native America Calling, in Looking Toward Home (Chino & Krusic, 2003), cpb-aacip_508-z60bv7bt9b.
Native America Calling.

Some non-Native news outlets in areas with substantial Native American populations also have moved towards including a Native perspective in their coverage. Neighbors, a series for KDLG (Dillingham, Alaska), "features conversations and reports on local public affairs issues, especially those affecting the American Indian community."61 An episode from 1985 features interviews with Alaska Natives on the benefits and drawbacks of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act for the Native community. The legislation would later pass in 1991. The ten-part radio series The Corporate Whale: ANCSA, Ten Years Later (KUAC-FM, Fairbanks, Alaska, 1981) and an episode from the television series Outlook (KAKM, Anchorage, Alaska, 1997) further explores the impact of the legislation and includes clips from Native leaders discussing the Act. Episodes of NewsNight Minnesota (Twin Cities Public Television, Saint Paul, Minnesota) in the AAPB collection that were broadcast between 1994 and 1999 also feature coverage of several issues important to Native American communities, including legal cases surrounding the Indian Child Welfare Act and fishing rights for tribes residing in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Below is a list of programs by Native and non-Native public broadcasting outlets that feature stories on issues affecting Native American communities throughout the United States.

Tour Our Resources

Native American Casinos and Gambling

  • Midday, "Indian Gaming Industry" (Minnesota Public Radio, 1992)

    The gaming industry in Minnesota has been called "the new buffalo" by Native Americans in the state. The popularity of the state's blossoming casinos is enormous and raises many questions about the prosperity of Minnesota's Native American community. Professor I. Nelson Rose is widely recognized as the nation's foremost expert on gambling law. He is the author of the book Gambling and the Law.

  • Midday, "The New Buffalo" (Minnesota Public Radio, 1993)

    This program examines the impact of casinos on Native American reservations in Minnesota.

  • The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, 1996-08-08 (MacNeil/Lehrer Productions)

    This program features coverage of a legal case surrounding video slot machines at the Cache Creek Casino, which is operated by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation (formerly the Rumsey Band of the Wintun Indians).

  • Wisconsin Public Radio; News (Wisconsin Public Radio, 1998)

    This program reports on casino gambling in Wisconsin and legal cases surrounding the violation of Native American religion in prisons.

  • "Indian Gaming" (KPCC-FM, Pasadena, California, 2003)

    On continuing negotiations between the state of California and Indian tribes over money to help plug California's budget deficit. The governor's office and tribal representatives say they're off to a good start. The negotiations are secret, but it looks like the state's only real leverage is to allow more gaming. KPCC's Ilsa Setziol reports.

  • "Native Land Rights" (Commonwealth Club of California, San Francisco, 1970)

    The program features a discussion of a proposal by Native tribes of Alaska to finally codify land titles, royalty retention from the production of resources, and compensatory settlements.

  • Idaho Reports; Peaceful Settlements and Columbia River Fishing (Idaho Public Television, 1985)

    This program features discussion of the legal battle between the Nez Perce and the state of Idaho over treaty fishing rights in the Columbia River.

  • Wisconsin Week; 227 (PBS Wisconsin, 1990)

    This program covers protests over Lac Du Flambeau tribe of the Ojibwe treaty fishing rights in Wisconsin and a legal controversy surrounding Oneida TV Bingo operations.

  • Our People & Mother Earth, "Treaties and Traditions. Part 2" (KWSO-FM, Warm Springs, Oregon, 1994)

    This episode focuses on Native tribal trends and traditions, including traditional laws and treaties, and featuring traditional music, as well as interviews with various tribal members who discuss traditional plants, such as huckleberry.

Notable Native Americans

  • Pantechnicon, "Dr. Alfonso Ortiz: An Indian Perspective on the American Dream" (WGBH-FM, Boston, 1969-1977)

    An Indian Perspective on the American Dream, Dr. Alfonso Ortiz (1939-1997), Associate Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University, member of Towa Pueblo Tribe.

  • Five College Forum, "Lecture by Vine Deloria on ‘The Indian in the Modern World’" (New England Public Radio, Amherst, Massachusetts, 1972)

    Lecture by Vine Deloria Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux, 1933-2005), Native American activist, on the state of Native Americans in the modern world. Deloria delivered this lecture at the University of Massachusetts on September 25, 1972, as a guest of the Distinguished Visitors program.

  • Forum, "Joy Harjo: Native American Poet and Musician" (KUT-FM Radio, Austin, Texas, 1998)

    This program is an interview with Joy Harjo (Muscogee Nation), who became the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2019.

  • PBS NewHour, May 2, 2019 (NewsHour Productions)

    This program includes an interview with David Treuer (Ojibwe) about his book The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present.

  • Winona LaDuke at Annie Bloom’s Books (KBOO Community Radio, Portland, Oregon (not dated))

    Annie Bloom's Books hosts Winona LaDuke (Ojibwe) speaking on The Winona LaDuke Reader: A Collection of Essential Writings (2002). American Indian poet Luke Warm Water (Lakota) begins the event with a reading of his poetry, including 'The Jesus of Pine Ridge,' 'John Wayne's Bullet,' and 'Are You Hungry for Pizza?' LaDuke speaks about living in Minnesota and her non-profit grassroots community organizing and activism. She is currently organizing around the issue of wild rice farming within the Indigenous community of Minnesota, where the University of Minnesota and big business are patenting and engineering wild rice. Following the speech she answers audience questions.

Native American Boarding Schools

  • Midday, "Learning the White People Way" (Minnesota Public Radio, 1991)

    "This program takes an innovative approach to documenting the boarding school experience by blending a traditional historical account with the personal perspective of an Ojibway elder. Although it was not an objective, all of the historians and educators in the program, including government officials, are Native Americans, adding depth to the interpretation of history."62

  • "Indian Boarding Schools" (KPCC-FM, Pasadena, California, 2001)

    For nearly two centuries after Europeans arrived in North America, they viewed education as a means to civilize and acculturate native peoples to what they believed to be superior European lifestyles. Because Indian culture was seen as intellectually and morally debased, the federal government removed many Native American children from their homes and sent them to boarding schools. Until the late 19th century, the government located many of these schools hundreds of miles from where the children lived. Indian parents protested the removal of their children, and in later years, the government situated more schools on reservations. Indian boarding schools continued into the 20th century and have been the subject of intense criticism from Native American leaders. In California, the state's only Indian boarding school was established one hundred years ago in the city of Riverside. And as series producer Ilsa Setziol reports, the school still exists today but with a revised mission.

  • Focus 580; Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families 1900-1940 (WILL Illinois Public Media, Urbana, Illinois, 2005)

    This program is an interview with Dr. Brenda Child (Red Lake Ojibwe), Professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota, on the history of Native American boarding schools.

Other Topics

  • Nyles Ryan, Indian Voicer Interview (National Association of Educational Broadcasters, ca. 1975-1986)

    An interview with a Native American man who conveys stories from Native American legends and history, such as the legend of the seven cities of gold, as well as a discussion of current political issues affecting contemporary Native Americans, including several treaties that the United States government have not upheld. The name of the interview subject is inaudible.

  • The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, April 20, 1984 (MacNeil/Lehrer Productions)

    This program features coverage of a historic conference between the Navajo Nation and surrounding states, including Utah and Arizona. Issues discussed include the fight of tribal officials for the right to vote in Arizona and the creation of an agreement that outlines how states must proceed when handling issues important to the Navajo Nation.

  • Evening Exchange, "Native American Civil Rights" (WHUT, Washington, D.C., 1992)

    Kojo Nnamdi interviews Chief Billy Kayak (League of the Indigenous Sovereign Nation) and Stephen Watt of the Morning Star Foundation on the American Indian perspective of Columbus’s arrival to the Americas, the Native American Civil Rights Movement, and the contemporaneous state of Native Americans in the U.S. A second panel on such topics, as well as African American perspectives, includes Reverend Arthur Cribbs, Jerome Scott, and Phil Tajitsu Nash.

  • "The Dakota Conflict" (Twin Cities Public Television, 1993)

    "In August of 1862, while the eyes of most Americans were focused on the Civil War, a fierce battle broke out between Minnesota's white European settlers and its native people -- an incident formerly known as the Sioux Uprising. By the end of the year, hundreds of settlers and native Dakota were dead, thousands of Dakota were imprisoned and exiled, and 38 were hanged in a mass public execution the day after Christmas. The story of this violent chapter of Minnesota history, and its causes and aftermath, is told with brutal honesty and with unusual sensitivity to voices previously unheard in this documentary, The Dakota Conflict. 'The Dakota Conflict witnessed the clash of two great cultures, who at first found common ground, but then divided in fear, hatred, and misunderstanding,' says producer Kristian Berg, who sought and received the active participation of Dakota advisers from the inception of the project and throughout nine months of researching, writing and production. Co-narrated by Garrison Keillor and Floyd Red Crow Westerman (1936-2007), an Eastern Dakota who played the role of Ten Bears in the movie Dances with Wolves, the documentary takes pains to explore the attitudes and points of view of both white settlers and the Dakota people. Through diaries, old photographs, sketchbooks, newspaper archives, trial transcripts and oral histories related from one generation to the next, there unfolds a story of greed, betrayal, lies and vengeance -- along with courage, struggle, faith, and dignity." --1993 Peabody Awards entry form.63

  • Warm Springs Program, "Salmon in the Native American Culture" (KWSO-FM, Warm Springs, Oregon, 1994)

    This episode of the Warm Springs Program focuses on salmon in the Native American culture. Included are discussions by tribal members, who discuss their views on salmon.

  • The Alabama Experience; "The Chief: Calvin McGhee and the Forgotten Creeks" (University of Alabama Center for Public Television, 1995)

    The Poarch Creek Indians in Alabama didn't have a chief until Calvin McGhee (Poarch Creek, 1903-1970) stepped up in 1948. His goals: have the Poarch Creek Indians in Alabama recognized, improve educational opportunities for Indian children, and try to get Indians paid for the land that was taken from them. The program focuses on the history of Poarch Creek Indians, McGhee's fight to get Indian children into high schools, the creation of a role for Poarch Creek Indians, and the lawsuit pertinent to the land payment with the Poarch Creek Indians in Oklahoma.

  • Bemidji Race Relations (Minnesota Public Radio, 1995)

    "Bemidji Race Relations is a five-part series documenting the historical and present-day racial problems of the native Ojibwe Indians of Northern Minnesota. The city of Bemidji (population 10,000) is a largely white owned, white-run community centered among three major Ojibwe reservations. Small as it is, Bemidji is the commercial hub for much of Northern Minnesota; to reservation Ojibwes, it's a city where Native Americans are met with suspicion and mistreatment. This series examines Ojibwe and White attitudes about local law enforcement practices, education, employment and housing, and recalls the 1966 Reservation boycott of the city -- a microcosm of the Civil Rights movement. While Native Americans in Northern Minnesota have for years expressed outrage and despair over their treatment here, not until Bemidji Race Relations did their voices reach a significant audience on such a wide range of important issues." --1990 Peabody Awards entry form.64

  • North Carolina Now, 05/26/1998 (UNC-TV, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina)

    This episode covers the efforts of the Occoneechee tribe to seek recognition from the state of Virginia.

  • Wyoming Perspectives, "Indian Perspectives" (Wyoming PBS, 2004)

    This episode features four politically active Native Americans from two different local tribes. Together they take questions via phone about various issues facing both Native Americans and the larger state of Wyoming from casinos to taxes to health to water development.

  • Focus 580, "Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality" (WILL Illinois Public Media, Urbana, Illinois, 2005)

    This program is an interview with Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Study at Pennsylvania State University.

  • PBS NewsHour; April 16, 2013 (NewsHour Productions)

    This program features discussion of the "Baby Veronica" case that went to the Supreme Court and addressed a dispute over the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Next: Visual Sovereignty: Native-Created Public Media


Sally Smith

Former Student Assistant, Brown Media Archives, University of Georgia