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Exploring Tribal Representation across American Indian-produced radio in US Reservation and Urban Contexts

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TRR (Exploring Tribal Representation across American Indian-produced radio in US Reservation and Urban Contexts)

Reporting period: 2019-09-16 to 2020-09-15

This multifaceted research identifies and examines the diverse ways in which radio produced by and for Indigenous communities in the US facilitates tribal self-representation and enables Indigenous self-determination. As Indigenous communities remain substantially under-represented in US mainstream radio forms and formats, including US National Public Radio (NPR), in this research I consider tribal radio stations and standalone pan-tribal programmes as alternative spaces for articulating aspects of tribally-specific culture as well as everyday life. Objectives are structured to explore how Indigenous communicative strategies in Native American radio production variously articulate and express diverse tribal experiences in reservation and urban contexts and to build on this exploration to locate commonalities across Indigenous production practices to determine inclusive modes of on-air representation. A third research aim is to share and discuss findings on-site and subsequently with reservation and urban tribal communities, and to disseminate meaningful feedback on findings in academic and Indigenous practitioner contexts. Please note: in reference to multiple terms in use for self-identification and in recognition therefore that no single, universal term is in use, this research invokes Indigenous, Native American and tribal to describe radio produced by and for tribal communities, which can be located on tribal lands, which are sometimes termed reservations in US contexts.

Through exploring radio content and community-led production, incorporating talk radio, cultural preservation programming, diverse tribal and other music genre programming, first language programming and seasonally-specific programming, I analyse various ways in which this programming enables tribal community self-representation through place-based production, and how it can contribute therefore to Indigenous self-determination. Deliverables include mapping radio provision for Indigenous communities across the US and developing community-led research with tribal radio stations in ways which will benefit the station, radio practitioners and local tribal communities.
What has emerged in Year 1 of this research, through working with my mentor Professor Roemer at the University of Arlington-Texas, through building relationships with tribal radio practitioners, and within practitioner-led discussions towards a collaborative research programme, is a deepening requirement to emphasise and foreground Indigenous theoretical approaches to critical analysis of tribal radio production and content. I have consequently developed a critical framework informed by a developing literature review of Indigenous critical approaches, which comprises a working Bibliography. This is multidisciplinary, comprised of Indigenous scholarship in the fields of education, history, English literature, law, new media, political science, and Native American studies. This Critical Bibliography comprises a standalone output to be disseminated at the end of the Fellowship’s term.

What has also emerged is the need to ensure that research objectives at each proposed research site—radio stations on tribal lands or reservations—can be of clear benefit to the tribal communities involved. Again, drawing on my emergent critical framework and its emphasis on Indigenous theoretical approaches, it became clear that this research must embody decolonizing objectives, which form a central tenet of Indigenous critical theory.
I have completed two outputs at time of writing: an article exploring one tribal radio station’s production of community-facing programming in response to COVID-19; and an interactive map illustrating Indigenous radio stations in the US. While established Indigenous organisations such as the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), Native Public Media and Native Voice One (NV1) also map tribal radio as part of their wider coverage of Indigenous media networks in the US, the new map produced through the TRR project is smaller in focus in only covering tribal radio, so can incorporate a further interactive component linking to audio streams of the stations represented in most cases. This interactive map aims to amplify Indigenous radio through illustrating its reach and linking directly to live radio streams, and can be found here:

Finally, led by practitioner participants in the stations I was able to connect with before the advent of COVID-19, we have developed two proposed projects to be implemented further when it becomes safe to visit and meet onsite with tribal radio practitioners again.
The wider impact of this research incorporates amplification of community-building practices implemented at tribal radio stations included in the research across academic and open-access contexts, with wider dissemination envisioned across Indigenous radio outreach activities and within Indigenous radio programming, if of interest. These community-led modes of production comprise alternative, localised forms of programming to much of US mainstream content, which during the COVID-19 time period enables invaluable local support and encourages community trust during a time of crisis for many Indigenous communities. Tribal radio production practices, already precarious and under-funded, shifted considerably along with most broadcast radio production, as many programmes were now produced remotely. Thus, both tribal radio production and content have undergone a substantial shift, meaning that the research object of Indigenous radio is itself in transition which warrants further study, particularly in these crisis times.

Longer-ranging impact is additionally generated by the production of an online, interactive map of tribal radio stations, not included in my original Fellowship proposal but subsequently developed in consultation with tribal radio practitioners who indicated such a map would be a useful resource, providing access to and information about tribal stations not otherwise comprehensively available in a single resource:
This map comprises an accessible, public-facing output which will continue to be updated; in future, the map’s scope can be extended to incorporate Indigenous radio stations and shows globally, to reinforce the comparative elements and contribution of the overall research.

Finally, continuing the practice of reciprocal research, I have committed to sharing all outputs with tribal practitioners in advance of publication for their input and feedback, and to then publish these in open-access platforms where they may be easily and freely found by tribal community members and interested members of the wider public.
Language Board at KPRI, Pala, California