Indiana University Press

This article identifies and explores community-building in Indigenous music radio, drawing on music programming examples and practitioner insights from two Indigenous radio stations: KPRI FM and KSUT FM. The article considers ways in which multifaceted music programming across the two stations embodies the concept of grounded normativity (Coulthard and Betasamosake Simpson) and expands capacities for tribal community-building on-air, in turn reinforcing a cultural Indigenous internationalism. In particular, this article argues that Rez Dub Reggae and Songs of the Southwest at KPRI and the Tribal Radio Morning Show at KSUT enable and encourage Indigenous community-building through place-based practices of music radio production which in turn embody possibilities for Indigenous resurgence (Corntassel).

Indigenous radio facilitates and delivers tribal community-led programming by and for Indigenous communities, enabling community-building through broadcasting locally produced content.2 In the US, both Indigenous radio stations and standalone shows combine talk and music programming which can incorporate both English and tribal language content and a diverse range of music genres, including traditional music styles such as birdsong, the wide and diverse range of powwow songs, and other popular genres such as country, hip-hop, and reggae. For this article I explore ways in which selected music programming at two radio stations, KSUT FM and KPRI FM, embodies and enables local Indigenous community-building and also encourages a wider Indigenous internationalism via each station’s online streaming capacities. Sheila Nanaeto, Station Manager at KSUT, then identifies and reflects on diverse ways in which KSUT’s Tribal Radio provision of tribal music serves Indigenous communities who cannot access tribal music elsewhere in US radio. [End Page 176] Nick Estes describes a “long tradition of Indigenous internationalism” in which “Indigenous nations had often entered into relations with each other for alliance, kinship, war, peace, or trade” (203), reinforcing cultural and social as well as political pan-Indigenous relationships. To situate this transcultural production theoretically, I suggest that community-led tribal music programming emerges from and is produced within a place-based grounded normativity, understood as a locally rooted ethical situatedness located within “Indigenous place-based practices and associated forms of knowledge” (Coulthard and Betasamosake Simpson 254; see also Betasamosake Simpson, As We Have Always Done). Indigenous radio production processes embody the specificities of these place-based practices, shaped by the grounded normativity of the distinct tribes represented. This exploration foregrounds radio practitioner perspectives to examine how tribal music radio enables community-facing accountability, reciprocity, and recognition through playing traditional and contemporary music popular with the local community, chosen and introduced by local practitioners. In exploring these place-based production practices, we each consider ways in which the radio voice is mobilized in its expression of the presenter’s expertise and positionality, contextualizing the music being played and grounding its significance in place. The two stations respectively serve local tribal and non-Native communities in Pala, California, and in the Four Corners area in Colorado, each with their own distinct schedules and production structures. Radio practitioner perspectives were therefore sought on production practices to incorporate these insights on tribal radio’s community-building work. For me, as a settler scholar analyzing radio primarily produced by and for tribal communities, any knowledge gathered had to be carefully contextualized within its local and cultural setting; otherwise, as Shawn Wilson reminds us in relation to Indigenous research practice, this exploration would remain incomplete (117, 123, 132). Through considering practitioner perspectives and comparing selected music programming from each station, Sheila Nanaeto and I hope to demonstrate a small part within a greater diversity of Indigenous radio programming and practices.

The observations which led to this article first emerged on a visit to Pala to meet KPRI practitioners in early March 2020, followed by discussion with KSUT practitioners by phone in June 2020, after my scheduled visit there was necessarily cancelled due to the implementation of COVID restrictions. This led to a lengthy and comprehensive conversation with Sheila Nanaeto during which she shared in-depth insights into her work at KSUT and with powwow music in particular, ultimately leading to her co-authorship of this article. All other practitioners whose perspectives are included here have pre-publication approval/rejection authority over their words and the opportunity to amend, change, and expand on their contributions. [End Page 177]

There are estimated to be between fifty and seventy Indigenous-owned and managed radio stations on reservations in the fifty US states; Loris Taylor, CEO of Native Public Media, puts the number at sixty.3 However, the number of dedicated tribal stations is substantially under-representative given that there are (at time of writing) 574 federally recognized Tribal Nations and many state recognized Indigenous bands, communities, nations, pueblos, tribes, and native villages in the US geographical area, all defined as Indian Nations by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), alongside additional Indigenous communities currently not officially recognized by the NCAI.4 For this research, “Indigenous stations” or “tribal stations” are defined as such if they are tribally-owned, managed and/or staffed mainly by tribal members, and incorporate locally produced Indigenous community programming. Discussing KSUT’s tribal music programming, Sheila Nanaeto observes that:

There’s over 500 federally recognized tribes in the United States. And out of those 500 and some tribes only 50 to 60 of us have tribal radio stations. And so if you’re going to listen to the music that you grew up with . . . you turn on a public radio station where it’s [usually] one hour. And so how are you going to fit all 500 federally recognized tribes into one hour’s worth of music? It’s impossible.

(18 June 2020).

Nanaeto here summarizes the scope and scale of tribal music’s existing and established diversity and the corresponding lack of aural spaces for broadcasting this, exemplifying in turn the need for greater Indigenous radio provision. Jana Wilbricht identifies the particular usefulness of radio in relation to characteristics of everyday life in many Indigenous reservations, observing that “radio is accessible even to households without electricity at very low cost, does not require literacy, provides programming in the local Indigenous language, and blends with rural lifestyles, e.g. in terms of requiring less attention than television and print media” (53). In the US, many or even most Indigenous stations broadcast via a community radio or Low Power (LP) license, meaning that they are often under-funded and must continually raise money to ensure the ongoing smooth running of the station, although several Indigenous stations are supported by casino revenue on those reservations which host casinos. An alternative license category is the Tribal Priority license, which provides further resources, although these licenses are fewer and competitive to acquire. KSUT FM, based in Ignacio, Colorado, is unique in the continental US in that it combines tribal radio programming and public radio (National Public Radio) programming, splitting its signal in two to provide two distinct broadcasting services, both operating under the call sign KSUT.5 In urban areas, standalone shows featuring Indigenous music—both those locally produced [End Page 178] for community stations and those syndicated by NPR affiliates—are broadcast to intertribal local listeners as well as more widely online (see Moylan, “Greater.”)

This article collaboratively combines the perspectives of a settler scholar and an Indigenous media practitioner in order to explore tribal music radio produced within this multifaceted structural broadcasting context, in recognition of this important and ongoing form of Indigenous community-building in US regions (and beyond via streaming.) Diverse genres and types of tribal music can be heard on several syndicated Indigenous-produced shows, usually broadcast and streamed on other community and National Public Radio (NPR) stations, as observed by Sheila Nanaeto above. Indigefi, Indigenous in Music, Reclaimed and Undercurrents, produced by Native Voice 1, are easily accessible and play a diverse range of tribal musics.6 Shows such as First Voices Indigenous Radio (independently produced7) and Voices from the Circle (also produced by Native Voice 1), combine storytelling and talk with diverse forms of tribal music. The three shows discussed in this article are produced by and for their local communities at KPRI FM, serving the Pala reservation in Pala, California, and at KSUT FM, serving the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes in Colorado, although all three can also be streamed online. These shows are Rez Dub Reggae and Songs of the Southwest at KPRI and the Tribal Radio Morning Show at KSUT and are framed here by insights from their producer-presenters.

Radio technology has always had the capacity for “community-building,” as argued by John Hartley (155; see also David Hendy [196], who complicates this reading), with the potential to facilitate a collective sense of belonging for communities through shared programming. Similarly, radio has the capacity for reproducing locality, strengthening a sense of belonging for communities connected (even in part) by geography. Further, as an aural form, the radio medium emphasizes orality, cadence, and delivery and has the capacity for a range of nuances in voiced talk and storytelling. Through sourcing, selecting, and putting together music for (and sometimes by) the local tribal community, tribal music radio practitioners reinforce community identity and belonging through culturally specific production and presentation practices. These include playing music popular in the community, playing songs by local tribal members and songs relating stories about local history, and regularly recording and playing powwow songs. These combined practices embody a set of ongoing processes, characteristic of the everyday nature of the radio medium and its live scheduling requirements. As such, these practices function as recurring mechanisms of community-building, where “community” is understood not as an immutable entity but, as David Harvey puts it, as “a process of coming together” (192). Alongside these place-based strategies, the practitioners interviewed here utilize a less mediated delivery style on-air compared to the slick [End Page 179] patter of commercial and even NPR presenters, further drawing in local listeners already familiar with the show. This article suggests that, taken together, these place-based production practices coalesce into on-air Indigenous resurgence, which, as Jeff Corntassel explains, comprises practices reflecting “the spiritual, cultural, economic, social and political scope of the struggle” against forces of colonization (88). Embodying and reinforcing Indigenous resurgence, tribal music radio represents an alternative to top-down reductive representations of Indigenous communities in much of US mainstream radio.

“C’mon Natives. Listen to the Beat”: Community-Building through Traditional and Contemporary Music Genres at KPRI FM

KPRI, broadcasting locally on 93.1FM and streaming online via sites such as, is located on the Pala reservation in Pala, California, which is home to the Pala and Cupa Indians.8 KPRI’s local music programming is eclectic, incorporating the oldies show Back in the Day by Doots and Dar, Rez Dub Reggae, Rockin’ the Rez and Songs of the Southwest.9 The schedule’s diversity maps onto the local community’s varied preferences for traditional tribal songs, classic and contemporary rock, and reggae. Eric Ortega produces and presents Songs of the Southwest and Pala Life Past and Present. Songs of the Southwest plays songs from Pala as well as from nearby tribal communities. Ortega describes how songs played on the show convey Pala history for listeners:

Our songs here at Pala, they were sung to tell stories about our local history, and they were created from our stories of our local history. And so a lot of people can hear those songs and know what they’re talking about and know what the meaning is behind the song and what the story is behind those songs.

(Interview with Eric Ortega at KPRI, 12 March 2020)

The show also includes songs from surrounding tribal communities. While there are similarities there are also differences in delivery, as Ortega explains:

You’ll see a correlation to lots of songs, Fort Mohave, Morongo, Cahuilla Palm Springs, they have a lot of similar songs, similar words, but they all sing them a little bit differently, and you can tell: “That’s so-and-so singing that in that style.” Even in Fort Mohave there’s a couple of different styles up there too, just in that one reservation.

These differences in style convey and distinguish diverse but overlapping histories, as songs were developed by separate but neighboring tribes. Both the performances and playback of these songs, reflecting their culturally distinct qualities through these processes, comprise place-based practices which themselves emerge from and embody the region’s particular grounded normativity. [End Page 180] Leanne Betasamosake Simpson explains how grounded normativity, typified by such place-based practices, reinforces “deep, reciprocal, continual attachment” to the land: “We relate to the land through connection—generative, affirmative, complex, overlapping, and nonlinear relationship” in turn countering the dispossession of settler colonialism. As she argues, “the opposite of dispossession within Indigenous thought is grounded normativity. This is our power” (Betasamosake Simpson 43, italics in original).

Ortega regularly seeks community feedback for the show, saying, “I do ask other people to come in and tell me if I’m doing anything wrong and if they want to add something, if they want to say something about the song,” adding “most of the time people just let me do my thing when it comes to Songs of the Southwest” (Ortega interview). The show is a mainstay on KPRI’s schedule, broadcasting Saturdays at 7.30 a.m. for thirty minutes, introducing the station’s Saturday morning block of tribal music programming. Songs of the Southwest is followed by syndicated tribal music programs Indigefi and Voices from the Circle. One regular listener sets her clock by the show’s starting time; as described by Ortega, she tells him, “I know it’s time to wake up when I hear your show on the radio” (Ortega interview). In addition to playing historical songs from the region, Songs of the Southwest also plays newer music from Pala, for which the show provides a platform:

We even have young people that are writing new songs, singing new songs, which is good because it’s sharing the language. And again, we can do that, we can share that, because it’s our radio station and we got full control over what we’re doing here.

(Ortega interview)

The show regularly features music from the local Kupa Song and Dance Group and other local songs recorded live at the Cupa Cultural Center on Pala, reinforcing the show’s deep connections with the music of the region. Eric Ortega’s delivery on air is warm and knowledgeable, and he regularly refers to the individual musicians playing together on a given song by name, reinforcing a shared sense of community, familiarity and belonging.

In Pala, young people and older listeners alike also tune in to Rez Dub Radio, produced and presented by Elijah Duro and broadcast Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. (with an encore show on Sunday evenings.) Comparison of tribal radio schedules indicates that reggae shows are popular in tribal communities across the US, although perhaps particularly in the southwest. Duro has been producing the show for a decade, having grown up in a musical family on Pala. He describes reggae’s popularity in Pala: “reggae has always been big on the reservation. There’s always been Rez Fest and stuff like that. A lot of reggae artists live on the reservation too, or they’ll come and stay for months” (interview with Elijah Duro, KPRI, 12 March 2020). Duro describes Rez Dub [End Page 181] Radio’s popularity in the Pala tribal community, saying he receives great feedback from local listeners:

Physically, meeting people and talking to people around the reservation, everybody’s got something good to say. They all like it. They all like reggae. They’ll request songs: “give me a shout-out!” I get shout-outs too or they’ll give me a drop. So overall, I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback, a lot of people like it, listen to it. It’s a good time [on the schedule]: I got it at nighttime so people are more likely to listen to it.

(Duro interview)

The show’s name is both catchy and firmly situates the show as being of “the Rez” and produced by and for the Pala community. Duro’s delivery style is relaxed but inclusive, combining music scene slang with personalized shout-outs. Adding to the nighttime club feel of the show, a guest, AKA Eagle Bear, calls out to listeners to “listen to Elijah’s special at seven o’clock on the dot. Let’s get that reggae rolling. C’mon Natives. Listen to the beat” (Rez Dub Radio, 21 March 2021), his exhortations reinforcing a Native identity shared by listeners of the show.

With Rez Dub Radio, Duro defuses local misconceptions about reggae and expands listeners’ expectations of the genre:

People that listen, they have a whole different idea of reggae now. A lot of them told me they just heard of Bob; you know, Bob Marley. I bring in a whole array of different artists and different sounds too, not just like a reggae sound, I bring in dub, old school, 45s, underground reggae artists. I brought in the listeners’ selection too. I think I did expand a lot of that sound on the rez for sure.

The appeal comes from elements within the genre, explains Duro:

With the reggae, on the reservation, I know on Pala a lot of people will always play reggae. I think it’s because it has a lot of bass, a lot of drum, and so a lot of people have their systems and so when you play reggae it just has that bass. . . . that’s what drew us, me and my friends, that’s what drew us . . . with reggae you’ve got a straight bassline. . . . I think that’s what draws a lot of people is a lot of that groove that has in it . . . it makes it more undergroundish, I think. You can’t really church it up, that’s just how it is.

(Duro interview)

This “undergroundish” quality in reggae can confer a sense of localized identity, which may contribute to its popularity and power.10 From its emergence in Jamaica’s Trench Town, reggae has always embodied a critical capacity through its lyrics as well as within its sound. Kevon Rhiney and Romain Cruse describe reggae’s beginnings as emerging from the “harsh socio-economic and political realities associated with everyday life in the ghettoes of West Kingston,” [End Page 182] recognizing it as a “politically confrontational and resistant [musical] form . . . centred on issues related to race, class, poverty, resistance, and change” (7, 4). Moreover, as Duro observes, reggae can be less polished in its production than pop or commercial hiphop, and the strong bass which characterizes reggae can render these songs particularly emotionally resonant. Contemporary reggae’s articulations of colonial oppression and violence become amplified through the viscerality of its strong bass and “non-produced” sound. This viscerality gives further weight to the songs’ emotional descriptions of struggle, in turn enabling and reinforcing an embodied response in listeners.

Reggae music thus facilitates a “politics of refusal” (Alvarez 578) recognizable to any community which has historical experiences of such oppression. Reggae has a specific resonance for and popularity amongst Indigenous communities globally as reggae lyrics often incorporate political critique of systemic oppression enabling solidarity amongst an otherwise diverse listen-ership from marginalized communities. Luis Alvarez describes how “reggae cultivates trans-regional [I]ndigenous identities and cultural exchange while it also emphasizes local experiences, places, and histories” and explains the ways in which “reggae music simultaneously illumines particular ethnic, cultural, and historical experiences of [I]ndigenous populations and the possibilities of an [I]ndigenous identity that draws from shared political struggles and convergences” (Alvarez 579). Through lyrical articulations of oppression enabling possibilities of a shared Indigenous identity, reggae encourages a cultural register of Indigenous internationalism.

“We’re Not Using These ‘Radio Voices’”: Staying Rooted at KSUT Tribal Radio

Sheila Nanaeto, station manager at KSUT’s Tribal Radio and presenter of the Tribal Radio Morning Show, describes KSUT’s evolution from its beginnings as solely a tribal station.

Our station started as a way to distribute information to our tribal membership. We started out as a little tiny 10-watt station and now look at us. We’re hitting four states now where we were just down the Pine River Valley that just hit our little community and another community right north of us. And now look at us! . . . We started out as a tribal station, and even when we have new Four Corners staff, I’m like, you have to remember your roots. Your roots are with the tribal radio station.

Nanaeto insists that KSUT’s base in Ignacio, Colorado, is crucial for maintaining the station’s ongoing importance for local tribal listeners, saying this is also the wish of the station’s board of directors: “they’re adamant that we stay on the Southern Ute reservation.” Nanaeto observes that their geographical location at the Four Corners, where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah [End Page 183] intersect, means that they reach and serve additional communities in the region including the Jicarilla Apache and Diné, as well as the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute. To reach these communities Tribal Radio broadcasts across three frequencies: 100.9 FM for Towaoc in Colorado, 89.7 FM in Farmington, New Mexico, and 91.3 FM in Ignacio, as well as streaming live from In addition to the Tribal Radio Morning Show, other locally produced Tribal Radio programs include Native Foot Tapper, Sounds of the Dreamcatcher, and Drum Beats in the Night.11

The Tribal Radio Morning Show goes out live Monday through Friday, broadcasting and streaming online from 8am to 11am. Live radio immediately confers a greater intimacy with the listener, whether listening on a physical radio at home, at work, or in the car, or streaming online from a different state or country. The intimacy enabled and produced by a live radio show (unlike a pre-recorded and edited podcast) allows for and encourages emotional responses to and engagement with what is being spoken live in that moment on air (see also Moylan, Cultural Work, where I expand on this). Live broadcasting also creates the opportunity for real-time shout outs and requests, which makes the listening community (local or online) feel included. While National Public Radio in the US tends to have a particular house delivery style, KSUT’s local presenters—for both its public and tribal streams—are less mediated and more accessible in their presenting style. Sheila Nanaeto spurns the idea of using a “radio voice” on air:

We’re not using these “radio voices,” either. I don’t have a radio voice . . . I don’t feel I have a voice for radio and I’ve never been trained with a radio voice so when I talk to you, this is how I sound normally. You hear these people who are on commercial radio and they say “come on down to blah blah” and then you meet them somewhere else and they sound totally different. To me that’s being fake, and that’s not appreciated in Indian Country, being fake to your own community. . . . But that’s not who we are on tribal radio.

Radio’s power in significant part comes from the voice’s centrality in the medium. A presenter’s voice immediately orients the listener and situates the show. Jacob Smith describes the voice’s multiple capacities: “as an index of the body, a conveyor of language, a social bond, a musical instrument of sublime flexibility, a gauge of emotion . . . and a register of everyday identity” (3). The radio voice embodies all of these at any given moment. A voice’s capacity for conveying emotion, familiarity, and shared sociality can all be heard as the presenter speaks, while elements such as accent, slang, and vernacular are also simultaneously at play. Nanaeto’s unmediated voice is warm and has a humorous edge which conveys familiarity with her listeners, and her confident and relaxed on-air delivery situates her both as part of the community and as an experienced [End Page 184] radio practitioner with attendant knowledge about the Indigenous music she plays. An example of this is Nanaeto’s introduction to the show in June 2020, where she promises listeners at the start of the show that the music will be “all Indigenous. Indigenous for days!” (Tribal Radio Morning Show, 16 June 2020), from which the title for this article is taken. Nanaeto shares presenting duties across Tribal Radio with Lorena Richards and Mike Santistevan, who also share an accessible and confident on-air delivery style. As with Elijah Duro’s identification of reggae’s lack of polish, Nanaeto’s observation of Indian Country’s dislike for “fakeness” in radio emphasizes a preference for being “real”—which can be understood as characterized by a lack of mediated layers between the presenter and listener, both in music played and voices on-air. The more mediated a radio show is—whether by prerecording, a strict running order designed to work around ads, and/or scripted reading of items on air—the more a tangible distance is created between the listener and the presenter. In contrast, a voice less mediated by conventions of broadcast production encourages in the listener a feeling of familiarity with the presenter, a feeling which is unhampered by the barrier created by a mandated professionalized vocal polish.

Reinforcing Indigenous Internationalism through Powwow Music Radio

Nanaeto explains how KSUT’s tribal radio stream is designed to deliver substantial and sustained tribal music content:

With us, we have 46 hours’ worth of tribal programming [weekly] that’s specifically tribal music or Indigenous artists. Specifically, traditional music. You can’t find that anywhere else. I tell people, I can throw a rock and hit a country music station anywhere in the country. You cannot throw a rock and hit a tribal radio station. You need a pretty good arm to hit a tribal radio station in the United States, so we’re a very rare commodity.

The Tribal Radio Morning Show plays a wide range of Indigenous songs but particularly foregrounds powwow music. A powwow celebrates specific tribal performances of song and dance but its purpose can also transcend these, incorporating a spiritual component alongside the cultural and social elements. Tara Browner calls powwow a “living event” and describes how

continually changing musical repertoires, dance styles, and regalia combine with new traditions to create an ongoing state of transformation . . . underneath the layer of representation is a living event, central to the lives of participants who may travel hundreds of miles for the chance to “dress to dance” or sing for the money collected during a Blanket Dance.


Paula J. Conlon describes one purpose of powwow as “passing on cultural traditions from generation to generation” so that “powwows simultaneously evolve [End Page 185] through the influence of the contemporary circumstances in which they take place” (104). A powwow event is often intertribal, with members from multiple tribal communities participating in and travelling to what is usually a sizeable event featuring songs and dances performed by diverse tribes. Intertribal powwows emerged from and were shaped by processes of historical subjugation and relocation of many tribes of the Great Plains and southwest, causing tribal communities to come together at state-sanctioned events.12 Clyde Ellis and Luke Eric Lassiter observe how “widely shared aspects of powwow culture exists across tribal, regional and cultural boundaries . . . [yet] many communities use the powwow to assert a tribally distinct, rather than a generalized, sense of Indianness” (x). Browner suggests that powwows reinforce individual tribal affiliation even as they incorporate tribal diversity, pointing out that “all powwows have a larger, underlying tribal or regional framework, and by either merging with or deviating from it participants reinforce personal tribal affiliations” (4). The powwow can thus be an important form of Indigenous community-building in the US; as Conlon observes, “a powwow is a locus of communal activity, and powwowing is something people share and do” (104). Sheila Nanaeto explains the importance of playing powwow music on the Tribal Radio Morning Show:

The one thing that keeps us all tied together is the traditional music that we play: powwow music. Powwow is universal, and universal in the sense of Indian Country. Anybody can go to a powwow, any tribe can host powwow, it’s the same type of music at the powwows. However, powwow and powwow music is totally separate from our own traditional songs and our own traditional music, that is specific to each community, to each tribe.

In this sense, playing intertribal powwow music comprises a form of cultural Indigenous internationalism, characterized by a shared, “universal” appreciation, to use Nanaeto’s term which simultaneously recognizes the specificities of traditional songs unique to each tribe.13 Janice Esther Tulk unpacks the interplay between cultural expression in song and dance of specific tribes and the ways these combine in wider Indigenous community building:

Through localized expressions of the powwow, as with localized forms of other musical genres (e.g., popular music, hymns, fiddle music, and so on), individuals and communities connect to the past and tradition, and embrace exchange and new forms of cultural expression, while actively reconfiguring these traditions for the future. The powwow, then, is neither intertribal nor local but a process of negotiating two simultaneous modes of cultural expression. The power of the localized powwow lies in its ability to both enact and maintain a sense of nation-specific identity while fostering participation in a broader Indigenous community.


[End Page 186] In the interplay between locally specific tribal expressions and a wider, encompassing Indigenous internationalism, the powwow exemplifies Betasamosake Simpson’s conceptual assertion that “for Indigenous peoples, internationalism takes place within grounded normativity” (58). As explained above, grounded normativity emerges from unique relationships to the land within each tribal community, which in turn shape distinct place-based tribal practices and knowledges. An intertribal powwow can bring such place-based performative practices together. Playing powwow music on-air then fulfills a further purpose, amplifying ongoing, intertribal powwow practices at the register of live (and streaming) radio. This reinforces what Conlon describes as the significance of powwowing itself, year after year along the powwow trail, in transmitting the interplay between tradition and change embodied in powwow music that is vital in maintaining, expressing, and enriching the cultural values of Native peoples (110). Both locally and online, KSUT’s playing of recorded powwow songs brings in listeners from various tribal communities, reinforcing a sense of wider Indigenous belonging in turn.

Much of the powwow music played on the Tribal Radio Morning Show has a particularly unproduced quality, due to the fact that a lot of it was recorded live at powwows by Nanaeto herself. When she records songs from a powwow, she makes a CD of the recording and sends this back to the musicians featured, and she is able to promote their music on the show by playing recordings of their songs on-air. Beyond this, the live recordings have a deep and multifaceted resonance for Nanaeto, which is conveyed in turn to listeners of the show:

When you’re listening [back] to those recordings you’re listening to the ambience of that powwow. When I’m listening I can pretty much tell you where I was standing, who I was standing next to and what the feeling of that evening when I was recording was. I could tell you what the temperature was, I could tell you pretty much all of that because it’s a firsthand experience, and a lot of our elders who used to powwow and travel and do those things, they don’t have that opportunity anymore to go and participate. You know, they’re not sitting out there in the cold and participating in these events anymore.

Listening to powwow recordings, therefore, is about more than hearing the songs; the recording communicates elements of the wider experience as felt by the situated listener, as Nanaeto observes. This can transport the listener, in turn, to how it felt to be there. She continues, “you know, it’s that feeling. It’s like going to a live concert or to a festival or something. And I hope that when I bring those recordings home and play them that we’re taking people somewhere with those good memories.” In conveying the experience of being at the powwow, these recordings evoke what Betasamosake Simpson terms “Indigenous presences” on air, further reinforcing a sense of pan-Indigenous community (246). [End Page 187]

KSUT’s Tribal Radio is committed to preserving and promoting tribal music in respectful ways which are appropriate to their distinct tribal origins. Nanaeto explains that she regularly checks in with other tribes to confirm that she is playing their music appropriately.

We’re very respectful as to when and where music can be played. The Diné tribe has songs that you can only play during the wintertime and they’re very strict about that too. Same thing with our songs, we have songs that we can only play from the first thunder until the end of the year. And after that we put them away and we don’t play them anymore. . . . And so we as programmers and hosts have to be aware and knowledgeable in those types of music, because I don’t want to be caught playing a song out of season, because it’s disrespectful to that community, it’s disrespectful to their traditions and their culture. . . . We really are aware and really try and follow those guidelines for other tribes. We just don’t play music whenever, we really try and be aware and conscious of those times throughout the year.

Nanaeto’s and KSUT Tribal Radio’s respectful practices encourage trust from other tribal communities whose music is played on their shows. These practices embody an accountability characteristic of Indigenous grounded normativity in which everyday processes are founded in reciprocity, as Glen Coulthard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson explain: “Grounded normativity houses and reproduces the practices and procedures, based on deep reciprocity, that are inherently informed by an intimate relationship to place” (254). In this way, KSUT’s reciprocal practice demonstrates recognition of and respect for the place-based nature of Indigenous practices.

Conclusion: Connecting Place-Based Practices through Tribal Music Radio

For Sheila Nanaeto, tribal radio was the only source of traditional music growing up: “if you wanted to hear Native music you had to listen on Sunday mornings and that was the only time they had Native music.” She would record a particular show each week “because that was the only place I as a young Native individual could get the music that I wanted to hear and that I could practice dancing to.” Nanaeto sees an ongoing value in tribal radio for Indigenous listeners in particular:

Having a station that’s specific to tribal music, it’s just a place you can go and hear it whenever you want. You don’t have to schedule a time to listen to your music. And that, I think, is of benefit to Native communities throughout the country. They can hear us on the internet and they don’t have to wait, don’t have to sit there and wait for that one hour, once a week, to hear a mishmash of tribal, 500 federally recognized tribes stuck [End Page 188] into one hour. They can tune in whenever they want and they’re pretty much guaranteed to hear tribal music any time during that day.

She expands on the significance of this, explaining the deep importance of providing access to a range of tribal music for Indigenous communities for whom tribally-produced music is harder to source on the airwaves:

It’s hard to explain that to people who don’t know that, because they’ve never had to wait to hear their music, or that longing to hear their music. They’ve never had to schedule their life to hear their own culture, and it’s sort of hard to explain that to people who have the privilege of just being able to turn on the radio and hear whatever they wanted to hear. It was a novelty at the time. We were a novelty at the time, now even. So being able to do that is of benefit to Indian communities across the United States, just because they can hear us via the internet.

This article suggests that KSUT and KPRI’s music programming, produced by and for Indigenous community members and interested others, is created through place-based practices, resulting in shows which represent their tribal community’s history, current interests, and musical preferences. Combining archival as well as aesthetic value, Songs of the Southwest, Rez Dub Radio and the Tribal Radio Morning Show all represent and reflect their local tribal community/-ies while simultaneously reaching wider Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences online. Through broadcasting traditional and contemporary tribal music alongside other popular genres such as reggae, these shows reinforce a diverse and multifaceted Indigenous cultural internationalism rooted in recognition of particular tribal specificities. A powwow embodies Indigenous internationalism in providing an intertribal performative space for songs and dances from diverse tribes, locally introduced and situated by a community emcee and open to Indigenous and non-Indigenous attendees alike. At the same time, an intertribal powwow “is a deeply complicated institution, simultaneously binding people from different communities, tribes, and traditions together even as it enforces social and cultural codes and relationships that are connected to tribally specific practices” (Ellis 9). In recognition of these continuing particularities within intertribal community-building, Betasamosake Simpson suggests that while tribally-specific Indigenous practices have always been “strongly rooted in place,” at the same time “the global interconnections of our local place-based existences are intimately intertwined” (56, 57). The wider connections and community-building enabled by the intertribal powwow are further amplified when this music is broadcast and streamed on-air. Alongside such amplification, the juxtaposition of Indigenous music shows with other specialist music programming in KPRI and KSUT’s station schedules reflects how well positioned community-led tribal radio is to serve the diverse musical tastes of its listening communities. [End Page 189]

Through their Indigenous-produced and -presented music programming, KSUT and KPRI embody the community-building of Indigenous internationalism, in turn reinforcing Indigenous resurgence, characterized by everyday place-based practices with the capacity to “reclaim, restore, and regenerate homeland relationships” (Corntassel 89). In turn, the situated nature of the ongoing, everyday cultural production of tribal radio programming can be considered one form of such Indigenous world building, shaped and led by place-based values and providing tools for envisioning “Native futures” (Tuck and Yang 13).

Katie Moylan

Katie Moylan,, explores community radio’s capacity for community self-determination in diverse regional and national contexts and is Associate Professor of Media at the University of Leicester. She was an EU/Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Research Fellow between 2019–2021, researching Indigenous radio in what is today called the US.

Sheila Nanaeto

Sheila Nanaeto is an enrolled member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe located in Southwestern Colorado. Participating in pow-wows as a singer and dancer her entire life, she has been a listener of KSUT Tribal Programs since a very young age. Volunteering at Tribal Radio as a host of The Native Morning Show, a three-hour program every Wednesday starting in 2000, she was hired as a full-time employee at KSUT in 2009 as an intern through the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO). Nanaeto moved into the position of Station Manager of KSUT Tribal Radio soon afterwards.


1. Katie Moylan extends all her thanks to the practitioners in Indigenous radio who generously shared their insights for this article: Elijah Duro, John Fox and Eric Ortega of KPRI FM, Pala, California, and Tami Graham at KSUT, Ignacio, Colorado, as well as co-author Sheila Nanaeto of KSUT Tribal Radio. Many thanks too to the anonymous peer reviewers whose thoughtful and useful suggestions helped to make this article better. The research within this article received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement number 843645.

2. Please note that my uses of the terms “Indigenous,” “Native American,” “reservation,” and “tribal” are informed by heard use and preferences of radio practitioners interviewed for this research. All four terms are used by some members of tribal communities and contested by others.

3. The wider estimate is arrived at drawing on information from Native Public Media, Native Voice One and the Native American Journalists’ Association (NAJA) and on anecdotal estimates from tribal radio practitioners, in conversation, as of January 2021. The figure given by Loris Taylor is cited in Denetclaw.

4. This figure from National Congress of American Indians, accessed via, April 2021.

5. See, accessed 3 November 2021, for detailed explanation of this history.

6. See, accessed 5 May 2021, for further information about these programs.

7. See, accessed 5 May 2021, for further information.

8. KPRI streams live at, accessed 16 May, 2022.

9. Details of KPRI’s programming can be found at, accessed 22 Feb. 2022. KPRI can be streamed live via, accessed 22 Feb. 2022.

10. To describe this “undergroundish” quality, I also draw on Jacob Smith’s connection of “authenticity” to (recording) fidelity, which recognizes yet problematizes “authenticity as a culturally important convention” (Smith 6). Such aural fidelity can produce a greater sense of connection to and intimacy with the track/s being played. In turn, this connection can confer a feeling of cultural capital or insider knowledge, or simply make the listener feel part of a shared appreciative listening community.

11. KSUT’s Tribal Radio schedule can be found at, accessed 22 Feb. 2022. KSUT can be streamed live via, accessed 22 Feb. 2022.

12. Browner’s Heartbeat of the People: Music and Dance of The Northern Pow-Wow offers historical context on the forces that led to the development of the genre: “One by one, the tribes of the Great Plains and Southwest were subjugated, cajoled into signing treaties and forced onto reservations so their lands could be confiscated and opened for non-Indian settlement” (28).

13. On Indigenous internationalism, see also Betasamosake Simpson (56, 58) and Estes (203).


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