Indian Media is a Sovereign Right

By Joseph Orozco

, by Indian Country Today

Thanks to the budget-cutting fervor sweeping Capitol Hill, the Public Telecommunication Facilities Program could be zeroed out this year. The PTFP funds 75% of the construction of new stations; more than 30 new Native radio licensees were expecting PTFP public radio funds in the next two years. The death of PTFP would end Native radio as we know it, and tribal governments need to take a stand before it’s too late. The National Congress of American Indians needs to take a stand as well.

Tribes should pressure NCAI to persuade Congress to provide public funds to Native broadcasting as a sovereign right. NCAI and the FCC made the case for broadband service in Indian Country and Congress gave it proper attention through special funding initiatives. Billions of dollars were put on the table and many non-Indian media companies offered services to tribal communities.

A few tribes received the funds to build broadband centers, which was good for the tribal recipients, but such initiatives still don’t address the basic need for Native community owned and controlled media. Why the oversight? One has to follow the money. In Hoopa Valley the only telephone service is operated by Verizon of California. In 2004 Tribal Radio KIDE-FM asked Verizon for ISDN lines, so we could create a regional radio network. Together with non-Native radio stations in our regional biosphere, we wanted to simulcast important live town hall meetings that addressed common issues such as water, roads, health and housing. Verizon refused us ISDN service. They said they were phasing out the ISDN technology to go forward with more wireless technology. However, Verizon offered no guarantees that the new technology would come our way anytime soon. Read more