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Indian radio show gathers nation in 'talking circle'

Posted: Friday, August 04, 2000

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Harlan McKosato sits at his computer hammering out his radio talk show script. It's one hour before ''Native America Calling'' and his energetic voice greet the nation.

The day's topic is blood quantum -- how much American Indian ancestry a person has -- and how it's determined. ''We always get a lot of calls with this one,'' he says.

When the show hits the airwaves, the switchboard lights up with callers across the country ready to debate whether it's fair for the government to calculate the degree of Indian blood in a person. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is considering such a policy to determine eligibility for federal assistance programs.

''Who are they to decide who's Indian and who isn't? That should be left up to the tribe,'' says Loretta, a caller from Standing Rock, S.D.

After five years on the air, ''Native America Calling'' bills itself as the nation's longest-running talk show that focuses on American Indian issues. Some 125,000 listeners tune in every week on 36 radio stations and Web simulcasts, according to the show's distributor, American Indian Radio on Satellite.

The show's goal is to expand the ancient Indian tradition of communicating as equals known as the talking circle.

Generations of tribal members have used talking circles in leadership discussions and storytelling. The circle allows each participant to see the others' faces and speak in turn as a stick or feather is passed from hand to hand.

While the faces aren't visible over the radio or the Internet, everyone's voice is equal, said McKosato, a member of the Sac and Fox tribes.

''We come from a very strong oral tradition. We need to keep with that strength,'' said Bernadette Chato, who produces a weekly health show for Native America Calling from Anchorage, Alaska. ''So many Indian traditions have been pushed aside with the tribal governments.''

The Monday-through-Friday talk show has created a forum for Indians to speak out on issues that are not addressed on or off the reservations, Chato said.

''With the show, we get our concerns out and the people on the outside know what's going on,'' said listener JoAnn Tall, a member of the Oglala Lakota nation from Porcupine, S.D.

During the segment on blood quantum, Daniel, a part Cherokee listener in Anchorage, says he fears he won't have access to services such as health care. In 1838, his ancestors escaped from the Trail of Tears -- the infamous forced relocation of thousands of Cherokees to Oklahoma. His ancestors ended up settling in Missouri, but since they weren't in Oklahoma to be federally registered, they lost their status as Cherokees.

''I can't be recognized as Cherokee even though I can prove my grandparents were full-bloods,'' Daniel says. ''I'm kind of hung out in limbo, I don't exist.''

''Whoa, that's a new one to me,'' McKosato responds.

McKosato's topics range from the differences between southern and northern drumming to U.S. politics. Last week, the show touched on interpreting scientific phenomena through native languages, a book-of-the-month discussion on the loss of Salmon runs, heart disease, and the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory.

The programs are supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, listener donations and private foundations.

John GrofsVenor, a Cherokee who connects to the show almost every day from his home computer in Nespelem, Wash., said Native America Calling takes a balanced approach as it digs into issues that affect the lives of Indians.

''They talk about issues like tribal sovereignty and things that the main media does not address,'' the 62-year-old listener said. The mainstream media ''either ignore Indian problems or else they don't want to address them.''

Indians make up around 1 percent of the American population, with 2.4 million people.

McKosato said he hopes his show will encourage Indians to empower themselves and challenge their own beliefs.

''Native American people over the past few generations have become very dependent on the government,'' McKosato said. ''To become independent nations, they have to make decisions for themselves. They need to base those decisions on the same values as their ancestors did.''

Regular listener Charles Fast Horse, an Oglala Sioux Indian from Rapid City, S.D., explained the impact of the show in traditional terms.

''It sends the smoke signals that our grandfathers communicated with,'' he said. ''We want to hear issues that not only concern our people but others all around.''

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On the Net:

Native America Calling: http://www.nativecalling.org



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