KSUT Public Radio launched Native Braids on Monday in hopes of elevating the Native American storytelling tradition, building media skills for youths and strengthening connections with the non-Native community.
Native Braids is the pilot project for the Tribal Media Center, which will open in a new building in 2020. The launch, timed to coincide with Native American Heritage Month, included 11 stories shared by elders in the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes. The topics included sexuality, tribal ceremonies and the meaning of home and family.
“We really have our eye on expanding this program to other tribal communities,” said Tami Graham, KSUT executive director. “Eventually, we want it to become a national project.”
The launch comes after 1½ years of gathering stories from community members in Ignacio and Towaoc. It is a series of five-minute radio stories between Native American youths and their elders, co-produced by KSUT and Adam Burke, an independent radio producer formerly of NPR and High Country News.
In one piece, a chorus of women sing in the background as Eddie Box III, former Culture Department director, talks about finding unity between his sexuality and Southern Ute culture. In another, Ute Mountain Ute tribal Chairman Manuel Heart tells childhood stories in an interview conducted by his 12-year-old granddaughter.
Sheila Nanaeto, tribal radio station manager and a Southern Ute tribal member, sat in on the interviews, in part to make sure they were done in a culturally sensitive way.
“Especially with this initial project, we wanted to be really sensitive ... to make sure we were being respectful and asking appropriate questions,” Graham said.
Richard G. Ballantine, president of the Ballantine Family Fund Board of Trustees and chairman of the board of Ballantine Communications Inc., which owns The Durango Herald, made a personal donation of $10,000 to fund the stories included in the project launch.
In the last six months, KSUT received $35,000 in grant funding to continue the project. Native Braids will create a series of health-focused stories funded by a $10,000 grant from the Rocky Mountain Health Foundation. The Next 50 Initiative, which focuses on engaging older populations, granted Native Braids $25,000.
“We definitely are keeping an eye toward (youth) training as part of this project,” Graham said.
Graham said the project highlights the Native American tradition of storytelling and for non-Native listeners, it gives depth to modern Native American life.
“We’re all in this together, and we all have similar trials,” she said. “There’s going to be nuances that are unique to Native American life, but storytelling brings people together.”