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KSUT launches Native Braids pilot project

Photo Credit: Native Braids

Stories from the heart of Native America

KSUT Tribal Radio launched their Native Braids project on air over both the Four Corners and Tribal signals, Monday, Nov. 18. Native Braids features 11 unique stories, told by tribal members in interview style audio clips.

“Native Braids came about with the advent of the new Eddie Box Jr. Media Center, as a pilot project,” explained Tami Graham, KSUT executive director. “Exposing youth to storytelling, and multi-media projects.”

“This [project] can carry over to the Media Center,” emphasized Sheila Nanaeto, tribal radio station manager. Native Braids is a Co-production of KSUT Tribal Radio and Independent Producer Adam Burke.

“It was an idea that I proposed to Tami almost three years ago. What should our priorities be with the new media center?” he asked. Burke recognized that the audience is critical, and platforms are evolving. “It is now much different than radio,” he stresses. Emphasizing that online access and smart phones play a role in how traditional radio content is now experienced.

Native Braids lives online; KSUT is using a website platform to blend audio with images to bring intimate stories out and into the community. Those same audio clips are being aired as individual segments over the airwaves. The core idea is to have a younger person interview an elder — to have two people, who know each other, have a conversation that touches on culture, personal reflection, or asks questions about everyday life.

“We make sure they know where to start, then we sit back and let the conversation evolved,” emphasized Burke. “Two people find synergy with each other in the process.”

“Curiosity is such a powerful driver among human beings. This is a project unlike anything I’ve ever done,” Burke stated. “The project can scale, but it serves this community.”

“The less filtered approach allows for more authenticity. To have a conversation that they always wanted to have or to ask a question [they have wanted to ask]. Young people are finding their voice,” Burke added. “These are incredibly powerful moments.”

The KSUT brand is looking ahead. The radio station will move into their new facility in 2020, the Eddie Box Jr. Media Center.

KSUT hopes to get their signal broadcasting from the Hermano Peak radio tower, in Towaoc, Colo. shortly after Thanksgiving, giving the radio signal an extra boost and reaching further into those tribal communities.

All this coincides with the launch of Native Braids. The three big projects all piggyback off each other.  Native Braids is an initiative that has been created by KSUT Tribal Radio, airing over both signals; giving Four Corners listeners a taste of Tribal Radio, which in turn fosters community.

Once the Media Center is up and running, other Native communities will have access to the training center, and KSUT encourages collaboration on the Native Braids project.

“People are disengaged with each other because of technology,” Nanaeto explained. “This is an opportunity to connect the youth. There are common threads in each of these stories.”

“The respect that these younger kids should have for these elders, [to realize] what they have had to go through in life. It’s amazing,” remarked Nanaeto. “Families that have been here forever…to hear their stories.” The new media center will open up more of these opportunities and provide a space to work.

Youth understanding the interview process is key. “Building new skills. Some of them have it; some of them don’t,” Nanaeto said. “Whatever their creativity brings to them — they can use it to build and spark our future.”

Language preservation is a key component…and Native Braids grew out of this initially. “We can’t get those stories back once someone walks on,” she said. “We are such a small demographic that when we lose an individual, so much is lost,” Naneato emphasized.

“It is so exciting to get to launch…to see people spend time with these stories,” Burke said.

The initial project funding came from Richard Ballantine of Ballantine Communications Inc., the company that owns and operates the Durango Herald, the Cortez Journal and DGO Magazine, and whose family has strong historical ties to journalism in the Four Corners.

“That enabled the project to really kick off,” Graham emphasized.

The other two grants that made this project possible came from the Rocky Mountain Health Foundation, who provided $10K to address health related issues, and a NextFifty Initiative grant for $25K focused on the demographic over the age of fifty.

State specific funding also plays a role in who the stories are focused on, as some of these grants are Colorado based.

Access to media resources is key.

“To be able to empower people to share their stories in this way is powerful. The new media center will be an idea incubator — some of these teenagers should, or could, have their own podcasts,” Burke said. With additional time and resources, KSUT is looking to expand the project to other Tribal communities. Native Braids will continue to archive these intimate conversations between individuals, enriching a record of personal histories that might otherwise be lost.

To learn more visit or tune into KSUT Tribal Radio (FM 91.3), or visit Native Braids on Facebook.

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