An Arizona man with a background in Native radio faces federal civil and criminal charges for using a federal grant for personal expenses rather than its intended purpose — starting a radio station for two Navajo organizations. An indictment filed March 27 in the District of Arizona U.S. District Court alleges that John Bittner of Flagstaff misrepresented himself as a certified engineer to New Mexico-based Navajo groups. He obtained a Public Telecommunications Facilities Program grant based on a building plan that he is alleged to have lied about. After the Navajo groups received a PTFP grant at Bittner’s urging, the purported engineer used the $322,364 for child support payments, medical and legal expenses, travel and other personal spending, according to the indictment and a court suit. An FCC FM construction permit awarded to Diné Agriculture Inc., a Navajo nonprofit in Shiprock, N.M., expired in January, dashing plans for the station Bittner had promised to build.
KCAW/Raven Radio in Sitka, Alaska, may not have a skeleton in its closet, but it has one in its basement. Contractors working beneath the studio in October uncovered human remains that may predate the 103-year-old building. KCAW General Manager Ken Fate told Current on Nov. 28 that the station is “working closely with the Sitka Tribe of Alaska” to determine whether the body is that of a tribal ancestor. The station reported on its website that when the bones were discovered between two slabs of bedrock, work immediately stopped.
Native Public Media, a minority consortium incubated within the National Federation of Community Broadcasters for seven years, is striking out on its own, establishing itself as an independent nonprofit and pursuing big new opportunities to expand media access for Native Tribes through broadband and mobile technologies. With the realignment, announced early this month, the Native group strengthens its ties with the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., its partner for the last several years in research, policy analysis and advocacy to redress huge and historic shortcomings in access to new and older means of communication for Native tribes. Among the collaboration’s most significant achievements so far is last year’s FCC ruling giving tribes higher priority in competitions for radio channels near Indian lands (Current, Oct. 18, 2010) — a policy that the FCC looks to expand on broadband and wireless platforms.
The commission intends to unveil new initiatives during its meeting on March 3, which it designated “Native Nations Day.” According to a tentative agenda, the FCC will discuss options for lowering barriers to communications services and expanding wireless Internet on Native lands, and expanding Native radio under the new tribal priority. By aligning with New America Foundation as its fiscal agent, NPM gains access to a “remarkable think tank and brain trust that’s able to provide the kind of research and data that can make a small company like NPM more effective,” said Loris Taylor, executive director.
Ride the school bus on the Hopi Reservation in northern Arizona and you’ll hear Shooting Stars, a program for kids produced mostly by volunteers at KUYI, the three-year-old public radio station on the reservation. Tune in during the day and you’ll hear an update on living with diabetes or asthma. Keep listening and you’ll hear junior- and senior-high school interns reading the news. Stop to chat with someone on the reservation about what they’ve heard on the radio. Everyone knows you’re talking about the same station.
Lakota radio engineer Alex Lookingelk rides the highways of Wyoming, Montana and North and South Dakota, covering as many as 5,000 miles a month in his Chevy S-10 pickup. In the past seven years, Lookingelk has become known as a circuit-riding engineer for the public radio stations on the reservations and an all-around advisor to the stations. “He’ll say, ‘I have to go over to KGVA in Montana’ — that’s about a 12-hour drive,'” says Frank Blythe, executive director of Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT), based in Lincoln, Neb. “He handles most of the Upper Plains’ technical problems and he also gets involved in the politics.” On his long drives, Lookingelk has plenty of time to chew on his worries about reservation radio and the tough-to-beat circumstances and habits that afflict it.
The internecine warfare at KNNB, the public radio station on the White Mountain Apache reservation in east central Arizona, seems insignificant now, dwarfed by the terrifying Chediski-Rodeo wildfire that roared through the beautiful forests in June. The fire, which destroyed hundreds of homes in Arizona, blackened nearly a third of the 1.6 million-acre Fort Apache Reservation, burning Ponderosa pine destined for the tribe’s sawmills and killing the elk and deer that bring it at least $600,000 a year in hunting licenses. Before the fire, the 20-year-old station in Whiteriver was a focal point of power struggles among factions and tribal leaders. But when the largest wildfire in Arizona history struck the reservation, Apaches put aside those disputes and KNNB focused on essentials: telling listeners how to survive and how to help. They interrupted regular programming with evacuation orders, emergency plans and information about relief and rescue efforts for the more than 20,000 residents in KNNB’s broadcast area.