KUYI Hopi Radio brings culture to the airwaves

KUYI Hopi Radio staff and volunteers stand outside the station located in Keams Canyon, Arizona. From left: Bruce Talawyma, Station Manager Richard Davis, Romalita Laban, Trina Kagenveama, Emil Batala, Thomas Humeyestewa and Tim Nuvangyaoma. Below: DJ Lana (Humeyestewa) rocks the airwaves. Ryan Williams/NHO

KUYI Hopi Radio staff and volunteers stand outside the station located in Keams Canyon, Arizona. From left: Bruce Talawyma, Station Manager Richard Davis, Romalita Laban, Trina Kagenveama, Emil Batala, Thomas Humeyestewa and Tim Nuvangyaoma. Below: DJ Lana (Humeyestewa) rocks the airwaves. Ryan Williams/NHO

KEAMS CANYON, Ariz. - KUYI Hopi Radio isn't your average public radio station. One of its main goals is to keep the Hopi language alive by broadcasting and translating programs into Hopi (Lavayi). Preserving culture and tradition is another goal, one which the station's staff and volunteers take seriously.

In December of 2000, KUYI, pronounced KUU-yi, went on air. On the summer solstice, June 21, 2010, the station went live online.

"Our cultural discussions... we attempt to have monthly with the moon," said Richard Davis, station manager for KUYI. "The last couple of months have been very important in the ceremonial cycle of the community (of which I am a guest of). We discuss what's appropriate to do within that timeframe on air... the things that we're allowed to share."

Clark Tenakhongva, who shares some of the cultural programming duties with Bruce Talawyma, said the station tries to be culturally sensitive while giving out information that is common knowledge. He said some of the main things he and Talawyma focus on are health and the importance of the land, culture and planting.

"We always tie that back into our programming, maybe something that in our experience we observed 50 years ago and what we went through as compared to now and the changes we have seen within the 50 years," Tenakhongva said.

But the main focus of their programming is the Hopi language.

"Everything is based on language for Hopi," Tenakhongva said. "You can have a ceremony or you can have an everyday normal discussion but it should be in Hopi and that way you have a better understanding and grasp on why we eat the way we do, table manners and so forth."

Tenakhongva said he also worked with the high school teachers and staff in his role at KUYI to enhance the education program by using Hopi words on air and having kids who were listening repeat them in their classes, paying attention to make sure that the words were spoken in each dialect.

"That's kind of evolved and we started a partnership with Hopi Head Start for one of the three Hopi dialects - (Moenkopi has their own dialect as well)," Davis said. "That's called the Shooting Stars Hopi Lavayi project."

Hopi traditionally is taught in the home, not in a textbook or on the radio, but while Tenakhongva's way is a more grassroots way of learning, the Shooting Stars program is necessary because, as with most Native languages, the Hopi language needs to be spoken to be preserved and it is being lost.

"We don't want to take the place of traditional education in the home but we want to get people discussing why (the language) is being lost and how can we reclaim it once again," Davis said.

Davis said the station hopes to have the funds to translate the programs into the Second Mesa dialect soon, as well.

"That is the next dialect that we're going to take on," Davis said. "Because we can't just subscribe to one cluster of villages' way. We need to be inclusive of all ways."

Raising money

The recent Arizona Gives Day on April 7, an online fundraiser for non-profits, brought in more money than KUYI has ever received before, a little short of their goal of $4,000. But running a radio station in Indian country takes money, especially when there is no support from the Hopi Tribe. KUYI receives federal public broadcasting dollars but even those are in danger.

"We are severely hamstrung right now by the Senate wanting to zero out the Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds," Davis said. "The majority of our funding comes from there, close to three quarters of our funding. There is no line item in the tribe whatsoever for any media other than the Hopi Tutuveni."

The money from donations and membership goes toward everything from the lowest level of infrastructure to the highest level - from keeping the toilets working and unplugged to keeping the lights on at the top of the tower - everything in between.

The bill from Arizona Public Service (APS) is $80,000 a year to power the tower.

"It makes you look at your own APS bill a little differently," Davis said.

Money is going toward a low powered FM tower and antennae in the upper village of Moenkopi. The lower village of Moenkopi has never been able to get the station in KUYI's fifteen year history.

"It's been 10 out of 12 villages Hopi Radio," Davis said. "So those last two villages, which have been historically underserved still don't fully get us."

The money goes toward the cultural programming and Hopi language preservation programs. It also goes toward live streaming of events or sports, enabling a much larger audience for gatherings that would be out of reach for some of the listening audience - some who are on Hopi and others who are across the country or even out of the country.

The Adopt a Watt membership program is one way KUYI membership coordinator Trina Kagenveama brings in money and helps to keep the tower powered. The watts are $10 a watt per year. With 69,000 broadcasting watts, and an audience of about 70,000 who can listen to KUYI every day with a good signal, there are plenty of watts for everyone.

"Within our listening range there is actually probably 90,000 more than that," Davis said. "So there are upwards of 160,000 who can tune in depending on how strong the wind is blowing... or the terrain. That's huge. What we're trying to do is get each watt powered by a $10 donation."

Right now, KUYI has 158 members, Kagenveama said.

The faces of KUYI

KUYI employs a small staff - three fulltime staff people including Davis; Production Assistant Thomas "Lana" Humeyestewa, and Kagenveama; and one halftime staff person, Anthony Dukepoo, an operations assistant.

Everyone else volunteers their time. Humeyestewa, who has been at the station for almost four years, started out as a volunteer at the station. With unemployment high on the reservation, Davis sees converting people with aptitude like Humeyestewa to fulltime staff as important.

"We want to try and degrade that (unemployment) as much possible," Davis said, adding that one of the ways to do that is to give volunteers who work hard the experience they need to have a level of experience in real world working conditions as they would have from getting a degree.

"Lana's got that, in the same span from volunteering and working," Davis said. "Now he's at a level of an audio engineer at other radio stations. We train in house and try to elevate in house as well."

Humeyestewa said he spends most of his time out in the community, talking with local people about Hopi life. He records events like the upcoming Veteran Code Talker event.

"That is a big one we do every year," Humeyestewa said. "I like going around and getting local content."

He gets programs ready to re-air on the station, during the weekends when everyone is home and listening. In the past KUYI counted on programming from Native Voice One, which they still use, but Humeyestewa has made it possible to have more original programming during the schedule.

Humeyestewa gets old tracks that are part of the Shooting Stars program, where the content is in Hopi, ready to air.

"Those are much better than what we have now," Humeyestewa said. "Those are mostly in Hopi, they teach the Hopi language to kids and you can hear the kids singing in there, too."

Another volunteer who recently joined the team, Tim Nuvangyaoma, said what interested him was how KUYI revives the language in a way that is relatable for younger generations - through the radio and songs.

"It is one big family," he said. "I think it is a good source for information for the local communities. There are a lot of positive programs in the community... We can get that information out there."

Community radio

Talawyma is one of the lead on-air personalities for KUYI. He said the radio station is a huge asset to the whole community not just in terms of entertainment. Within the last five years, he said, the changes to the programming are having a positive impact.

"The live remotes help us interact with the people," Talawyma said. "We've gone to schools and community functions. We're more visible and people start to really learn about the radio station."

On air interviews with different programs have received positive community response, as well - Indian Health Service employees or staff from the Social Security office are examples. In a few weeks, KUYI will interview the first Native American astronaut.

"Those are things they like to hear," Talawyma said. "We try and get those people to come on the program so they are educating the community about what they do."

KUYI broadcast the presidential election and the inauguration for the Hopi Tribe. All of these types of broadcasts are helping KUYI become better known socially throughout the community.

"There's a better connection with the radio station," Talawyma said.

Davis said the key to understanding KUYI is to understand that the station wants community voices on the radio.

"You just have to have a heart, a voice and an intellect," Davis said. "Everyone around this room has a deep intellect and a deep voice. That's what all radio and community radio should be - people can walk in the door and go on the air and share their knowledge ... with our listeners."

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