Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux elders seek news coverage on KILI

The following story was written and reported by Randall Howell. © Native Sun News.

PORCUPINE, SOUTH DAKOTA –– Hunger for more local news and less entertainment is part of what’s driving a possible change in the broadcasting board of directors at KILI-FM.

That’s the upshot of the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Treaty Committee meeting last week. In fact, those attending the Aug. 31 session, showed their intentions with an overwhelmingly positive vote on what perhaps could best be described as a “sense of the committee” proposal to construct an ordinance that, if passed, would significantly change the radio board.

“The current board … it does nothing,” said Cecilia Martin of Evergreen, a 90-year-old tribal elder. “We also need the news back. It’s been gone for three, maybe four, months. That’s how I find out what’s going on. We need to take our radio station back.”

Changing the complexion and the numbers on the board, however, could involve a blizzard of bureaucratic paperwork, according to Floyd Hand, who conducted the Aug. 31 meeting at Billy Mills. More than 40 attended.

“I want to take this proposal to (Bob) Ecoffey before we do anything with it,” said Hand, who indicated that the Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent for Pine Ridge Reservation was out of town.

First, the proposed changes would expand the board from its current four members to an eight-member board. Second, the move to expand the size of the board would carry with it directives to broaden the diversity of it, according to Hand, who appeared to be reluctant to move forward on the changes without Ecoffey’s blessing.

The community radio station, which was designed to be independent of tribal involvement, influence and/or ownership, broadcasts from Porcupine Butte just a few miles south of Porcupine village.

Members of the radio board reportedly include Dennis White Shield, Morris Brewer, Richard Iron Cloud and Lillie May Red Owl, according to Martin, who also offered testimony in Lakota at the meeting.

While most of the testimony was presented in Lakota, many of the translations to English underpinned the “broken relationship” between elders and KILI-Radio.

However, several testified that they feared the station was being “paid to be silent” when it comes to broadcasting reservation news, particularly politics.

“The people (elders) out there need to hear what’s going on,” said Martin. “What are they (KILI) afraid of? I don’t have to fold for anyone.”

Meanwhile, several members of the Red Women’s Society were among those testifying in support of “doing something” about the station.

“I thank them (her parents) for “knocking that language into me,” said Wilma Thin Elk of Wounded Knee and also a member of the Red Women’s Society. “I am not afraid. Let’s find out what’s going on up there. We need to go up there and find out. We need to get on KILI, not just listen to hearsay.”

Lorraine White Face reminded attendees that even the motto of the station is: “Voice of the Lakota Nation.” She spoke about the loss of the 6 a.m. news drive – a local news drive broadcast by Mary Young Bear, a radio journalist. Young Bear – an early morning workday feature – reportedly left her job “about three to four months ago” over a conflict with management.

Melanie Janis, station manager, attended the Treaty Committee session, but did not testify. Nor would she await the meeting’s adjournment to provide explanation or commentary involving that incident.

Most reservation high schools, including Pine Ridge High School, Little Wound High School, Red Cloud High School, have full-immersion or partial immersion courses, if not curriculum to restore meaningful Lakota.

In addition, Oglala Lakota College has recently begun a full-immersion Lakota language class – so convinced and committed is OLC President Thomas Shortbull to the quality and the enrichment of positive self-identification that becomes part of language lessons learned. However, trying to get Lakota youth to commit to learning the language is proving quite difficult according to a recent news article in Native Sun News.

“We Lakota have that freedom of speech, too,” said White Face, who explained how she felt about the KILI’s current operating practices. “Every day, I don’t want to listen to it anymore. It’s not being run right. There’s nothing on it anymore. I get calls from people and they all want me back on the air.”

Martin applauded, saying: “We’re going to put her back in there.” Others confirmed her sentiments with low-key applause and whispered Lakota affirmations.

Meanwhile, Blossom Johnson, a former KILI disc jockey, explained the station’s “previous operational” environment, telling attendees that “our board had a once per month meeting” at the station.

“Severt Young Bear was the only board member up there nearly every day. He checked out the station,” she said. “Now I don’t even know who they (board members) are.”

Several wondered aloud why White Face was no longer at the station.

“She just walked away over something,” Martin said. “We want her back. We want her to rejoin that KILI staff so we can hear the news. We’ve got to do something. Mary, be strong. We’ll put you in there again.”

Then came the proposed resolution to replace the KILI board, but Thin Elk, took some exception.

“Give us permission to go up to the next board meeting to see who is there and what’s happening,” said Thin Elk. “One of the things that needs to be done is we have to be sure they have an election. We need some Lakota in there. We need to get all Lakota up there.

Otherwise, they are just going to throw us in the ditch. I can demand to be on that board.” The proposal for the permissive resolution then passed overwhelmingly. That gave the Treaty Committee authority to create a directive resolution designed to oust the current board, expand – and broaden – the composition of a new board.

The new board would involve one representative from each of the reservation’s eight governing districts.

White Face told the group that the new board would need to assert independence.

“We have to look at it as a Lakota priority … a Lakota-speaker priority. But we won’t get any help,” she said. “We have money. We need to do something with that money. We are not under them (the tribal council). They don’t do anything for us.”

Marie Fox Belly, a quarter-century volunteer disc jockey at KILI, offered some commentary before adjournment.

“We – the Lakota – are a nation now. We are not tribal,” she said. “We are from here … from Pine Ridge.”

She was joined by Lily Mae Red Eagle. An elder herself, Red Eagle seemed to sense misunderstanding among some of those attending the Treaty Committee meeting.

“If you are thinking about me in a different way, that’s too bad,” she said, explaining her role as an elder advisor on the radio station’s board.

“It’s (KILI) not running right. It’s just not running right,” she said.

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