The following story was written and reported by Christina Rose, Native Sun
News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.
Tiokasin Ghosthorse speaking in San Franscico at a Green Conference in 2011.
Tiokasin Ghosthorse promotes Indigenous voices
By Christina Rose
Staff Writer, Native Sun News
NEW YORK, NY—From humble beginnings on the Cheyenne River Reservation to New York City Radio Host, Tiokasin Ghosthorse is making a mark on mainstream society.
Growing up with oral traditions, he has taken the tradition on the road and used it to bring awareness of the crises facing Mother Earth and all people. His program “First Voices Indigenous Radio” is heard on 43 frequencies in the United States and people in Europe and Australia tune in to his website weekly to hear the voices of Indigenous people from around the country and the world.
“The world is facing major crises and cannot survive without a shift in thought process,” he said in a telephone interview, and it has been his lifelong goal to make that happen.
It seems like it was always Ghosthorse’s path to enlighten others in global style. When he was about 15 years old, he traveled with 25 other Lakota kids who had been chosen for their academic and personal standing as Lakota Sioux. He remembers, “We were taken to Europe and dispersed to different countries. It was two days after school let out, and we traveled to Detroit, then Paris. Wherever we were, we presented.”
“Overseas, they appreciated that we were Native Americans. I wore my moccasins,” he said, laughing gently.
The trip had a major impact on Ghosthorse. “I did not want to come back because of the way I was treated here. I came back angry. I rejected books that were basically lying to me. I went from Honor Society to almost the bottom of the barrel.” However, he still managed to graduate near instead of at the top of the class.
The seed for the radio show was planted after he left Cheyenne River to attend college in Kansas. Being in college gave him access to Native people from all over the country. He was amazed at the richness of the southern, western, northern and eastern accents. “I liked that we looked all kinds of ways, not just Lakota.”
He realized that the other students were also going through some of the same things. “We would be sitting there, talking about our lives and our families. We saw the commonality of one big struggle,” he said.
Ghosthorse recognized that many students planned on returning home to help their people and he, too, knew he wanted to help; but he was looking for a different way. He explored Native history and the Native perspective by reading Vine DeLoria and others of that caliber. He wondered what was going on before 1492. He became angry, and he understood why the “the Indian” was viewed as angry. “But my anger was not hatred. I was angry because I knew the truth of what kept me from knowing about our history. It was the system that was in place, the not knowing, the education, the religion, sciences, and the citizenry we were surrounded by at the borders on the reservation.”
Tired of being treated negatively and at best, patronizingly, he realized, “It was like we were being tolerated instead of being accepted for who we were. They treated us as if we were going to go away someday and there was no need for us to learn our history or our culture. I knew I had to try to work something out. It may be big, it may be little, but I had to figure something out.”
There were several non-native counselors at the college who took him aside and counseled him, and he said, “I would tell them what I was thinking. Surprisingly, I was thinking the same thing then that I am thinking today. In order to have all the spirituality and clarity I needed, I could not drink alcohol or do drugs. All they taught me was loneliness and that I didn’t belong. The higher I got, the more I didn’t appreciate who I was. I needed all the brain cells and every molecule in my body to be at my best. That clarity really helped me, so I credit other people. There was this sense I had to experience this not just for myself but for my people.”
Eventually, Tiokasin returned to the reservation where he felt alienated. After receiving an education and having been gone a few years, people treated him as if he was no longer one of them. “I just thought, okay, I am not going to be here all the time. I thought when I went away, that’s what Lakota people are supposed to do that and help your people at the same time. It was like my vision quest that was what I had to do.”
So away he went again, staying on the road and trying to figure out how he could help the people at home. “It required that I get the education and exposure I could not get on the reservation. Whether it was because of technology, funds, whatever. So I traveled the world. I didn’t care how poor I was, but I knew I had to do this.”
In 1992, Tiokasin noticed an increasing outcry of Native voices throughout the world. In San Francisco, 160,000 Indigenous people, from the Americas and beyond, came together to recognize “Quincentennial Celebration of Indigenous Survival.” That same year, Rigoberta Menchu-Tum, a Guatemalan peasant farmer-turned-activist, received the Nobel Peace Prize. The United Nations held their first Earth Summit in Rio and it was Ghosthorse's first year of hosting and producing an “Indigenous” formatted radio program.
The seed for the show was beginning to sprout. After several years in Washington State, Tiokasin moved to New York City. Mario Murillo was working at WBAI, Pacifica Radio, as the Public Affairs Program Director. Murillo had always worked to ensure there was a Native voice on the station but when he heard Ghosthorse he was intrigued by him. “I had worked on a number of Indigenous issues, and I was doing my own show. When Tiokasin became the Producer of First Voices Indigenous Radio, I appreciated from the outset his deep-rooted commitment to recognizing the commonality of Indigenous communities. He saw it all as part of his own struggle.”
Of Ghosthorse’s style, Murillo said, “He does have a voice, people do recognize him. People from around the world appreciate his show. It reaches audiences who hear what he is doing. It is because of his commitment to indigenous issues which might be ignored, even on other indigenous media,” Murillo said.
While Indigenous voices are rarely publicized in the mainstream media, many of Ghosthorse’s radio shows and presentations are heard widely.
Among the different nations that have been heard on FVIR, New Zealand, Burma, Vietnam, Tibet, Mongolia and every continent inhabited by Indigenous peoples are among them. The program is free from corporate, government and religious influence and he does not receive a salary. Ghosthorse has covered events and topics such as globalization and the deadening rise of monoculture, energy and resource issues; ecology, environmental issues, and global warming; tribal recognition, representation/identity and mascots; sacred sites and land rights, casinos, language, education, military, prophecy, and tribal women. The program segments include Indigenous Issues around the World, and feature happenings in Washington, the United Nations, North America, the Arctic Rim, the Pacific Rim, at Sacred Sites, and South America, according to a statement provided by Ghosthorse.
At least some of his popularity might be due to the fact that he credits the Indigenous in all of his listeners. “We are all indigenous from somewhere, but approximately 95% of the human population has forgotten how to be Indigenous,” he says in almost every presentation. That inclusiveness may speak in a way that seems new to listeners but Ghosthorse says is based in the ancient teachings of the Lakota.
In most of the shows, Tiokasin takes a back seat to his guests. He has covered many of South Dakota’s issues, including uranium. Debra and Alex White Plume have appeared on Ghosthorse’s show many times. “The work Tiokasin does is extremely important to Indigenous people and social justice,” Debra White Plume said. “He is the voice to the “big land,” international in scope. We depend on him to get the word out about land rights and the daily oppression of living here, the third poorest county in the country. The mainstream media isn’t interested in the truth that we speak.”
Charmaine White Face agrees that his help has been instrumental to the cause. She said, “He brought the problem with uranium mining to a much wider audience than we would ever get out here. It’s difficult to live in a big city, so I am thankful he’s there. After being on his show, I got phone calls from listeners in New York and they became members of our organization.”
The program has been running for 20 years, both in NYC and in Washington State. Ghosthorse has spent his own money to contribute to keeping it going. He said, “I had to keep “Indigenous Voices” on the air, because that is what the show does. Of the 43 stations that air FVIR, only two or three are Native stations. It’s not just educating Native people because I don’t feel I can do that. It would be like preaching to the choir.”
Ghosthorse’s talents also manifest musically. As a flute player and maker of the ancient red cedar Lakota flute, Ghosthorse has performed with Pete Seeger and Sting, and in venues such as the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, the United Nations and more. His debut album ‘KSA,’ is composed of songs and spoken-word. One of the tracks, ‘The Prayer’ is featured on the Grammy-nominated Lisa Bodnar CD “Come Hell or High Water.” KSA was nominated in 2008 for the Native American Music Awards.
First Voices Indigenous Radio is listened to by those who want to know about Native peoples world-wide, not just the Native Americans, Ghosthorse said. “The world is ready for it now. People can walk down the street and say, ‘I heard this from the program’.”
Mohawk radio host John Kane describes Ghosthorse in glowing terms. “You can tell that he is coming from a keen awareness of the issues. He is classic person: his look, his voice, his ability as a musician. I do a radio show and I know what it takes to do this stuff. He is working every day at it. His approach, his view, does not get muddled in religious dogma, and he is deeply tied to nature. He doesn’t speak in mystery. He is a guy who is based on knowledge and nature.”
Ghosthorse's ultimate goal is to generate action from his listeners, to get them involved in issues, remove stereotypes, and base their knowledge of Native peoples on respect and truth. He hopes that listeners will have their hearts opened to making choices that honor relationship with each other and Mother Earth in a more deeply connected way.
Ghosthorse’s program “First Voices Indigenous Radio” (www.firstvoicesindigenousradio.org) promotes indigenous teachings, philosophies and knowledge. Shows are archived and can be accessed through the website. New shows are streamed through the website and can be heard every Thursday morning.
(Contact Christina Rose at email@example.com)
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