National | Technology

Tristan Ahtone: Radio plays a key role in many tribal communities





Reporting for Al Jazeera America, Tristan Ahtone looks at the role played by radio stations across Indian Country:
Dust and diesel smells hung in the air as an 18-wheeler blasted through the tiny village of Kykotsmovi on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. Just off the road, a dog whined before lying down in the sun. A light breeze blew sand off a nearby mesa, sending it to ping and shuffle against the khaki sagebrush. Then through the settling silence, the sounds of radio static — and suddenly, the voice of an announcer from the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Arvin Fredricks put down his carving tools and turned up the volume.

“That’s my constant companion, the radio,” he said. “It’s all coming to me by way of this little box that’s playing it out to me, and I’m doing something else that I love to do.”

Fredricks owns a tire repair shop, but when nobody swings by for a quick fix or to air up, he carves wooden katsinas, little dolls of religious deities to the Hopi and artistic curiosities to tourists.

“This is what I do,” said Fredricks. “Especially when it’s a nice day, you’re out here in just your T-shirt, just waiting for a customer, and there’s my radio.”

About 7,000 people call the Hopi Reservation home, living in 12 villages spread across three mesas, nestled within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation in the northeast corner of Arizona. It’s isolated and sparse and boasts dramatic landscapes as well as limited access to Internet and even phone services.

As access to instant digital media and news spreads across the United States, tribal radio stations are a rich example of just how the digital divide continues to separate Native America from the United States and how tribes use technology often seen as outdated to bridge that gap.

Get the Story:
Radio on the Reservation (AL Jazeera 3/1)