Harlan McKosato, 1966-2020. Courtesy photo

'An icon in Indian Country': Noted radio host and journalist Harlan McKosato passes on

A man who spent 12 years as the host and producer of the nationally broadcast radio show Native America Calling and was once considered the “voice of Indian Country” died Tuesday, surrounded by friends and family.

Harlan McKosato, 54, was a citizen of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma. He grew up on the Iowa Reservation in the north-central part of the state.

“Harlan was an icon in Indian Country for his award-winning contributions to world news outlets,” his family said in a statement following his passing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Tuesday. “He possessed a unique storytelling ability that enabled him to report on any subject in profound ways.”

STATEMENT FROM THE FAMILY OF HARLAN MCKOSATO July 21, 2020 “This morning our dearly beloved Harlan began his journey...

Posted by Indianz.Com on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

McKosato’s conducted interviews with many prominent Native leaders and non-Native political leaders, including the late Wilma Mankiller, first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, and former President Bill Clinton. His work was published in many formats, including radio, TV, newspapers and social media.

“Harlan had communicated with his heart to personally connect with audiences and had educated many on a vast number of tribal issues,” his family said. “He paved the way for many young Native people to join him in the field of communications.”

McKosato left Native America Calling for three years between 2003 and 2006 after an alcohol and domestic violence-related arrest. The radio show, produced at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, airs Monday through Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

He was known for tackling tough and complex topics like attacks on tribal sovereignty and disenrollment of tribal citizens by tribes. He interviewed newsmakers on issues such as federal legislation and U.S. Supreme Court cases affecting Native people and made those issues understandable to most people, said Jim Gray, former Principal Chief of the Osage Nation and a longtime friend to McKosato.

“He made it easier for people to understand the work that we do as tribal leaders,” Gray said. “That helps everybody.”

Harlan McKosato. Photo courtesy Lisa Tiger

Gray said McKosato interviewed him several times when Gray served as publisher of the Native American Times newspaper.

“I got to know him very well over the years,” he said. “We remained friends.”

He said he last spoke to McKosato about three years ago when McKosato called him to ask whether the Sac and Fox Nation, which Gray served as tribal administrator at the time, was treating him okay.

“That’s his tribe so he was wondering if the Sac and Foxes were treating me okay, and I said, ‘Yeah,’” Gray said. “It was just a friendly call. He wasn’t needing anything.”

That’s how McKosato was, Gray said.

“Once you knew him, you were always friends, whether it was business or not,” he said.

McKosato’s sister, Shelley McKosato-Haupt, said she and her brother grew up in Perkins, Oklahoma, among her mother’s people, the Iowa Tribe. Their mother, Bette Free-McKosato, served as the tribe’s secretary and graduated from Haskell Indian Junior College, now known as Haskell Indian Nations University.

The siblings grew up in a rural part of Oklahoma.

“Harlan always was a hayseed,” his sister said.

But he also enjoyed attending powwows and participating in Native American Church ceremonies. And he loved his family’s homestead with its big barn, garden, cows and creeks on both sides.

The McKosatos also lived in reservation housing and enjoyed being around family.

“We could go to any house and eat,” McKosato-Haupt said. “It was good. It was good.”

Harlan McKosato, left, is seen celebrating his son's recent birthday. Nekon Che McKosato is seen in the center. Courtesy photo

The brother and sister often dreamed of becoming television producers and wanted to travel the country interviewing Native leaders and elders about efforts to preserve traditional foods and languages.

They planned to get journalism degrees and then travel in a van interviewing their people, she said.

“He said, ‘Okay, let’s do it,’” she recalled.

And they did, McKosato-Haupt graduating from Tulsa University with a journalism degree and McKosato graduating from Oklahoma University with a communications degree.

But they never got to travel the country together, she said. McKosato went to work for United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) before leaving for Native America Calling.

Native family competes on 'Family Feud'
Growing up, Harlan McKosato never saw people like him on one of his favorite television game shows. Oh, there were plenty of Smiths and Joneses and Clarks. But no Native Americans.

McKosato-Haupt said her favorite show of McKosato’s was when President Clinton called in from Air Force One. McKosato had been competing with other journalists to see who could get an interview with the president first.

McKosato had always been competitive, a former high school basketball and football player, his sister said.

She said her brother served as an emcee for numerous events, including the Native Roots and Rhythms performing arts festival in Santa Fe and the first National Native American Hall of Fame awards.

McKosato paved the way for many Native journalists and radio show hosts and inspired many of them to take on tough issues.

“He inspired a lot of people to do that and dig deep and find out why these things happen in Native America,” McKosato-Haupt said. “It seems like all of Indian Country stopped to listen to Native America Calling and Harlan’s voice from 11 to 12.”

Native radio host seeks support in 'troubling times'
"I never claimed to be perfect," Harlan McKosato said upon returning to Native America Calling following an arrest.

Nedra Darling, a friend of McKosato’s, described him as the “greatest Native American radio host.”

“You could count on him to speak from his heart and share his wonderful humor, no matter the topic of the show,” said Darling, executive producer of Bright Path, a documentary about Native athlete Jim Thorpe. “He had the gift of communicating with everyone in all mediums.”

Laura Harris, executive director for Americans for Indian Opportunity, said her organization plans to help fund a scholarship in McKosato’s name to be offered by UNITY. She said McKosato graduated from AIO’s leadership program in 1996 and served as a role model for other graduates of the program.

“We have always admired his good work and talent and think that what UNITY is doing is a good thing to remember him and his contributions to Indian Country,” she said.

Lisa Tiger got to know McKosato around 1992, not long after Tiger publicly announced that she had tested positive for HIV. McKosato was working for UNITY at the time and was producing a documentary about HIV.

“We became really good friends from there, and we’ve remained good friends,” she said.

Harlan McKosato and Lisa Tiger in 1992 at Haskell Indian Nations University, then known as Haskell Indian Junior College. Photo courtesy Lisa Tiger

The friends shared a love of exercise. She said she committed to running or walking a mile each day more than 13 years ago as a way to counteract the effects of Parkinson’s Disease, from which she also suffers.

“I’ve walked several of those miles with Harlan,” she said.

Over the past week, Tiger visited McKosato three times at his home in Albuquerque.

During one visit, McKosato quipped to Tiger’s daughter, who had offered to go for a hike while her mother visited with him, “Take a hike.”

A few days later on Sunday, Tiger called McKosato’s sister and asked if her brother wanted Tiger to bring him cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. By that time, McKosato wasn’t eating much, but he opened his eyes and answered, “Yes.” He then added, in his best radio voice: “And I want some chocolate sauce on it.”

After he finished the cheesecake, he told Tiger that his feet hurt. She offered to rub his feet and used rose oil to do so for a few hours until he fell asleep.

Harlan McKosato and Lisa Tiger at a recent Christmas. Photo courtesy Lisa Tiger

The next night, Tiger visited him for the last time. She held his hand for nearly three hours, but by then McKosato wasn’t conscious and was nearing death. She left Monday night and learned from his sister the next morning that McKosato had died sometime in the night.

But before she spoke to his sister Tuesday morning, Tiger dreamed of McKosato. She was dreaming about something else, when she suddenly heard her friend’s voice. All he said to her was “yep.”

McKosato leaves behind son Nekon Che McKosato, brother Kenneth Robert McKosato, sister Deanna Lynn McKosato and sister Shelley Magdalene McKosato-Haupt.

Harlan McKosato, 1966-2020
The following is a July 21, 2020, statement from the family of Harlan McKosato.

This morning our dearly beloved Harlan began his journey back to Wakanda where he was surrounded by his family and friends at his home in Albuquerque.  He is survived by his son Nekon Che McKosato, his brother Kenneth Robert McKosato, his sister Deanna Lynn McKosato, and sister Shelley Magdalene McKosato-Haupt. 

Harlan was an icon in Indian Country for his award-winning contributions to world news outlets.  He possessed a unique storytelling ability that enabled him to report on any subject in profound ways.  Through his interviews on radio, TV, in newspapers and social media, he shared his great gift of intelligence, wit, and kindness.  Harlan had communicated with his heart to personally connect with audiences and had educated many on a vast number of Tribal issues. He paved the way for many young Native people to join him in the field of communications.   

We extend our utmost appreciation to family and friends for visiting and helping Harlan in recent weeks.  We are deeply grateful for the items provided for his Sac and Fox traditional ceremony.  We are comforted by the outpouring of support during this difficult time.  

Please pray for Harlan’s family as they prepare him for his journey to be with Keshamanitou. May he have a peaceful journey home.

Tributes to Harlan McKosato

Back in March the National Native American Hall of Fame Board of Directors (Walter Lamar, Leslie Logan, Harlan McKosato,...

Posted by Walter Lamar on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Memory LANE🤗 Harlan Mack Mckosato this ones for you🤗🙏. Taking the High road to TAOS. And stop at our favorite spot and reminisce over the Good Times💞 jam out to Jack Johnson along the way🤗🤗🤗🤗

Posted by Brenda Wahnee on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

I can only imagine you smiling and telling jokes! Im so thankful for all the fun we had and learning from you. Harlan...

Posted by Geneva Horsechief-Hamilton on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

RIP my dear friend Harlan and mentor. I will miss you. May you always walk in beauty. All my best to Shelly, Nekon and your family.

Posted by Char Jackson on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Rest in peace Harlan McKosato, this was a fun evening and you were a good sport for this comedy roast, Tripp Toledo had...

Posted by Rae Toledo on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Have to give a salute to a friend, Harlan McKosato. Harlan along with myself and many other Native American students...

Posted by Gerald Wofford on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Deeply saddened to hear Harlan McKosato taking his eternal journey to The Spirit World. I first met Harlan in the Press...

Posted by George Tiger on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Native Night Before Christmas

Native Night Before Christmas narrated by Harlan McKosato YOU CAN BUY THE BOOK HERE: https://www.amazon.com/Native-American-Night-Before-Christmas/dp/1574160931

Posted by Cheyenne & Arapaho Television on Friday, December 8, 2017

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