Southeast Native Radio aired for just 16 years, but its voices will live on in a new digital archive

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The Southeast Native Radio collection includes more than 400 programs broadcast from 1985 to 2001. (Photo SHI)

Hundreds of hours of audio from an unlikely historical source are now archived on the internet and available to everyone.

Southeast Native Radio aired on KTOO in Juneau for 16 years, from 1985 to 2001. The volunteer-produced show was on the air at the time, but twenty-one years later has become a window into the lives of people and events that shaped the indigenous culture of the region over the past century.

Access the Southeast Indigenous Radio Recordings Collection.

Long before podcasts were a thing, people were talking, sharing ideas and stories, on public radio. And there are few shows with a track record like Southeast Native Radio.

Extract:

Good evening and welcome to Southeast Native Radio. My name is Kathy Ruddy. Tonight we will discuss the Battle of Sitka in 1804. And with me in the studio, Andy Hope, the nephew of Kiks.ádi Survival March organizer Herb Hope, and Dick and Nora Dauenhauer of Sealaska Heritage Foundation, who are at work on a book about the Battle of Sitka in 1804.

If that sounds like something you’d like to listen to, you’re in luck: the catalog of recordings is long and populated with names that make it a Who’s Who of Southeast Native culture at the turn of the 21st century.

Nora Marks Dauenhauer, for example, was a prominent scholar and historian of the Lingit language, as well as Alaska’s Poet Laureate. She passed away in 2017, but her words are now just a click away. Here she talks about the oral history sources she used in her research on the Battle of Sitka, from a lingít perspective.

Well, I guess the difference would be if they come from the people on the other side. The Europeans fought the Native Americans who were on the beach, pushed them back and told their relatives or descendants about the people who were on the beach.

KTOO transferred the Southeast Native Radio tapes to the Sealaska Heritage Institute in a ceremony in 2010. The show was produced by a team of volunteers, including Arlene Dangeli, Joaqlin Estus, Cy Peck Jr., Kathy Ruddy, Kim Metcalfe, Andy Hope III, Jayne Dangeli, Laurie Cropley Nix, and Rhonda Mann, while KTOO provided facilities and staff time to help with production and training. (Picture SHI)

The collection of Southeast Indigenous radio recordings is available through the Sealaska Heritage Institute, which received the donated DAT tapes, reels and CDs from KTOO in 2010. In all, there are 400 recordings. Even the most mundane shows are abuzz with history, as the people represent a generational bridge to an even deeper past.

This is Roy Peratrovich, husband of Elizabeth Peratrovich – yes, that Elizabeth Peratrovich – talking about the first of five times he was elected Grand President of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, when he lobbied to bring the Grand Camp in Klawock.

Peratrovich – When you’re young, you do a lot of stupid things…

Host – Was it 1929?

Peratrovich – No, 1939.

Host – 1939, okay.

Peratrovich – So I told the band that if we want to build this band, this ANB, we have to do it big. Pride will help us. Not knowing that some fool was going to appoint me Grand President. So I was elected.

Peratrovich died in 1989, a year after that appearance on Southeast Native Radio.

And there’s basketball, which is a common thread in the cultural fabric of Southeast Alaska. One of the stars of the annual gold medal tournament was Sitkan Herb Didrickson. He told Southeast Native Radio that the Sitka team had to take a trip on a seine boat every March for the trip to Juneau.

I was the last to go up. But as I started to stow my gear in the top bunk, I discovered that this old man was already lying there. He boarded a little early and no one knew he was there. So he was trying to hide, you know. So we thought, well, the former follower wanted to go see some games and we couldn’t all sleep at the same time. There was always an open berth for us. So yes, he made it to the gold medal game.

Herb Didrickson is considered one of the greatest players produced in Southeast Alaska to this day, whose chances of a professional career were thwarted by World War II. Didrickson died in 2017. One of his contemporaries, Gil Truitt, played gold medal basketball until 1952, but Truitt’s involvement continued for many years as a coach of the Sitka ANB team. He said the game changed around that time.

For me, what is more noticeable are the attitudes I see on the pitch compared to when we were playing. If you complained when we played, you’re down. The crowd wouldn’t stand it. They let you know that they weren’t happy with your attitude. I think that’s the biggest change I see in the times we played and today.

Truitt died in 2020, aged 93.

In its advertising, the Sealaska Heritage Institute calls the archives a “treasure”, and it’s not far off. The recordings include a 13-part series made in 1986 on the history of the ANB. There are also a number of Lingit language segments with fluent speakers like Dauenhauer and Walter Soboleff conversing on a range of topics.

Note: The Southeast Native Radio Recordings Project was supported by a Hidden Collections or At-Risk Recordings Digitization Grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources. The grant program is made possible through funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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