As you would expect, Native Public Media (NPM) and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) are applauding the FCC’s adoption of a new “Tribal Priority” for the allocation and licensing of new radio stations serving communities on tribal lands.
The two groups, in a joint statement, hailed the FCC’s order as groundbreaking important step in the right direction to solve the pervasive problems of the lack of myriad communications services in Tribal communities. “In addition to some of the lowest levels of telephony and broadband internet services in the nation, American Indians and Alaska Natives have been largely invisible in the broadcasting industry on all levels ranging from media access, to control and ownership of broadcast facilities,” they stated.
“Native Public Media applauds the FCC. Of the more than 13,000 radio facilities in this country, less than 0.3% belong to federally recognized Tribes. This is the first time in history that American Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Villages are being prioritized for broadcasting opportunities as sovereign entities. Our civil society is made stronger when the voices of Native Americans are included in discourse on-air about the environment, education, politics, and health and the Tribal Priority will strengthen and expand our sorely needed communications network across Indian Country,” said Loris Taylor, Executive Director of NPM, an association of the 35 existing Tribal public radio stations.
“The NCAI Telecom Subcommittee and its member Tribal Leaders commend and thank the Commission, its Media Bureau, Audio Division, and Office of General Counsel on this vital step to help Indian Country. At its core, the Tribal Priority recognizes and empowers Tribal sovereignty, and has solid legal grounding in the constitutional recognition and guarantees of Tribal sovereign ability. This appropriately agency-initiated action to craft a regulatory licensing priority is paramount in the development potential for Tribal Nations. The FCC has relied rightly on the governmental classification of Tribes in designing a federal mechanism to help Tribes exercise their self-determination. During this important time of increased federal coordination and consultation with Tribal Nations, it will help Tribes in their broadcast efforts to serve their people, to better themselves and Native America,” said Geoffrey Blackwell, Chair of the NCAI Telecom Subcommittee and Chair of the NPM Tribal Advisory Council.
According to James Dunstan of Garvey Schubert Barer, attorney for NPM, “It is vital for people to understand that the Tribal Priority is based on the government-to-government legal relationship between the Federal government and Tribes. Tribes are classified politically, not racially. The Commission’s new rule understands and applies the correct legal analysis to streamline a critical barrier to entry previously faced by Tribal entities in the Commission’s licensing processes. Native Radio stations provide critical connections for local communities in the form of information, dialogue and emergency services. The possibility for Tribes to provide their own radio broadcasting to their own communities will be a critical development that many in more urban areas take for granted,” he said.
“To underscore the relevance of the new Tribal Priority, one must understand that Tribal communications providers and broadcast stations advance their services in a culturally appropriate manner, nurturing the vibrant cultures that sustain Tribal communities and peoples. The importance of the Tribal Priority to provide new opportunities for Tribes to practice their cultural strength in modern mediums–to enter the often previously unattainable broadcasting field–cannot be understated. Literally hundreds of Tribes face the economic and market challenges of deploying modern high speed internet while many in their communities still suffer an enduring lack of basic telephone service. So many modern technologies help bind our daily health and well being, and radio broadcasting is also sorely lacking in Indian Country. The FCC has taken a huge step in the right direction to address this,” Jacqueline Johnson, Executive Director of NCAI.