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KSUT takes deeper dive into history, mission

Tami Graham
Southern Ute Tribal Radio station manager Sheila Nanaeto is interviewed in Durango filmmaker Sean Owens documentary “Tribal Radio.”

KSUT is grateful for the opportunity to take a deeper dive into the nuance of its history and mission, as a follow-up to this week’s story in The Durango Herald, focusing on our collaborative approach to news reporting.

If people on the street were asked what they know about KSUT, you’d likely get varying responses. To some listeners, KSUT is synonymous with Tribal Radio. To others, its Four Corners Public Radio. Both are true. We’d like to share some of KSUT’s unique history and the role the organization serves in our region.

KSUT was founded in 1976 by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to communicate with tribal members. That role continues to this day through KSUT Tribal Radio, with the guiding hands of Sheila Nanaeto, station manager; Lorena Richards, content manager; Crystal Ashike, digital editor; and Sarah Flower, news reporter.

In 1986, with the blessing of the Southern Ute Tribe, KSUT became an independent nonprofit with a nine-person board of directors, five of which, by virtue of by-laws, were to be Native American, ensuring that the integrity of the original mission was upheld. In 1998, in recognition of the vast amount of content squeezed into one FM signal, KSUT added a second signal, creating Four Corners Public Radio (90.1FM) and Tribal Radio (91.3FM - the original KSUT signal), all under the auspices of KSUT.

Fast forward to 2014, when KSUT launched a capital campaign to raise $2.5 million to move into a new 5,000-square-foot home in Ignacio. With the support of over 700 individual and business donors, and a generous matching grant of $1 million from the Southern Ute Tribe, KSUT began broadcasting from the state-of-the-art Eddie Box Jr. Media Center in November 2021.

Over the past year, we’ve made significant strides in accomplishing our goal of expanding locally produced content. We also hired a Tribal Media Center coordinator, Colten Ashley, to further develop and work with collaborative partners. This includes the production of the Native Lens and Native Braids storytelling projects, and training for Native American and Indigenous community members.

The pandemic provided a challenging opportunity for KSUT, as our region needed timely and accurate updates, and information. The problem was that we did not have a news department , though we had plans to develop one. Thanks to the availability of Flower and Mark Duggan, we were able to quickly assemble a news team to keep the public informed.

We heard from tribal elders and other community members that the consistent and direct updates they were hearing from San Juan Basin Public Health and other sources were a lifeline in uncertain times. Tribal Radio is a vital source for Native American communities in Indian Country for public health and other important topics.

KSUT is deeply invested in collaboration – we share news reporters with KDUR at Fort Lewis College and KSJD in Cortez; and we partner with Rocky Mountain Public Media on the production of Native Lens and with independent producer Adam Burke on Native Braids. Through the hard work and dedication of a 16-person staff, running two distinct FM signals – Tribal Radio and Four Corners Public Radio – and a hard-working development team that keeps it all afloat, we’re honored to serve our diverse region over the past 46 years. But most importantly, we’d like to thank the residents of the Four Corners for giving us the inspiration to continue serving you with vital news, information and music that reflects our region.

Tami Graham is KSUT’s executive director and Sheila Nanaeto is its tribal radio station manager.