“Across Indian Country, broadband darkness still pervades our communities.  Students still seek out Internet hot spots to complete homework, and hundreds of Native Americans still cannot access opportunities on the most profound telecommunications highway in world.  The next President must make a sincere commitment to prioritize unserved and underserved communities including those on Tribal reservations and homelands.  It’s the right thing to do.”  Loris Taylor, President & CEO, Native Public Media

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Digital Native

In a February 2, 2016 press release, Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai called the continuation of Tribal Lifeline subsidies in Oklahoma a “legal scandal” and a “bloated tax payer subsidy.” [Read press release]

The Universal Service Fund is not tax based, but rather a federal subsidy program based on fees and designed to make services affordable to impoverished families. Enhanced Tribal Lifeline subsidies are designed to help those living on Tribal lands afford basic telephone service.

At issue is the map used to determine “tribal lands.” Mr. Pai’s objections are based upon the fact that the FCC will, at least for a short period of time, continue to use a map that includes lands that were historically occupied by Native Americans.

Mr. Pai’s knee-jerk statement implies that Tribes are somehow the culpable recipients of undeserved benefits. Mr. Pai’s statements also suggest a misunderstanding of how the Lifeline program actually operates to assist all low-income families on Tribal lands, not just Tribal families.

Rather than acknowledge that the key reason for continuing use of the historic map is simply to enable the FCC to consult with Oklahoma Tribes before unilaterally eliminating important Tribal subsidies, Mr. Pai simply ignores the complex historical relationship between the federal government and Native Nations. The real scandal is not the continuation of certain benefits to those who live on Tribal lands, but Mr. Pai’s suggestion that the FCC should not have engaged in government-to-government consultations with Oklahoma Tribal Nations before unilaterally eliminating important legal rights. That action was the action initially taken by the FCC in redrawing the map that defines “former reservations” in its 2015 Lifeline Reform Order.[1] This map sets the boundaries used to establish eligibility for enhanced Lifeline subsidies, an important benefit for many impoverished Tribal members.

The FCC has acknowledged its failure to consult with Tribal Nations. Further, the FCC’s 2000 “Statement of Policy on Establishing a Government-to-Government Relationship with Indian Tribes” provides an established framework for meaningful Tribal consultations. The Commission recognizes, as Mr. Pai apparently does not, that the definition of “former reservations,” is an issue in which Tribes have both a vested legal interest and useful factual knowledge. Not surprisingly, consultation takes longer as the democratic process is slower than the dictatorial one. While the delay in resolving this issue may mean that some low income citizens may get enhanced Lifeline support for some period of time, that is a small price to pay for the recognition of Tribal sovereignty and the equitable treatment of Tribal members. Continuing to provide four additional months of enhanced Lifeline subsidies may benefit some who do not live on Tribal lands, as those lands are ultimately defined, but there is no reason to assume that the recipients do not need these benefits or that they are trying to scam the federal system.

The FCC should take the time and necessary steps to address their legitimate concerns in the program and genuinely target the true sources of fraud, waste, and abuse, rather than unilaterally eviscerating the cornerstone program that has brought communications to Tribal lands throughout the nation. Their map, and how they develop it, is important to be sure, however the actions of the carriers are at issue. How the FCC works with Native Nations to see that their programs and how these carriers function properly are of paramount importance to this issue and to the work of the FCC going forward.

Mr. Pai’s callous comments undermine the federal government’s commitment to consult with Tribes about the meaning of Tribal lands. Tribal lands are not colonies to be defined solely in terms of the short-term economic benefits of the federal government. Recognition of the rights of Tribes to be consulted about matters that affect their existence as a Nation and the economic wellbeing of their citizens is fundamental to our sense of American justice. As an FCC Commissioner, Mr. Pai should welcome rather than sneer at such a result. Instead he should join the call of more than eighty Congressional leaders to push forward the expansion and reform of Lifeline services that continue to benefit low-income families, especially those families across Indian Country who remain among the most unserved, underserved, and vulnerable population in terms of universal service.

[1] Lifeline and Linkup Reform and Modernization, Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Order on Reconsideration, Second Report and Order, and Memorandum Opinion and Order, 30 F.C.C. Rcd. 7818 (2015).

Signed by:

Loris Taylor, President and CEO Native Public Media

Matthew Rantanen, Director of Technology Southern California Tribal Digital Village

Susan Feller, Executive Director Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums

Tribal Digital Inclusion Group

February 11, 2015 – Phoenix, Arizona.  Tribal members representing two national nonprofits, the largest broadband network in Indian Country, a university tribal think-tank, a tribally operated school, and representatives from Tribal Nations, have joined together to launch a national working group devoted solely to tribal digital inclusion within the United States.

“Our goal is to make a tangible difference in the digital inclusion of Native Americans by supporting each other, influencing others, combining assets, exploring new ideas and making bold recommendations to bring our inclusion within the digital sphere a reality,” said Susan Feller, Executive Director of the Association of Tribal Libraries and Museums.

“We consider this approach necessary,” agrees Loris Taylor, President and CEO of Native Public Media. “By supporting and facilitating work sessions tailored to the broadband needs of Indian Country, our goal is to be especially effective in reaching and engaging a broad range of Tribal interests from housing, energy, and other sectors. We know what works for Indian Country and we are willing to place sound recommendations before the necessary agencies to increase the digital inclusion of Native Americans in this country.”

The TDI is extremely concerned about the lack of data regarding digital connectivity in Indian Country. Data and what works, in terms of delivering digital inclusion to Native Americans, and the evidence of the needs and desires of Tribes must be consistently delivered to policymakers at the local, State and Federal levels.

Matthew Rantanen, Director of the Southern California Tribal Digital Village explains, “We needed a formal framework to underpin and evaluate the effectiveness of our own digital inclusion in a wide range of current broadband matters and reforms and to present a logical and sustainable approach to stimulating and sustaining the digital inclusion of Native Americans by working on the details and complexities that often face and challenge Indian Country in policymaking.

“Providing a rigorous educational program in the digital era is a challenge to tribal schools with limited broadband and Internet connectivity which results in the subsequent lack of access to on-line learning opportunities. The Santa Fe Indian School, owned and operated by the nineteen Pueblos of New Mexico, brings years of experience addressing digital inclusion in grades 7-12 as well practical knowledge of the E-rate program and regional broadband development to the TDI working group. We are happy to share our knowledge with other Tribes,” states Kimball Sekaquaptewa of the Santa Fe Indian School who also serves as an E-rate consultant to Tribal entities.

“Tribal communities see digital inclusion and access to broadband as determining our telecommunications destiny on our own terms. Broadband gives us the means necessary to live in our rural and remote locations without sacrificing our cultural beliefs. It allows us to develop our communities in a way that fits our unique needs and preserving values that we hold sacred while planning for a digital future,” concludes Danae Wilson, Nez Perce Tribe’s Department of Technology.

The TDI will receive much needed academic support from one of Arizona’s universities.

“We are committed to working with tribal communities and community organizations with regards to digital inclusion. We feel we have much expertise to offer the TDI working group. Data analysis is something we can offer via student engagements and working trans-disciplinarily across the many departments and schools at Arizona State University,” states Dr. Traci Morris, Director of the American Indian Policy Institute.

TDI draws from member strengths to propose a holistic community-based approach to tribal digital inclusion from within the experiences of tribal organizations.


The TDI is currently comprised of the Association of Tribal Libraries and Museums, Native Public Media, Southern California Tribal Digital Village, Santa Fe Indian School, the Arizona State University American Indian Policy Institute, and Nez Perce Tribe.

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Native Public Media President Gives Media Revolution Keynote at the Gila River Broadcast Corporation Open House

April 6, 2015

Loris A. Taylor, Native Public Media President, was one of the keynote addresses at the Gila River Broadcasting Corporation (GRBC) Open House on April 6, 2015, at the Gila River Indian Community in AZ.  From Ms. Taylor’s speech, “I am honored to be here today to celebrate the Gila River Broadcasting Association (GRBC) and station channels 19 KGRF Maricopa Village Area,  21 KGRY Blackwater Area, 29 KGRQ Stotonic Area, GRBC is the newest commercial television facility of its kind in Indian Country.  Thank you Governor Lewis and Lt. Governor Antone for your remarks and leadership.  Thank you GRTI Board Chair Anthony Newkirk and board members for all your hard work.  Thank you GRBC Chair John Lewis.  I have a deep appreciation for your oversight over media and broadband on behalf of your Nation.   Your efforts have resulted in the first low-power COMMERCIAL digital television station in Indian Country using spectrum you secured several years ago.  What an achievement and testament to the critical importance of spectrum allocated for tribal needs.    My advocacy for Native media rights is based upon my personal experience as a Hopi raised on the Hopi Indian Reservation in northeastern, Arizona.  I come from the village of Oraibi – a village to this day that has no running water, electricity, telephone service – and certainly no broadband.    I first heard radio when I was 10 years old through a transistor radio that my grandfather was given by a passing tourist.  Very late at night, we would huddle around his bed to listen to Patsy Cline and Elvis Presley on KOMA radio from Oklahoma City.  It was the only station we could hear and only late at night.   I treasure these experiences because it provides me with an insight and empathy about what Native and rural communities are facing today in terms of the media and broadband revolution.   I learned quickly that not having access, control or ownership over our own media and not having the technology to do so can result in someone else telling our stories, making us as if we don’t exist, or simply fabricating the Native American experience.    In Indian Country there are still communities without telephone, radio, television and broadband.  At the same time, we are seeing the slow death of newspapers.  While most of America is repurposing media and embracing the convergence of video, voice and data – many of us are still trying and in some cases, fighting to hear our own news, our own weather, and our own stories.   In Indian Country, we have made some progress by establishing over 53 radio stations and a handful of television stations and projects that serve tribal communities and we hope to establish more.  Today we have GRBC.  These stations serve as critical platforms for education, culture, public safety, health and economic development.  On these stations you can hear Hopi, Lakota, Tlingit, and now O’Odham.  In short, these stations are critical anchor institutions in our communities.   Our stations are the frontline of freedom for all of us.  As you all know, one of the core freedoms of American democracy is the freedom of self-expression.  It is a fundamental prerequisite of the free mind – without the right to freely express our thoughts – we become restricted in our ability to find fulfillment through the pursuit of our full human potential.  In other words, we cannot truly be all that we can be if we cannot freely think and speak.    The historical road for Native Americans in this country to regain the freedoms embodied in our inherently sovereign nations has not been easy.   I remember a time, when I was forbidden to speak Hopi.  As a child, on many occasions, my hand was slapped with a ruler so brutally so as to remind me that I could not be Hopi. But this is not the only injustice we as Native Americans have suffered.   The exclusion of Native American history in this country, for example, is one of the greatest injustices we continue to face.  It is an extension of flawed and failed policies ranging from extermination, to termination, and acculturation. But finally we can now determine our own media and technological destinies and include our own history.  The new pencil or pen of today are our broadcasting facilities.  That is what GRBC represents.   History is all around us.  We can look into the past and see its influence on our present.  We can look around us, and see history unfolding just like today. The common thread in all of history – except that part written by nature – is mankind and his role in making history.    Take for example, the plight of Native Americans in this country.  While we have long been citizens of our own tribal Nations, Congress granted citizenship to all Native Americans born in the United States on June 1, 1924.  In Arizona, a mere 67 years ago, our right to vote was finally recognized on July 15, 1948 and only after the Arizona Supreme Court recognized that right.  What would it have been like to have GRBC reporting on that issue?  Perhaps with the watchful eye of GRBC, history might have played out differently.  That is the power of media.   For Native Americans, the freedom to express is the freedom to develop and grow; and to hold onto Native beliefs and opinions on any subject we choose and the right to communicate our ideas, thoughts, opinions, and even random information through our speech, writing, music, art, and story telling.  At Native Public Media, we believe these are the same principles GRBC holds and which drives our collective media reform today.   All of us are in the business of communications.  All of us have stories to tell about our success or failure in trying to communicate with others. In the past, I worked for the Hopi Tribe on land, water, and energy matters and later I served as the executive director of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association.  In both jobs, one of the biggest obstacles I faced was getting our stories on mainstream media.  No matter how many press releases I wrote about the success of the Hopi Tribe or Tribal gaming, only a handful made it on the airwaves.  The power of ownership, like GRBC, is the power it provides to tell our own stories over our own facilities.   Let me however, provide one word of caution – do not lose the freedom to listen to others and to hear their perspectives on the world, their view of the relevant facts and the conclusions they reach from those facts.  Media is about community and the rich diversity it holds.   At Native Public Media, we believe that as a part of free expression, we have the right to participate in the decisions that affect our lives.  In order to effectively participate in the decision-making processes of democracy, we need the broadest possible exchange of ideas and information possible.    We all know that public opinion shapes public policy and public policy becomes embedded in our culture and expressed through our laws.  Here in Arizona, the governor recently prioritized funding for the privatization of prisons and reduced funding for our colleges and universities.  This is an example of how public opinion can shape our public policy.  As guardians of our freedom to express, we know that populations within the larger media landscape who are vulnerable, un-served or invisible are at the whim of the policy pendulum.    At Native Public Media, our mission is to promote healthy, engaged, and independent Native communities.  We believe that it is a basic human right to inquire, to find out, to discover, to arm ourselves with the information that will make our lives happier, more productive, more useful and more alive.  It is our right to meet with others, to discuss the ideas of the day, to join groups of like minded individuals and to advance our ideas to those willing to listen or see.  That is the work of GRBC.  In short, GRBC is your public space.   GRBC is also your vigilance.  In Arizona, HB 2281 closely regulates ethnic studies programs in state schools.  Any school offering programs perceived to galvanize ethnic solidarity is subject to having a portion of its public funding withheld.  This law is the unraveling of our freedom to express in a State where 22 American Indian Tribes are indigenous to the Southwest.  GRBC must carry these stories and keep vigil on acts that will chisel away our freedoms including our sovereignty.  Across the country, it is our media institutions that hold our governments and their officials accountable.  That is the work also of GRBC.   At Native Public Media we believe that free expression is necessary to the advancement of knowledge and truth.  If we are to find “reality” we must find truth. GRBC can be the voice of truth for the Gila River Indian Community.  We know that suppression was the basis for federal Indian policy that has historically been painful for Native Americans in this country.  And while this history is our legacy, we can change history by writing our own history using platforms offered us though digital technologies.   Being able to freely express our differing views helps us find a balance between dissent and consensus.  Free and open dissent, discussion, debate and group decision is the lifeblood of our democracy and freedom.  Freedom’s opposite is suppression.  GRBC must be allowed to carry both subjective and controversial stories from the Gila River Indian Community and maintain a healthy firewall between its studios and the governing powers of the Nation.   As a result, we all must understand that our freedom to express is the means by which we achieve stability in our local communities and in our nation.    When freedom allows us to participate in the decision making process, we are more able to accept the ultimate decision, even if we disagree with it.  Freedom of expression allows us to debate and discuss the issues of the day and to resolve the conflicts inherent in differing opinions without destroying ourselves and our communities.  It is the oil that lubricates the machinery of stability in an age of constant change.   This is the role of GRBC.   In closing,  Democracy depends on the vibrant exchange of ideas; on information presented in coherent, meaningful ways; and on independent thought. The identity and progress of a society like the Gila River Indian Community is related to the quality, number, and diversity of stories the community tells itself. We build our identities in part through the stories we tell.  We are our own cultural guardians and now we have the intellectual capacity and technology to aid us.    We live in a world where we can no longer survive without communications.  In times of good and in times of crises, GRBC will be among your first responders.  GRBC is your power to speak and your power to be heard.   I know firsthand that GRBC is motivated by the public welfare of the Gila River Indian Community, and as a result, it is on firm footing and an institution we can all celebrate and support.  Congratulations!”