YORK, NYFrom humble beginnings on the Cheyenne River Reservation
to New York City Radio Host, Tiokasin Ghosthorse is making a mark
on mainstream society.
Growing up with oral traditions, he has
taken the tradition on the road and used it to bring awareness of
the crises facing Mother Earth and all people. His program "First
Voices Indigenous Radio" is heard on 43 frequencies in the United
States and people in Europe and Australia tune in to his website
weekly to hear the voices of Indigenous people from around the country
and the world.
"The world is facing major crises and
cannot survive without a shift in thought process," he said in a
telephone interview, and it has been his lifelong goal to make that
It seems like it was always Ghosthorse's
path to enlighten others in global style. When he was about 15 years
old, he traveled with 25 other Lakota kids who had been chosen for
their academic and personal standing as Lakota Sioux. He remembers,
"We were taken to Europe and dispersed to different countries. It
was two days after school let out, and we traveled to Detroit, then
Paris. Wherever we were, we presented."
"Overseas, they appreciated that we were
Native Americans. I wore my moccasins," he said, laughing gently.
The trip had a major impact on Ghosthorse.
"I did not want to come back because of the way I was treated here.
I came back angry. I rejected books that were basically lying to
me. I went from Honor Society to almost the bottom of the barrel."
However, he still managed to graduate near instead of at the top
of the class.
The seed for the radio show was planted
after he left Cheyenne River to attend college in Kansas. Being
in college gave him access to Native people from all over the country.
He was amazed at the richness of the southern, western, northern
and eastern accents. "I liked that we looked all kinds of ways,
not just Lakota."
He realized that the other students were
also going through some of the same things. "We would be sitting
there, talking about our lives and our families. We saw the commonality
of one big struggle," he said.
Ghosthorse recognized that many students
planned on returning home to help their people and he, too, knew
he wanted to help; but he was looking for a different way. He explored
Native history and the Native perspective by reading Vine DeLoria
and others of that caliber. He wondered what was going on before
1492. He became angry, and he understood why the "the Indian" was
viewed as angry. "But my anger was not hatred. I was angry because
I knew the truth of what kept me from knowing about our history.
It was the system that was in place, the not knowing, the education,
the religion, sciences, and the citizenry we were surrounded by
at the borders on the reservation."
Tired of being treated negatively and
at best, patronizingly, he realized, "It was like we were being
tolerated instead of being accepted for who we were. They treated
us as if we were going to go away someday and there was no need
for us to learn our history or our culture. I knew I had to try
to work something out. It may be big, it may be little, but I had
to figure something out."
There were several non-native counselors
at the college who took him aside and counseled him, and he said,
"I would tell them what I was thinking. Surprisingly, I was thinking
the same thing then that I am thinking today. In order to have all
the spirituality and clarity I needed, I could not drink alcohol
or do drugs. All they taught me was loneliness and that I didn't
belong. The higher I got, the more I didn't appreciate who I was.
I needed all the brain cells and every molecule in my body to be
at my best. That clarity really helped me, so I credit other people.
There was this sense I had to experience this not just for myself
but for my people."
Eventually, Tiokasin returned to the reservation
where he felt alienated. After receiving an education and having
been gone a few years, people treated him as if he was no longer
one of them. "I just thought, okay, I am not going to be here all
the time. I thought when I went away, that's what Lakota people
are supposed to do that and help your people at the same time. It
was like my vision quest that was what I had to do."
So away he went again, staying on the
road and trying to figure out how he could help the people at home.
"It required that I get the education and exposure I could not get
on the reservation. Whether it was because of technology, funds,
whatever. So I traveled the world. I didn't care how poor I was,
but I knew I had to do this."
In 1992, Tiokasin noticed an increasing
outcry of Native voices throughout the world. In San Francisco,
160,000 Indigenous people, from the Americas and beyond, came together
to recognize "Quincentennial Celebration of Indigenous Survival."
That same year, Rigoberta Menchu-Tum, a Guatemalan peasant farmer-turned-activist,
received the Nobel Peace Prize. The United Nations held their first
Earth Summit in Rio and it was Ghosthorse's first year of hosting
and producing an "Indigenous" formatted radio program.
The seed for the show was beginning to
sprout. After several years in Washington State, Tiokasin moved
to New York City. Mario Murillo was working at WBAI, Pacifica Radio,
as the Public Affairs Program Director. Murillo had always worked
to ensure there was a Native voice on the station but when he heard
Ghosthorse he was intrigued by him. "I had worked on a number of
Indigenous issues, and I was doing my own show. When Tiokasin became
the Producer of First Voices Indigenous Radio, I appreciated from
the outset his deep-rooted commitment to recognizing the commonality
of Indigenous communities. He saw it all as part of his own struggle."
Of Ghosthorse's style, Murillo said, "He
does have a voice, people do recognize him. People from around the
world appreciate his show. It reaches audiences who hear what he
is doing. It is because of his commitment to indigenous issues which
might be ignored, even on other indigenous media," Murillo said.
While Indigenous voices are rarely publicized
in the mainstream media, many of Ghosthorse's radio shows and presentations
are heard widely.
Among the different nations that have
been heard on FVIR, New Zealand, Burma, Vietnam, Tibet, Mongolia
and every continent inhabited by Indigenous peoples are among them.
The program is free from corporate, government and religious influence
and he does not receive a salary. Ghosthorse has covered events
and topics such as globalization and the deadening rise of monoculture,
energy and resource issues; ecology, environmental issues, and global
warming; tribal recognition, representation/identity and mascots;
sacred sites and land rights, casinos, language, education, military,
prophecy, and tribal women. The program segments include Indigenous
Issues around the World, and feature happenings in Washington, the
United Nations, North America, the Arctic Rim, the Pacific Rim,
at Sacred Sites, and South America, according to a statement provided
At least some of his popularity might
be due to the fact that he credits the Indigenous in all of his
listeners. "We are all indigenous from somewhere, but approximately
95% of the human population has forgotten how to be Indigenous,"
he says in almost every presentation. That inclusiveness may speak
in a way that seems new to listeners but Ghosthorse says is based
in the ancient teachings of the Lakota.
In most of the shows, Tiokasin takes a
back seat to his guests. He has covered many of South Dakota's issues,
including uranium. Debra and Alex White Plume have appeared on Ghosthorse's
show many times. "The work Tiokasin does is extremely important
to Indigenous people and social justice," Debra White Plume said.
"He is the voice to the "big land," international in scope. We depend
on him to get the word out about land rights and the daily oppression
of living here, the third poorest county in the country. The mainstream
media isn't interested in the truth that we speak."
Charmaine White Face agrees that his help
has been instrumental to the cause. She said, "He brought the problem
with uranium mining to a much wider audience than we would ever
get out here. It's difficult to live in a big city, so I am thankful
he's there. After being on his show, I got phone calls from listeners
in New York and they became members of our organization."
The program has been running for 20 years,
both in NYC and in Washington State. Ghosthorse has spent his own
money to contribute to keeping it going. He said, "I had to keep
"Indigenous Voices" on the air, because that is what the show does.
Of the 43 stations that air FVIR, only two or three are Native stations.
It's not just educating Native people because I don't feel I can
do that. It would be like preaching to the choir."
Ghosthorse's talents also manifest musically.
As a flute player and maker of the ancient red cedar Lakota flute,
Ghosthorse has performed with Pete Seeger and Sting, and in venues
such as the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, the United
Nations and more. His debut album 'KSA,' is composed of songs and
spoken-word. One of the tracks, 'The Prayer' is featured on the
Grammy-nominated Lisa Bodnar CD "Come Hell or High Water." KSA was
nominated in 2008 for the Native American Music Awards.
First Voices Indigenous Radio is listened
to by those who want to know about Native peoples world-wide, not
just the Native Americans, Ghosthorse said. "The world is ready
for it now. People can walk down the street and say, 'I heard this
from the program'."
Mohawk radio host John Kane describes
Ghosthorse in glowing terms. "You can tell that he is coming from
a keen awareness of the issues. He is classic person: his look,
his voice, his ability as a musician. I do a radio show and I know
what it takes to do this stuff. He is working every day at it. His
approach, his view, does not get muddled in religious dogma, and
he is deeply tied to nature. He doesn't speak in mystery. He is
a guy who is based on knowledge and nature."
Ghosthorse's ultimate goal is to generate
action from his listeners, to get them involved in issues, remove
stereotypes, and base their knowledge of Native peoples on respect
and truth. He hopes that listeners will have their hearts opened
to making choices that honor relationship with each other and Mother
Earth in a more deeply connected way.
Ghosthorse's program "First
Voices Indigenous Radio" (www.firstvoicesindigenousradio.org)
promotes indigenous teachings, philosophies and knowledge. Shows
are archived and can be accessed through the website. New shows
are streamed through the website and can be heard every Thursday
(Contact Christina Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org)