Hundreds of hours of audio from an unlikely historical source are now archived on the internet, and available for anyone to listen to.
Southeast Native Radio was broadcast over KTOO in Juneau for 16 years, from 1985 to 2001. The volunteer-produced show played as current affairs at the time, but twenty-one years later it’s become a window into the lives of the people and events that shaped Native culture in the region over the last century.
Long before podcasts were a thing, people were talking, sharing ideas and stories, over public radio. And there are few shows with a track record like Southeast Native Radio.
Good evening and welcome to Southeast Native Radio. My name is Kathy Ruddy. This evening we’ll be discussing the Battle of Sitka in 1804. And with me in the studio is Andy Hope, the nephew of Kiks.ádi Survival March organizer, Herb Hope, and Dick and Nora Dauenhauer of the Sealaska Heritage Foundation, who are at 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 lengthy, 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 leading Lingít language scholar and historian, as well as Alaska’s Poet Laureate. She died in 2017, but her words are now just a click away. Here she’s talking about the oral history sources she used in researching the Battle of Sitka, from a Lingít perspective.
Well, I guess what the difference would be is they’re from the people of the other side. The Europeans battled the Native people who were on the beach, fighting them back and told from their relatives or their descendants of the people that were on the beach.
The Southeast Native Radio Recordings collection is available through the Sealaska Heritage Institute, which received the donated DAT tapes, reel-to-reels, and CDs from KTOO in 2010. In all, there are 400 recordings. Even the most seemingly-mundane shows are abuzz with history, because 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 to Klawock.
Peratrovich – When you’re young, you do a lot of foolish things…
Host – Was this 1929?
Peratrovich – No, 1939.
Host – 1939, okay.
Peratrovich – So I told the group that if we are going to build up this group, this ANB, we’re going to have to do it big. Pride is going to help us. Not knowing some screwball was going to nominate me for Grand President. So I got elected.
Peratrovich died in 1989 a year after this appearance on Southeast Native Radio.
And there’s basketball, which is a large 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 catch a ride on a seine boat each March for the trip to Juneau.
I was the last one to get on. But as I started to put my gear up in the top bunk, I found this old man was laying up there already. He kind of got on board a little early, and no one knew that he was there. So he was trying to stowaway, you know. So we figured, well, the old follow wants to go and see some games and we all couldn’t sleep at the same time. There was always a bunk open for us. So yeah, so he made it to the Gold Medal game.
Herb Didrickson to this day is considered one of the greatest players produced in Southeast Alaska, whose chances at a pro career were thwarted by WWII. Didrickson died in 2017. A contemporary of his, Gil Truitt, played Gold Medal Basketball through 1952, but Truitt’s involvement continued for many years as the coach of the Sitka ANB team. He said the game had changed in that time.
To me, what is more noticeable is the attitudes that I see on the floor compared to when we were playing. If you complained when we played, you’re on the floor. The crowd wouldn’t stand for it. They let you know that they were unhappy with your attitude. I think that’s the biggest change I see in the times we played and today.
In its publicity, the Sealaska Heritage Institute refers to the archive as a “treasure trove,” and that’s not far off. The recordings include a 13-part series produced 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 subjects.
Note: The Southeast Native Radio Recordings project was supported by a Digitizing Hidden Collections or Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources. The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.