In this episode of Material Memory, we talk with a staff member at the University of Oklahoma who has been working to preserve the recordings of the Indians for Indians Radio Hour program, a long-running broadcast that started in the 1940s at the university’s WNAD station.
We’ll hear about the show’s founder, the complications of dealing with a well-used collection of many different Native voices, and the process of providing access to this important historical resource about tribal life.
Photo: Pawnee Indian School Students in WNAD studio for Indians for Indians Broadcast, ca. 1942. Courtesy OU Photographic Service, no. 16342.
Joy Banks Narration: Hello and welcome! I’m Joy Banks, and I’m your host on this season of Material Memory. As we’re moving through this season, we hope you’re enjoying hearing from a variety of individuals working to provide greater access to indigenous language materials through digitization of audio and audiovisual items. On this episode, I had the chance to chat with a staff member from the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma.
Lina Ortega: Hello, I’m Lina Ortega, I’m the associate curator at the Western History Collections at the University of Oklahoma.
Joy Banks Narration: Lina has been working to preserve the recordings of the Indians for Indians Radio Hour program which was broadcast weekly over the University of Oklahoma’s WNAD station from 1941 through about the mid 1970s. We’ll hear about Lina’s own personal connections to the collection, the history of the show’s founder, Don Whistler, and the complications of dealing with a well-used collection that represents many different Native voices.
Joy Banks: I wanted to start with you telling us a little bit about the project that you’re working on and sort of how you were connected to it.
Lina Ortega: The Indians for Indians Hour radio show was broadcast from OU’s WNAD radio station starting in 1941, and it was continuously broadcast through the mid 1970s. And the recordings of some of the broadcasts—not all of them, unfortunately—but some of them have been archived here in the Western History Collection for decades.
So with the recordings being archived here at the Western History Collections for many years, I was aware that they were here just because my tribe, The Sac and Fox Nation, had a part in creating the show as well as we’re represented on some of the broadcasts. Before I started working here at the Western History Collections, I worked in a different part of the library here on campus. And so I would come over now and then and listen to some of the broadcasts that had my tribe on it. Some of my relatives who were singing and I just wanted to hear them and, and to hear these songs. The radio show is also pretty fondly remembered by a lot of native American individuals across the state.
Several tribes—I would say two thirds of the tribes currently headquartered in Oklahoma—are represented on the show. And because it also had such a long run, many people remember participating in it or their family members did or they just remember listening to it. I knew that the show was important for those reasons, just because native communities remember the show and want to come in and listen to the to the recordings. So working here, most of the requests that we’ve gotten over the years have been from family members simply wanting to listen to recordings of the show that they know their, their mother or their father or grandparent or uncle or aunt participated in. But in recent years, we’ve had an uptick in some of the tribe’s language preservation departments or other sorts of cultural departments like historic preservation.
We’ve had employees and even groups, sometimes, from those tribal departments coming in to, to listen to the recordings and requesting copies of them. So the copies that we’ve been using for access are on cassette tapes. Those cassette copies had been made from the reel copies, the reel-to ree- tape copies some years ago. And of course, cassette tapes were not really made for long-term use. And so there is concern that the cassettes would break. And so the Recordings at Risk grant opportunity was, was an incredible chance to have another way to preserve these recordings
What was actually digitized was the content from the reels, not the cassette tapes.
Joy Banks: Okay
Lina Ortega: There was just a preference that the collection be digitized from the reel-to-reel tapes. In some cases those were the original recordings. And also I had concerns that when the copies were made to cassettes that not everything was copied. So that was another reason to work with the reels.
So as I’ve listened to the collection as a body, I’ve listened to all 200 or so recordings that we have. I’ve come to appreciate the greater usefulness of it as a collection and as a resource for understanding United States history. Definitely through a native American perspective, but still it’s important to remember that this is part of American history and, and Oklahoma history too.
And so a lot of themes have emerged, as I’ve listened to it as a collection and some of those have to do with community life including the rise of inner tribal life through the 20th century. And then military service, schools, and education—there are several school groups who participated on the show regularly—and then religion. There are many, many religions represented on the show as well as advocacy for tribal rights and tribal governments. Since the show went through the 1940s through the 50s and the early seventies, it covers a pretty good chunk of federal policy towards native American tribes. And so when you hear some of the announcements on this show, you can actually glean some of this United States history through the announcements that different elected officials from the tribes would send in about their government operations. So it’s really been an incredible opportunity to understand this as a historical resource, not only for native Americans, but for any student in general.
Joy Banks: Can you talk a little bit more about the physical condition that the tapes were in?
Lina Ortega: Mmhm. The condition of the, of the audio tapes is of concern because we have a set that are on reel-to-reel tapes and they were recorded at varying speeds. Oftentimes there were multiple broadcasts on one reel-to-reel tape. They were not put on in chronological order. And so I think they were put on, I don’t know if it was according to however, whoever was doing it just picked up a tape, or if it was a matter of they were just trying to fit what they could on a tape. And so access wise, it can be really confusing to figure out which tape you needed but also the physical condition: the tape ends are not secured and so there is loose pack on the reels and I think that’s the preservation concern. And then plus many of the recordings are 60, 70, 50 years old. I mean the youngest of them is 50 years old. And so
Just a lot of concerns with our preservation and then our use copies were on cassette tapes, which don’t have a long life. And yet we’ve been using those for at least 30 years, probably more like 40. And so I did have very serious concerns about tapes breaking. I know with some of our other audio collections that we have on cassette tape, I’ve actually broken a couple of those cassettes myself and made me cringe.
That’s like an archivist worst nightmare..
Joy Banks: Could you describe a little bit “loose pack”? What is that?
Lina Ortega: I actually wasn’t familiar with that term until I started working with the Northeast Document Conservation Center.
Joy Banks: NEDCC?
Lina Ortega: Yes. So the NEDCC is who we contracted with to do the professional digitization and it was the CLIR Recordings at Risk grant that enabled us to contract with the NEDCC. So the NEDCC was quite detailed in their scope of work when the project manager was explaining it to me and then in their written materials. And so they explained that part of what they were going to address was how the tapes were reeled on, on the spools. And so as far as I understand, it is better for preservation to keep them tightly wound on those spools and not have them loose and flopping around and, and getting warped and so forth.
Joy Banks: Okay. So it’s pretty much what it sounds like.
Lina Ortega: Yes. Yeah, it is. I didn’t even realize until doing this work that you’re supposed to fix the tape ends down on the reel. There’s a certain type of tape that you can use to do that. And I didn’t even realize that that was something that we were supposed to do.
Joy Banks: It seems as though there’s an advantage in using a service like NEDCC or another vendor that does this all the time
Lina Ortega: Definitely.
Joy Banks: I asked Lina what kind of digitization OU had been able to do in-house before they started working with the NEDCC.
Lina Ortega: There were just isolated tapes that we had digitized ourselves. And when we were creating some of those digital files, we didn’t even know in the beginning that it’s necessary to clean the tape deck every time.
And, and so that has impacted the quality of those files. And we did not have the expertise here to clean them and repair them. And then also once you do have a digital file to be able to engineer those digital files to improve the sound quality. We just didn’t have the expertise here at the Western History Collections. I do have a couple of colleagues here on the OU campus who were able to do some of that work, but they’re very busy with their own collections and so they could only do one-offs for me. They weren’t able to digitize the whole collection and so really it was an enormous relief to be able to have an organization who is able to do this work professionally.
Joy Banks: So let’s talk a little bit about some of the content of these items that you digitized. I know you touched briefly on the different tribes that are represented on it, but who is the, who was the person that started this show?
Lina Ortega: The radio show was created by Don Whistler. He was an alumnus of the University of Oklahoma. And actually the story of his family is quite interesting in itself. Whistler was actually principal chief of the Sac and Fox tribe when he created the show and all throughout the time he was hosting it. So he was a busy man, but he also had a lot of contacts across the state. And as you listened to him it becomes obvious that he’s very much aware of what’s going on with the federal government’s relationship with tribes in Oklahoma and a lot of federal legislation that could impact the tribes. So he’s very knowledgeable in that respect. But going back to his family, he and his siblings had moved with their mother to Norman specifically so that they would have better educational opportunities. And they moved here to Norman around 1915 from the Sac and Fox Agency, which is near Stroud, Oklahoma.
So Don Whistler’s father was a Sac and Fox named Leo Whistler, I believe. And his mother was, she was not Native American. She was white. And after the parents divorced, she decided that she wanted to move her children to Norman for better educational opportunities. So Chief Whistler was the eldest and then his younger brothers and sister also attended and graduated from OU, so had very strong ties to OU. And his mother, as well as Don and one of the other siblings, were very instrumental in building up Campus Corner, which is an area just to the north of the main part of campus here at OU, and it has a lot of restaurants and clothing stores and other private businesses that his mother, Maud Whistler, was instrumental— she actually constructed some of the buildings and they’re still very much in use today.
And so that history has been lost for the most part. It’s not widely known that there was a Sac and Fox connection to OU’s Campus Corner. But another thing I wanted to mention about Chief Whistler is since he and his siblings did grow up at the Sac and Fox agency, he grew up around his father’s people and it was part of his life to be part of our tribe’s way of life and culture. And so he was very knowledgeable about it and it’s my understanding that he spoke the Sauk language fluently as did his siblings.
Joy Banks Narration: Don Whistler stayed in Norman after university, raising five children with his wife and managing construction and real estate businesses. In 1939, he became principal chief of the Sac and Fox tribe, and in 1941 he launched the Indians for Indians radio show. It was crucial to him that the show was “by Indians, for Indians,” and free from any need to conform to a non-Native aesthetic.
Joy Banks: Did he have any sort of unique ways of starting the show?
Lina Ortega: He did. On every broadcast he would start the same way with the same sign on, he would say, “Âho nikân! Keshkekosh a nina!” And so what he was saying in the Sauk language was, “Hello friends!” Keshkekosh was his Sauk name. And so then he was just identifying himself as it was Keshkekosh speaking. It’s always interesting to hear his name in, in that respect because Sac and Fox people who have our names like that, we believe that those are our forever names. And so our English names that we have here that we use every day are just temporary names. And then after death, when our spirit goes on to that village that was prepared for us, we’ll still continue to use our Sauk names, which are given to us through our clans. It’s always interesting to me to hear his name used on the radio and I think I wish I could talk to him and, and find out why he wanted to introduce himself that way.
So when the radio station does their sign on so WNAD would have their separate sign on where they’re introducing the show and so they would, they would say “Indians for Indians hosted by Don Whistler.” So they would say Don Whistler, but he oftentimes did not say his name in English.
Joy Banks: Names are such a personal thing. It’s really something special that he would share another name with his listeners. Like it seems like that would be something that would help to build trust with his audience almost.
Lina Ortega: Yes. Yeah. I do think it’s a manifestation of how this show was created by Indians for Indians. Whistler was very explicit about that. And you’ll hear it sometimes in the show that the show’s audience was intended to be other native Americans. And so I do think that’s one reason why he felt comfortable using his, his forever name, so to speak.
Joy Banks: The next thing I sort of wanted to talk about, you shared with me four different clips that I feel they were just, they were all beautiful. Why don’t you share a little bit about some of the, the different languages that were included on the show?
Lina Ortega: Okay. The Indians for Indians Hour radio show had native language woven all throughout since the show was intended to be for our native audience. I don’t think that there was any, I don’t think that participants felt a need to try to perform for a non-native audience. And I think another important factor is that since the show started in the forties and it goes through the fifties and sixties, there are still several first-language speakers within the tribes. Nowadays, unfortunately that’s pretty rare for a person to, for their native language to be their first language. That’s why languages have become more and more threatened and endangered as, as the years have gone by. But during the time of the radio show, there’s still quite a few people where their native language was their first language and so they speak it fluently. You know, it’s obvious that they’re comfortable with it and speaking it fluidly as well as fluently. So there are several languages represented on the show. Most of the time when we hear them, they’re either saying a prayer or they’re speaking on a religious topic, or they’re singing a hymn or some other type of,
Of prayer in song form. That’s the majority of the language content, but not always. There are a couple of speeches that have to do more with native American rights, where the man is speaking in English, but then he will also go into his own native language.
The languages that are represented most on this show are the Kiowa language. And I’m not actually saying the name of the languages, I’m saying the names of the tribes that speak them, but the tribes whose languages are represented the most on this show are the Kiowa tribe, Comanche, Cheyenne, and Arapaho, which those are two different distinct languages, even though the Cheyenne and Arapaho are a combined tribal entity here in Oklahoma. And then
The Creek and Seminole languages.
There are dialects to the Muskogean family of languages. And then Sac and Fox, we actually don’t hear a whole lot of outside of Chief Whistler’s sign-on and sign-off. But every once in a while I’ll hear a little word here and there. And then some other languages that are represented are Pawnee and Oto and Ioway and Apache and Ponka a little bit. And so I enjoy hearing the variety. Lots of times we do hear some languages more often than others, you know, like here on campus. It’s not uncommon to hear the Kiowa language or to hear the Cherokee language. And there is a tiny bit of Cherokee language represented in the show too. But to hear other languages like Oto or Pawnee, that’s a bit more unusual outside of those communities,
Joy Banks: I feel like that’s something, well, you tell me, was that something that was unique to this radio program that there would have been such a variety?
Lina Ortega: I would say so. One of, one Chief Whistler’s strengths was bringing people together and I find it admirable that he brought people from different parts of the state into the show and he didn’t focus on just one tribe or one group of tribes from a particular region of Oklahoma. Oklahoma has such a diversity of native nations here just because of the history of all these tribes being moved here or being made to stay here. I think that is unique about Oklahoma. And so it’s incredible to me that that diversity for the most part is reflected in the radio show. And you know, people were traveling often from great distances at their own expense to participate. And some of it is during World War II where there’s gasoline rationing. So to think about what they went through when it wasn’t easy to even make a long distance phone call. You know, they were very, I think committed to participating as was Chief Whistler committed to bringing people in and together. And I’ve seen references to where they would often gather at his house afterwards and, and have a meal together.
Joy Banks: Let’s talk a little bit about the clips that you shared. So we’ll start with the lullaby maybe?
Lina Ortega: Okay.
Joy Banks: So tell us what language we’re listening to and then anything else you want to say about it.
Lina Ortega: Okay. The lullaby clip is in the Kiowa language and it is sung by Etta Apekaum. I’m making an assumption that she was an older lady at the time that she was singing this song and she was participating on the show with some of her other relatives. And it was actually a pretty large group, but it’s wonderful that they, they made that time for her to do something that was a little unusual. There’s a handful of lullabies that are recorded on the show and then I’ve seen references to having, having been done on the show at other times, but it’s unusual. There wasn’t a lot of times when something that was geared toward children was done. Oftentimes the people who were singing on the show are men. And so the reason why I wanted to feature this clip was to just to be able to hear a woman singing,
[Audio clip: Etta Apekaum Lullaby]
Lina Ortega: I don’t know what the lullaby is saying. And so there is a lot of work to be done with these recordings to have them translated and, and to even have them transcribed into the different tribes’ modern orthographies, or, you know, modern ways of, of writing their language. And so that is one of the offshoot goals that I have for this collection and this, you know, much improved digitization makes that possible, is to be able to have transcriptions and translations of the native languages
Joy Banks: Are, are you going to do that? You know, it’s not, like you say yes, you have to commit, but translation and transcription can be daunting.
Lina Ortega: Yes, so I’m in the process of doing a little bit of a pilot project with it. So as part of preparing for the upcoming exhibit that’s gonna start in November  I’ve done transcriptions of—or actually we had an intern do transcriptions of—the audio files that are being used in the exhibit.
And the reason for that was just to make the exhibit more accessible to people who might be there for the exhibit who have hearing difficulties. And so part of that, since I am featuring the native languages to some extent, not as much as I would’ve liked to, but for the native language clips, I do still need to recruit people to translate them for me and to actually transcribe them to use in the exhibit. So that’s part of the little pilot project. And then just for the straight transcription of an entire episode, this, the intern that I had this summer out of the Native American Studies Department here at OU actually had experience as a court reporter.
Joy Banks: Fantastic.
Lina Ortega: So I had a pilot project in mind for her and then it was just serendipitous that she already has this experience. And so I had her list out—we talked about some of the difficulties, you know, that she ran into doing the transcriptions and that also enabled us to get an idea of the time involved and just doing one broadcast. So, generally, since she was able to work pretty quickly, she was able to do a broadcast in a couple of hours, which I thought was impressive. I thought it would take longer. But then the additional work of filling in gaps, of course that that is going to add time to it.
Joy Banks: Yeah, it seems whenever you’re working with foreign languages of any kind, there’s these challenges of expertise.
Lina Ortega: Yes.
Joy Banks: And no matter how much we think automation can do everything, there’s still high, high level of involvement from people.
Lina Ortega: Exactly. And so one of the difficulties is people’s names. So even when they are using their English names, a lot of times those are derived from their native languages. And so I think it’s necessary in this transcription work for—at some point in the process—for a person to be able to, to have knowledge of that particular tribe or maybe even be from that same region in the state just so they recognize the names, because some of them you would have no idea really what they’re saying or how to spell it if you didn’t already know it. As well as some of the terms, like some of the, the different types of songs that are sung. If you don’t have that cultural framework, then it’s going to be really difficult to understand what they’re talking about and to be able to transcribe that.
Joy Banks: Yeah. So one of the other clips that you sent was from the Summer Institute, right?
Lina Ortega: Mmhmm
Joy Banks: Do you want to talk a little bit about that program and then the clip that we can hear?
Lina Ortega: OK. The Summer Institute was sponsored here at the OU campus. I believe it started in the 1950s and I’m not sure when, when it ended here at OU. I believe it was in the 1980s. So it was something that went on for a while. It was an annual institute that was held during the summertime for a few weeks. And
I didn’t realize it until one of our anthropology professors was explaining it to me. And then I heard it explained later in a broadcast too, but it was … it had a relationship with a Wycliffe Bible translators. And so its reason for existence was for missionaries to come and get some training in linguistics and to also have some exposure to different indigenous languages and start getting practice in learning them. And being able to say some of the different sounds that are used in different languages for the purpose of making it easier for them to learn the indigenous language at a community that they were assigned to, to work with as missionaries. And so if they were, if they attended the summer institute—and oftentimes students would attend in multiple years—so if they were learning the Kiowa language at the Summer Institute it wasn’t necessarily to minister or be missionaries to the Kiowa. Oftentimes they were missionaries to indigenous communities in central or South America or even Africa sometimes. And so it was just to, to get them exposure to different types of sounds that are articulated in different languages.
So here at OU the informants as they were called—I think now, I don’t know that that term “informant” would be used—the instructors of the native languages were fluent, I would say most likely were first language speakers of their different tribes’ languages. And so a Kiowa man named Mose Poolaw was often—I don’t know that he was the coordinator of the Institutes for particular years—but he seems to have been the main or the lead instructor. And whenever the students, both the instructors and the students would participate on the Indians for Indians radio show, Mr. Poolaw was often the host of that particular broadcast. So we do have … we have four or five broadcasts from different years that feature the Summer Institute of Linguistics. And so this particular clip is a dialogue between a native Cherokee speaker as well as a student who— even though their dialogue is kind of short and I think kind of basic—the student is able to say it fluidly enough that I wonder if he had been a repeat student. I’m just, I don’t know. I’m just curious about that. Or maybe he was just gifted in linguistics and learning languages.
[Audio clip: Summer Institute Linguistics]
Host, Mose Poolaw: Next, we have a Cherokee conversation by Informant Martin Johnson and Al Pence.
Lina Ortega: So I think a lot of this has to do with just the range of the, of the broadcast signal. People from the eastern part of Oklahoma and tribes located there are not so familiar with Indians for Indians, I don’t think they listened to it. They weren’t really able to. And so that would include the Cherokee nation and it’s unusual to hear the Cherokee language on the show. That is one tribe that is not well represented on the show. And about the only time that we hear anything in Cherokee has to do with the Summer Institute of Linguistics because a Cherokee speaker was here on the OU campus at that time.
Joy Banks: You said you had a few reverends documented on the series. So the clip that you sent is from Walter Burgess.
Lina Ortega: Yes. Mmhmm
Joy Banks: Tell us a little bit about that.
Lina Ortega: So Reverend Burgess participated on Indians for Indians during a March 1949 broadcast, and he was there with other members of his congregation. And so they’re singing and they’re singing some hymns. But Reverend Burgess, who is from this Seminole missionary Baptist church, is the one who is speaking most of the time. And as he’s speaking, I can tell that he’s kind of praying and also delivering a sermon in the Seminole language. The Muskogee Creek and the Seminole, as well as the other five tribes—like the Cherokee and the Chickasaw and the Choctaw, have a long history with Christianity. Many individuals in those particular tribes were Christians even before removal to Oklahoma or to Indian Territory as it was then.
Probably the Seminoles didn’t really become Christians until they were removed to Indian Territory, but it’s something that grew very quickly, and through exposure to many different Christian denominations, there are different Indian Christian denominations as well, or Indian churches for those denominations. And so there’s a lot of Indian Baptist churches, Indian Methodist churches and so on. And so, for children who are brought up in those churches, you spend a great deal of your time in church listening to sermons and singing hymns in the native language.
[Audio clip: Reverand Walter Burgess]
Lina Ortega: I, I particularly like this clip. It’s one of my favorite examples of the Creek or Seminole languages because that really singsong talking and sermonizing and singing, where things kind of transition smoothly from speaking to singing, is very evocative of being in church, and of my other side of the family, which is Seminole and Muskogee Creek. And so a lot of times when I’ve played clips from people who are from those tribes, you can tell, you know, they get kind of misty-eyed and you can tell that it evokes a lot of memories and feelings for them. And you know, probably, they do still participate in, in their native churches, native congregations of these different churches. But also it reminds them of childhood, I think.
You can’t really tell in his singsong way of doing it, which I think is typical. It’s hard to tell if you’re not fluent in the language where something ends and something begins. You know, he’s probably, he probably has scripture verses interspersed with his own speech, but not knowing the language, it’s hard to tell that.
Joy Banks: Mmhmm
Lina Ortega: But it does show, you know, the depth of, of missionary work that these different denominations did with the different tribes for that to become such a way of life for hundreds of years and to be, you know, very much a part of everyday life and to have that native stamp on it of being able to deliver a whole sermon in your own language and as well as composing your own hymns in your own language.
Joy Banks: Yeah. There’s a, a sense of ownership.
Lina Ortega: Yes, definitely. Yeah. That’s a good way of putting it.
Joy Banks: Now, I, I don’t speak any of these languages, but even in just listening to them myself, like, for each person on there, you hear something in their voice
Lina Ortega: Uhhuh
Joy Banks: that is unique to them.
Lina Ortega: Yes,
Joy Banks: Yeah. They were all, they’re all very powerful. Well, and the last one that you shared, was this the oldest recording?
Lina Ortega: Yes,
Joy Banks: … that you had?
Lina Ortega: Mmhmm. [inaudible] The Tsatoke recording is actually on our oldest tape from 1942 and Tsatoke, otherwise known as Hunting Horse or Old Man Hunting Horse, or even Old Man Horse I’ve seen him referred to—he was Kiowa and he lived to be more than a hundred years old. I believe he lived to be 106 or 104, and in 1942 at the time of this recording, I think he’s 96 and to just imagine what he must have seen in his long lifetime during a period of just enormous change is
I think it boggles the mind. You, know, he starts, he starts out living very much as a traditional Kiowa and of course he continued that through his life, but then, you know, he makes use of any technology that becomes available. And so during the clip
You can tell that he’s an elderly person talking, but he, his voice also comes across very strongly.
[Audio clip: Tsatoke Kiowa]
Lina Ortega: Honestly I have no idea what he’s saying in the broadcast. He is speaking and singing alternately, and when he’s singing, he’s usually singing songs from the native American church or Peyote songs. And so when he’s speaking, I don’t know if he’s praying, if he’s talking about the Peyote religion, if he’s talking about something completely different. I have no idea. And so that is part, you know, this important work that needs to be done in translating or even if it’s not a word-to-word translating, at least having an idea of what he’s speaking about. Cause I know that when I create clips, I feel guilty that I’m cutting someone off right in the middle of an important thought. I wished that I had the knowledge myself to be able to, you know, at least have it at the beginning and the end of a particular thought or even a couple of sentences. But as it is they’re just random clips right now.
Joy Banks: So, Lina, why, why should we work to preserve these materials?
Lina Ortega: These, these recordings are important to preserve for different reasons. And the one that is foremost in my mind is to preserve them for the native communities whom they most closely concern and who contributed to their making. It is the case that there are ways of speaking or there are particular songs that go out of use sometimes or
They might be completely forgotten or not so much forgotten, but not heard commonly anymore. And so there’s not too many people who, who still know them and they might need to be reminded of them a little bit. And so it’s a way to help the work of cultural revitalization and language revitalization for the tribes. I think another reason to preserve these recordings is for the young people of those tribes to have access to their elders’ voices and to hear firsthand what was of concern to them at that time. And even just to hear the way that they spoke even in English, you know, cause that that changes over time as well. And to hear things that have to do with firsthand experiences of war or of going to school, I think it helps all of us have a more nuanced and better understanding of history when we get to hear these voices. You have firsthand experience of, of going to war, serving in the military or working as a teacher or
Attending an Indian boarding school in the mid 20th century. And so for those reasons, I think all of those reasons are equally important. And then something that I hadn’t thought about a whole lot before having been invited to the Radio Preservation Task Force conference that was at the Library of Congress in 2017.
That enabled me to start thinking more about how diverse voices and diverse media sources can be used in education for, for everybody, for universities and colleges across the nation as well as international ones too, and be used in K through 12 education as well. I think a lot of United States history as it involves Native Americans tends to be really abbreviated and condensed in an easily digestible format. And sources like these help all of us understand the particulars more, and the lived experiences of, of people from, from those times.
Joy Banks: How are you working towards access for these collections? Has, have you encountered challenges with, obviously probably with description but what are, how are you working on access?
Lina Ortega: Enabling access is an ongoing project and, as part of the Northeast Document Conservation Centers work to digitize the recordings, they have provided to us different versions of the files for each broadcast. And so they are enabling access by providing these files. We have a preservation file that we will always, you know, keep safe. That’s part of the, the grant funding. And then we have we have access files in both wav format and MP3 format. And so currently the OU Libraries is working to–I don’t know if upgrade is the right word–but upgrade our digital collections repository to be able to deal with audio. It’s really had, you know, great repercussions for the OU libraries projects. It’s something that needed doing anyway. But preserving this particular collection was the impetus for, you know, really getting on top of it. There is some content on this show that is ceremonial songs of different tribes and, for whatever reason, those who sang them on the, on broadcast felt like it was okay to do so. But I think that some of the tribes whose songs those are, would not feel comfortable with those recordings being publicly, freely accessible online for just anyone to hear and to potentially appropriate. And so those recordings are not going to be made available, but that work is ongoing with some of those tribes and communities to determine what’s okay to, to have online and what is not okay.
Joy Banks: Through the conversation you’ve alluded to the ongoing migration of these recordings and really sort of the audio history long-term…
Lina Ortega: Mmhmm
Joy Banks: …. to address changes in technology to keep up with the times, so to speak, and make sure that audiences are still able to interact with them.
Lina Ortega: Mmhmm
Joy Banks: So even in digitization, it seems there continue to be like, that’s not the end of the story.
Lina Ortega: Not at all. In fact, it’s the beginning of the next era, I guess I would say.
Joy Banks: So you’ve talked a little bit too about an upcoming exhibit. Did you want to go into that at all and share some of what you’re doing?
Lina Ortega: Sure. To help celebrate this renewed access for to the Indians for Indians radio show recordings, the OU Library is mounting an exhibit and it’s called “Native Voices Over the Airwaves: The Indians for Indians Hour Radio Show.” And so it’s gonna be on the main floor of the main campus library from mid-November through sometime next summer. So eight to nine months, not quite a year.
Joy Banks: It just sounds like such an amazing way to celebrate this.
Lina Ortega: Thank you. I hope so. And it’s also a a way to help make the native communities across the state aware that the recordings are going to be freely available online. So it’s just another way to, to help promote the collection. We’re also planning a symposium in the spring time and the date is yet to be determined. I’m trying to make it for early, early April, just to coincide for with when the show began. The show started on April 1st of 1941. The symposium is just a way to have a more academic or maybe more scholarly discussion about the radio show and the value of the recordings.
Joy Banks: One of the last questions that I’m sort of asking everybody is, if there was one thing about this project that has made you most the most excited or perhaps something that has impacted you the most in some way, what would that be?
Lina Ortega: Having the entire collection professionally digitized and made more accessible has enabled me to, to hear, to hear it as a body. So I talked earlier about its value as a historical resource. Through our own in-house amateur digitization, there were some recordings where I was not able to make out what was being said or even if they were singing or speaking. And so this much, much improved audio quality of the new, of the new digital files of the recordings will enable everyone to make greater use of them. And as I’ve listened to all the recordings, I’m just
Constantly astounded by the variety of content in them, some of which I think has been lost over time. And, and how it not only is a great resource for United States history as a whole, but also a very personal resource. For myself, there are references to my great grandfather. I have a couple of great uncles and cousins who are singing on the show. There is even a, a dedication that my grandmother wrote in to my uncle that she had announced on the show. And so, you know, those details are not they’re not available in our current written descriptions of the broadcast. And so I think a lot of those details have been lost to the different families and tribes that they impact over time. And I think a lot of people are going to be really moved to be able to to hear these things.
Joy Banks: Are there any other topics, things that you had on your mind, words that you wanted to say?
Lina Ortega: I think the show is important to show the idea of community life, you know, both from very specific local tribal communities, you know, local communities, even within a tribe and extending even on up to inner tribal life. And I think it’s important to show that development of inner tribal life over time.
It also shows how Native Americans have always made use of the technology that was available to them. And that is something that I like to emphasize because I think a lot of times non-native students think of Native Americans as being very, very much historical phenomenon and not living, breathing people of today who have to some extent been assimilated into United States society or American society, but yet also have that continuum of, of traditions and in ways of life from their tribes.
Joy Banks: Thank you so much for everything that you’ve shared today. It’s just such a fabulous project and I can’t wait to see how it progresses and is able to make an impact on the communities that it serves.
Lina Ortega: Yeah. Thank you. Me too. I, I feel like I’ve been the one doing a lot of talking about it, but I look forward to the time when other people are, are doing the talking about it and how it’s impacted them and their studies and their daily lives. So yeah, I do look forward to that.
Joy Banks Narration: Since Lina and I spoke, the Native Voices Over the Airwaves exhibit has opened at Oklahoma University’s Bizzell Memorial Library. You can view the collection and listen to the recordings at repository.OU.edu. The symposium is scheduled for March 26, 2020.
Joy Banks Narration: Thanks for listening to our episode. We hope that you’ll join us for Episode Six, when we’ll close out the season with staff from the Autry Museum who are working to digitize audio and audiovisual recordings representing a number of Native Nations from the late 1800s to the early 2000s.
More information on this and all our episodes, including show notes, transcript, information on our guests, and links to their projects, can be found online at material-memory.clir.org. If you like our podcast, we hope you’ll rate, review, and subscribe. CLIR is an independent nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning. Learn more about us at clir.org.
To learn more about preservation efforts happening in your area and ways you can contribute, visit your local library, archive, museum, or historical society. Material Memory is produced by CLIR, with the assistance of Ernesto Gluecksmann, Christa Williford, Kathlin Smith, and Lizzi Albert. Our audio engineer is Benjamin Green. Our theme music is by Poddington Bear. I’m Joy, and I’ll see you next time on Material Memory.
 The exhibit opened in November 2019
Joy Banks is program officer for CLIR’s grant team. She helps manage communications, outreach, and assessment activities for the Recordings at Risk, Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives, and Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives programs. She is the author of The Foundations of Discovery: A Report on the Assessment of the Impacts of the Cataloging Hidden Collections Program, 2008-2019, published in 2019.
Lina Ortega serves as the Associate Curator of the Western History Collections at the University of Oklahoma Libraries. A proud member of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma, she is interested in how archival and special collections can be used by Native Americans for cultural revitalization.