Radio host “keeping the fires lit” at media organization
Rhonda LeValdo, host of “Native Spirit Radio” on KKFI 90.1 FM, was elected to serve as president of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) recently. Ms. LeValdo considered how “as a NAJA member who started off as a student, I know the importance of our organization in keeping the fires lit within our young people. Native journalists in NAJA lit this fire within myself. It is this fire that I will continue to pass on to the next generation of storytellers and ask that all Native journalists commit themselves to keep NAJA strong.”
Originally from New Mexico, she earned an associate’s degree in media arts at Haskell and a bachelor’s degree in journalism at KU in fall 2007. “I am Acoma Pueblo from Acoma, New Mexico. It is billed as the ‘Oldest Continuously Inhabited City’ in the United States. It is a beautiful place that still has no running water or electricity on our village. I recently made my grandmother famous for a video I made for the YouTube/Pulitzer contest ‘Project:Report’ in 2009.”
She has produced and hosted Native Spirit Radio on KKFI since 2003, which airs every Sunday at 5:00 pm Central Time on KKFI 90.1 FM. The show features a Native news segment and plays traditional and contemporary Native American musicians such as Blacklodge, Youngbird, Keith Secola, and Savage Family. LeValdo has interviewed notable Native Americans on the showing, including Mark Trahant, Vine Deloria, Suzanne Harjo, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Edward Valandra, and James Riding In.
“Native journalists in NAJA lit this fire within myself. It is this fire that I will continue to pass on to the next generation of storytellers and ask that all Native journalists commit themselves to keep NAJA strong.”
NAJA and LeValdo monitor news media and public spaces for stereotypes and racist actions against Native Americans. “I feel the underrepresentation of Native media in major markets is rampant….and just plain things that aren’t being discussed by the mainstream media,” LeValdo added.
The organization started in 1983 and soon after formed a non-profit corporation to “improve communications among Native people and between Native Americans and the general public…affecting the survival and the development of the Native media and Native communications.” LeValdo added: “I hope to get NAJA recognition and have a dialogue with mainstream media outlets so maybe they could have one of our journalists help them out when they need someone to do a story on a Native issue.”
Rhonda’s Work at Haskell: Helping Students Become Journalists, Media Workers
She also serves as a faculty member at Haskell Indian Nations University in the Communications Department, teaching classes in television production. She reflected on her work with students recently, saying “I work a lot of with my students. They produce the broadcast ‘Haskell News,’ which is on YouTube under my Skycitygirl channel. I also advise the school newspaper ‘The Indian Leader’.” She said, “I hope to get more students involved in media, whether in writing, making films or videos, or working as PR for their tribes. A lot of Native people back home see the media as a bad thing, so if we put more of our people in it, we can only hope that they see we all need to work together to get our stories out there.”
Marei Spaola, a Senior in Indigenous American Indian Studies at Haskell and assistant editor of “The Indian Leader,” shared LeValdo’s support for students by recalling one humorous episode “going to the College of the Ozarks to film the Haskell Women’s basketball game with Rhonda. And as I was recording, I was also cheering for our team, screaming and yelling while i stood right beside the camera. Rhonda was laughing, but had to remind me that I was being recorded as well. It was a funny moment, but a learning one as well.”
LeValdo also serves on UNITY: Journalists of Color, an alliance representing more than 10,000 journalists of color, comprised of four national associations: Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the Native American Journalists Association. She also received a $10,000 National Minority Consortia fellowship in 2008 to help increase minority coverage. LeValdo produced three stories for the Jim Lerher NewsHour on PBS, including the video report “Native American Students Concerned over Federal Education Funding”.
She graduated from high school in Phoenix, Ariz., where her mother, Alfie LeValdo, lives. As a youngster, LeValdo lived with her family on the Acoma reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. LeValdo and her husband Denny Gayton, who teaches Lakota language at Haskell, have two children and live in Lawrence, Kansas.
KKFI congratulates Rhonda LeValdo in her position as a national leader in this prestigious Native American organization.