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For this month’s community media profile, we’re hearing from Samantha Honani, General Manager at KUYI Hopi Public Radio on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. As you’ll learn in the interview that follows, Samantha helped lead KUYI through NFCB’s Community Counts Initiative while she was the interim GM at the station and since stepping on as official GM, has already lead facilitated a 20-year strategic visioning session benefitting the station, staff, volunteers, and community.

An excerpt of this interview was featured in our March 2024 Newsletter. Not subscribed? Click here for monthly doses of community radio inspiration.

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Serah Mead: Please share with us who you are and how you came to be GM at KUYI. 

Samantha Honani: My name is Samantha Honani, and I come from the village of Tewa. That’s from First Mesa on the Hopi Reservation. I belong to the Tobacco Clan, and I am a mom of three and a grandma of one granddaughter. Those roles are really important to me, first and foremost. I am in recovery, which also is a part of my journey and is a proud part of my identity, because, in Indian Country, we do tend to face challenges around different addictions and traumas, so, I am proud to share that I am in the recovery community. I am the current General Manager for KUYI Hopi Public Radio, and I have been in this role for about two years.

I am a huge advocate for the Hopi-Tewa community; I’m also an educator—and as much as I loved working for my students, I have a bachelor’s in elementary education—and I couldn’t contain myself in the classroom. I wanted to broaden myself, so I chose to work in community education. And that’s how I began to work with the Hopi Foundation [KUYI’s Licensee]. And then, I just [found] myself—like many others—in radio in an unplanned, and very much a happy, happy accident.

SM: I recently had the honor of joining KUYI for part of your strategic planning process in Moenkopi Village. Can you share a couple things that the experience highlighted for you about KUYI?

SH: Normally, organizations or radio stations will go into planning for at least a two- to five-year plan for their strategic plan. But for us here on Hopi, we are slow and meticulous in how we plan and give an outlook to our future and our goals. Things don’t happen fast here. It’s very calculated and thoughtful, intentional. So KUYI went into this strategic plan to actually develop a 20-year vision and goal for KUYI’s strategic plan. So being a part of that process with not only my staff and the Hopi Foundation as our licensee, but to have a representative from NFCB, along with our very own community members, was something very, very important to me. 

Community radio… when you put that label on anything out here, in our very small, rural reservation of Hopi community, you better have the community at the table and they better be a part of the process, or inform the decisions that are being made on behalf of them. I can say very proudly, and I can affirm that we do bring in their voice! 

And so the individuals that were with us there [at the retreat], they not only represent themselves and their families, but they bring in representation of clanship, and “villageship,” as well as their village region or the region of Hopi, (we have four regions out here). [They also bring representation as] men and women, the roles that they play culturally; so, there were so many layers and facets of identity and representation by the individuals that came in the room. That’s what really stood out to me. 

When we were in discussion and dialogue, and looking at our past so that it can inform our present and our future, they brought voices from a long time ago—our historical, cultural history, but they brought in the present and the future, and it was very beautiful to see how they can inform community radio, and how it can be; it can exemplify who we are as a people, even though we come from all of those different pieces of what makes Hopi Village, clan, family, and roles as male and female. So it was beautiful to see and it was hard for me not to just sit there and listen, but I had to participate as a staff member!

Samantha (second from left) sits with NFCB’s Serah Mead and the KUYI team: members of KUYI Staff, Community Advisory Board, programmers, and retreat facilitators Indigenous Collaboration.

SM: I took away from that experience that KUYI’s stakeholders are invested in the station’s role as a perpetuator of Hopi language and culture. Can you share your thoughts on the role of native radio?

SH: If you look back on the origin of KUYI, it was derived from community members. It was a very grassroots movement to have radio [as a way to] to inform the community in the realm of public safety and information sharing and all of that. But more so, it was intended to be a resource of sharing and collecting Hopi music and songs and the ability to speak, Hopílavayi, which is “language.” And when those intentions were laid out in that way… something that usually happens here on Hopi is that it takes on a life of its own, it becomes a living part of who we are here on Hopi. 

Even in its name, “kuyi,” which translates to “water” – water is life here. Water literally translates to “life” in Hopi, and it’s a sustenance and it brings about life—it’s a life-giver, and it sustains life. And to have community radio named KUYI, it also helps to perpetuate what we’re trying to do here and sustain ourselves as Hopi people, and also to bring about and share in life out here and beyond, especially now that we’re able to do so with our streaming.

I think that because of the responsibility that KUYI now has being a resource in the community and a life entity in the community for 23 years, we now are faced with the responsibility of helping to sustain language. In our strategic planning session, it was very evident from our community members, staff, and licensee that we are to have that as a part of our vision, our mission, our action plan, and our strategic plan to bring about and strengthen language and culture through the airwaves. So, now that we are coming back to business here, our day-to-day, it’s very much a part of informing our decision-making and informing our programming. I’m really happy to be here in a position with my staff, even though some of us may not speak [Hopi] fluently. 

Just yesterday, we wrapped up a three-day remote broadcast of the 2024 Hopitutuqaiki Language Symposium! So things like this, they’re not by happenstance, they don’t happen, you know, by accident. It’s Creator, working in our lives, and here with KUYI in our community. We were invited and asked to be a part of this, and we’re like, “how does this happen?!” We just came off this strategic plan where language and culture is a huge part of what we’re going to do, and a month later, we’re broadcasting this very important gathering of Hopi language teachers that are wanting to strengthen and bring about language revitalization and [education] and we were able to be a part of that, proudly! 

I know we’re doing the right things here at KUYI, even though we’re faced with many challenges that all radio stations have. There’s always too much to do, but we were able to slow down and do this [simulcast] for our listeners.

SM: Since becoming GM, what has surprised you most about KUYI or Community Radio in general?

SH: Prior to coming here, I’d always listened to KUYI, since it’s been in existence, but I didn’t understand the operations of this radio station: just how challenging and intricate the different processes [are] and the “behind the scenes,” right? It was like—how do you run this big machine here? It’s literally a machine, and figuratively a machine. The backside of it includes the funding, and working with huge entities like the FCC, and this massive network of NFCB… How do you find your place in something so vast like that when you’re just a little rural reservation radio station? How do you navigate those systems? 

[I ask myself]: how do I still navigate myself as a Hopi woman in these systems and in this world of radio? And how do I still keep a balance without losing myself in it? It’s just like anything I’ve ever been faced with. So, what I’ve been able to do, and what those before me have been able to do, is blend it and make it “Hopi radio.”  

You know, [the public media system is] very much a non-Hopi system, it’s a big, huge thing that is very foreign to us out here because, like I said, we don’t go to school [to learn how to do radio and] we’re not really exposed to it until you literally get thrown in it, and you try to swim and eventually do. That’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve come to realize is that it’s very doable.

SM: What advice do you have for new GMs? Where do you turn for support when you need it?

SH: Aside from everything that I have already shared, I think you need to really be a leader that leads amongst your team. It’s like you sway. Also know when you have to lead and when you have to be at the end, you know, pushing your team forward, or when you want to walk beside them. When you’re having to cover a 7am shift? That’s walking beside your team. You have to really be versatile in that and be willing to not make it be a burden but rather an opportunity.I think secondly, having systems, (or if you don’t have this system, you create it), that allow you to track. So tracking systems are literally what finally got me to be the best manager/leader here. There’s so much with radio, and prior to being exposed to NFCB’s Circle of Engagement, and the Five by Five model, I felt like I was swimming in mud, nothing was crystal clear and everything was just all over the place. And I don’t mean that the big picture of the station was a mess. No, it was like, the systems were all bunched up into one and, and while trying to learn as a very novice person in radio, I needed to find a way to categorize all of the things that make up radio. Whether it was compliance, or programming, operations, or all of the other components of radio, I felt really lost and confused a lot of the time. So when I finally went through the Circle of Engagement, it was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ all the light bulbs went off because I could look and see, ‘Oh, that’s how this runs, or this is how I can organize this section.’ I was then able to create tracking systems and dashboards and bring my team along, especially our licensee.

SM: When you think about the future of community radio, or the horizons of the community broadcast medium, what excites you most?

SH: Oh, that’s super easy. I had the experience to spark a movement in my community, a grassroots movement around things that are very important to my people here. And as we continue to face challenges that native communities face, like language loss, addiction, The Murdered and Missing Indigenous Person issue, and the vices… all of these different things that we face as Native people, and Hopi people, what excites me the most about community radio is that we have this skill and we have the trust from our community (having been here for 23 years) and that we can utilize community radio to inform, to be a public safety asset here in the community, for anything that we may need. Whether that’s doing public service announcements, or alerts if somebody goes missing, providing education and awareness about suicide prevention, substance abuse prevention, etc. We’re here and we’re a very much trusted part of our community to do that.

So, I am very excited to see how we can, as a native public radio station, figure out and find solutions to some of these things that challenge us as a community as a Hopi people. That’s what I’m most excited about, especially increasing Hopi language exposure to our listeners so that we can continue to be a strong, healthy, and vital people here.

SM: Anything else you’d like to share?

SH: I think, if anything I want to thank, on behalf of our team, the NFCB and you, Serah, for not making it feel like it is too hard, or that [we’re] too small because of the immense amount of people that are at public radio stations across the country. I feel like we have been helped personally from NFCB, so I want to thank all of you there as well as my fellow public radio stations who ask the questions on the [NFCB] listserv and share what they’re doing! It’s an awesome network to be a part of and I want to thank everybody there for not making it seem like we’re just a little fish in the big ocean of public radio stations!