Native America Calling receives National Humanities Medal




Koahnic Broadcast Corp. Press Release


March 20, 2023

Native America Calling, produced by Koahnic Broadcast Corporation, receives National Humanities Medal

Anchorage, Alaska - Koahnic Broadcast Corporation is pleased to announce that its daily public affairs show Native America Calling is a recipient of the 2021 National Humanities Medal from The National Endowment for the Humanities. The award will be presented to Koahnic’s President and CEO, Jaclyn Sallee, by U.S. President Joe Biden at a White House ceremony March 21.

Since 1995, the live call-in program Native America Calling has brought public radio stations, listeners, and online audiences together every weekday for a thought-provoking national conversation about issues specific to Native communities.

Each Native America Calling program connects noted guests and experts with callers throughout the United States, and is the only program of its kind that focuses on Native American issues.

“We are grateful and humbled to receive this recognition for Native America Calling’s service to listeners across the nation, and for Native communities in particular,” said Koahnic’s President and CEO, Jaclyn Sallee, who is Iñupiaq.

“Koahnic was founded in the early 1990s by a visionary group of Alaska Native leaders who saw a media environment where Native people barely existed,” said Sallee. “Native America Calling was developed in 1995 by Native producers working together from Alaska, New Mexico, and Nebraska to create a much-needed broadcast forum for Native public affairs. Over the last three decades, Native America Calling, other Native-made programming, and Native-operated radio stations have ensured that Native voices and viewpoints are part of our national conversations.

The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, is a prestigious honor presented to 12 or fewer awardees per year whose work has “deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities and broadened our citizens' engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects.” Past honorees include public radio host/producer Terry Gross, Director Steven Spielberg, The Iowa Writers Workshop, Novelist Toni Morrison, and musician Elton John. Native America Calling is the first non-individual Native honoree to-date.

“The humanities help us to understand ourselves as humans, what connects us. Ensuring Native voices have a platform and that our stories are told and heard is immensely important,” said Sallee.

About Native America Calling and Koahnic Broadcast Corporation.

Native America Calling, a production of Koahnic Broadcast Corporation, is produced in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and heard on nearly 90 public, community and tribal radio stations in the United States and in Canada. Shawn Spruce (Laguna Pueblo) is the Host and Producer of the program, assisted by Senior Producer Andi Murphy (Diné), Associate Producer Sol Traverso (Athabascan, Puerto Rican), Production Engineer Marino Spencer (Diné) and Executive Producer Art Hughes.

Koahnic Broadcast Corporation, established in 1992, is a multimedia Native American production and distribution nonprofit located in Anchorage, Alaska, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Koahnic operates public radio station KNBA, and produces and distributes National Native News, Native America Calling, The RIVR, Indigefi, and also operates Native Voice One (NV1) the national Native radio distribution service. Koahnic Broadcast Corporation is committed to amplifying Native voices throughout Alaska and the nation.


Media contact:

Emily McLaughlin, 907-561-4488


White House/NEH Press Release

President Biden to Award 2021 National Humanities Medals

Twelve distinguished humanists to be honored on March 21 in White House ceremony

WASHINGTON, DC (March 20, 2023) President Joseph R. Biden will present the 2021 National Humanities Medals, in conjunction with the National Medals of Arts, tomorrow, Tuesday, March 21, 2023, at 4:30 p.m. in an East Room ceremony at the White House. The 12 distinguished medal recipients include writers, historians, educators, and activists. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will attend the medals award ceremony, which will be livestreamed at:

“The National Humanities Medal recipients have enriched our world through writing that moves and inspires us; scholarship that enlarges our understanding of the past; and through their dedication to educating, informing, and giving voice to communities and histories often overlooked,” said NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo). “I am proud to join President Biden in recognizing these distinguished leaders for their outstanding contributions to our nation’s cultural life.”

The National Humanities Medal honors an individual or organization whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the human experience, broadened citizens’ engagement with history or literature, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to cultural resources.

Here are the 12 recipients of the 2021 National Humanities Medal, with their White House citations:

  • Richard Blanco: An award-winning poet and author, professor and public speaker, and son of Cuban immigrants, Richard Blanco’s powerful storytelling challenges the boundaries of culture, gender, and class while celebrating the promise of our Nation’s highest ideals. (Read profile.)
  • Johnnetta Betsch Cole: A scholar, anthropologist, and academic pace-setter, Johnnetta Betsch Cole’s pioneering work about the on-going contributions of Afro-Latin, Caribbean, and African communities have advanced American understanding of Black culture and the necessity and power of racial inclusion in our Nation. (Read profile.)
  • Walter Isaacson: Through the stories of our Nation’s remarkable citizens, Walter Isaacson’s work, words, and wisdom bridge divides between science and the humanities and between opposing philosophies, elevating discourse and our understanding of who we are as a Nation. (Read profile.)
  • Earl Lewis: As a social historian and academic leader, Earl Lewis has made vital contributions to the field of Black history, educating generations of students, while also being a leading voice for greater diversity in academia and our Nation. (Read profile.)
  • Henrietta Mann: The pioneering efforts of Henrietta, Ho’oesto’oona'e, Mann, led to programs and institutions across the country devoted to the study of Native American history and culture, honoring ancestors that came before and benefiting generations that follow. (Read profile.)
  • Ann Patchett: With her best-selling novels and essays, and her bookstore, readers from around the world see themselves in the pages of Ann Patchett’s books that take people to places of the heart and feed the imagination of our Nation. (Read profile.)
  • Bryan Stevenson: An advocate fighting tirelessly for the poor, incarcerated, and condemned, Bryan Stevenson follows the Book of Micah’s instruction to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly as he chronicles the legacy of lynching and racism in America, shining a light on what has been and all that we can be as a Nation. (Read profile.)
  • Amy Tan: By bravely exploring experiences of immigrant families, heritage, memories, and poignant struggles, Amy Tan’s writing makes sense of the present through the past and adds ground-breaking narrative to the diverse sweep of American life and literature. (Read profile.)
  • Tara Westover: Tara Westover’s memoirs of family, religion, and the transformative power of education, has moved millions of readers and served as a powerful example of how the humanities can set people—and a Nation—free. (Read profile.)
  • Colson Whitehead: With genre-defying craftsmanship and creativity, Colson Whitehead’s celebrated novels make real the African American journey through our Nation’s continued reckoning with the original sin of slavery and our ongoing march toward a more perfect Union. (Read profile.)
  • Native America Calling: Through its interactive shows on the radio and online, Native America Calling educates the American public about Indigenous issues while preserving Indigenous history and culture to honor their contributions that strengthen the sacred Nation-to-Nation relationship. (Read profile.)
  • Sir Elton John*: An enduring icon and advocate with absolute courage, who found purpose to challenge convention, shatter stigma, and advance the simple truth that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. (Read profile.)
    (*medal awarded separately in September 2022, during a White House event, “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme.”)

The first National Humanities Medal was awarded in 1996. Since then 206 medals have been bestowed—190 to individuals and 16 to organizations—inclusive of this year’s recipients. A complete set of previous honorees is available at this link.

The humanities medal was preceded by the Charles Frankel Prize, first awarded in 1989.

Join the conversation on Twitter at #ArtsHumanitiesMedal.

The 2021 National Medals of Arts will be presented at the same ceremony. Among the recipients are Vera Wang, Jose Feliciano, Gladys Knight, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) supports learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation that support research in the humanities, nurture humanities infrastructure, and expand the reach of the humanities. Since 1965, NEH has awarded nearly $6 billion to cultural institutions, individual scholars, and communities. The Endowment serves and strengthens the country by bringing high-quality historical and cultural experiences to large and diverse audiences in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five jurisdictions; providing opportunities for lifelong learning, access to cultural and educational resources, and strengthening the base of the human stories that connect all Americans.


National Endowment for the Humanities: Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at

Media Contacts:

Paula Wasley: |


Native America Calling

National Humanities Medal







Native America Calling, for connecting tribal and non-tribal communities across the United States. Through its interactive shows on the radio and online, Native America Calling educates the American public about Indigenous issues while preserving Indigenous history and culture to honor their contributions that strengthen the sacred Nation-to-Nation relationship.  

Every weekday, listeners are invited to share their questions, comments, and thoughts on Native America Calling, the live call-in show focused on issues affecting Native American and Alaska Native people in the United States. The program has been dubbed “the nation’s largest electronic talking circle,” and it is exactly what it sounds like, a safe, shared space where listeners speak with noted experts and guests over the airwaves. For one hour, community is fostered through the reciprocal exchange of words, ideas, and information; and Native voices have agency.

Topics range from the difficult—such as the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Native communities, the trauma inflicted on generations of Native children sent to government-run boarding schools, or the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people—to the more light-hearted, such as the world of superheroes and cosplay, explorations into food culture, or the fandom of Native high school basketball.

However, one thing all these conversations have in common is their ability to demonstrate, in real time, that Native peoples are contemporary peoples, with complex lives and from diverse communities, and that contemporary Indigeneity is chock-full of brilliant thinkers, problem-solvers, leaders, creatives, humorists, activists, athletes, and down-right resilient individuals—a message that has always been understood by Native peoples themselves but virtually absent from mainstream representations.

Native America Calling was produced under a partnership between Native American Public Broadcasting Consortium and Alaska Public Radio Network and began broadcasting on June 5, 1995, from KUNM at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. The first national talk show devoted exclusively to Native American issues aired on 14 radio stations, with the first caller chiming in from Porcupine, South Dakota, to speak with the show’s first guest, Ada Deer, the assistant secretary of Indian affairs during the Clinton administration.

The program is now broadcast on 139 main stations, repeaters, and translators (of this number, 74 are Native-controlled stations and repeaters); heard by 60 thousand listeners via radio stations, according to 2015 Nielson audio estimates (which do not include most Native and small rural stations); and has about 84 thousand podcast downloads per month. Native America Calling has now become one of the premier venues for Native artists, musicians, writers, policy makers, and other notables to engage directly with Native communities.

In 2001, Koahnic Broadcast Corporation, a Native-operated multimedia production and distribution nonprofit based in Anchorage, Alaska, took over management of the program. Like Native America Calling, Koahnic Broadcast Corporation’s mission has always been about amplifying Native voices through the lens of culture, identity, and resilience. The program continues to expand its digital capacity and audience capabilities through streaming services, social media, and a digital newsletter. While Native America Calling is primarily focused on Native American and Alaska Native people in the United States, perspectives from Indigenous populations throughout Canada, the Pacific, Australia, and Central and South America are also welcome.

According to the president and CEO of Koahnic Broadcast Corporation, Jaclyn Sallee (Inupiaq), “there is not really another public radio program like Native America Calling that is distributed and marketed to the tribal stations and offered to larger non-Native stations” and that operates as a daily call-in on issues specific to Native communities. Sallee attributes its success, in part, to the daily call-in format, which is still unique in the world of Native programming, and to the host and team, who “make it exciting,” assuring that “good conversation takes place.”

For host Shawn Spruce (Laguna Pueblo), his experience as a consultant in economic and community development in Native communities has proven helpful in facilitating the diverse conversations that take place among Indigenous people from varied backgrounds. A major part of his job, he explains, is understanding “what kind of priorities and values are at work in different Native communities across the country and being able to hone in on that,” so that he can give each one of these communities and each listener “something they can connect with.” He adds that “it’s about bringing out the best in our guests. Everybody’s got a story; everybody’s got a great story. It’s just that some of us need help telling that story.”

It is the in-depth exploration of these stories that the groundbreaking Native America Calling has been doing for nearly 30 years, every week, five days a week, and continues to do—connecting, supporting, and cultivating community, each guest, and each call, at a time.

—Kim Suina Melwani



About the National Humanities Medal

The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities and broadened our citizens' engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects. Up to 12 medals can be awarded each year.