‘Re-establishing a sense of identity:’ RIVR gives indigenous people a voice on broadcast radio

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Arts and culture

This story was originally written for Alaska Public Media.


A new streaming radio channel aims to give young, indigenous musicians and artists a voice on broadcast radio. RIVR, an acronym for Rising Indigenous Voices Radio, launched at the end of September, and streams 24/7 to provide a unique playlist, from top 40 hits to podcasts of Native American food bloggers.

Here’s a song you might hear on RIVR radio.

That’s A Tribe Called Red’s track called, “SILA,” featuring Tanya Tagaq.

James Dommek Jr. is spearheading the radio project for Koahnic Broadcast Corporation. Dommek wants to include American Indian and Alaska Native millennials in the project that revolves around their culture.

“I think that Native people in general through media have in the past really have seen ourselves as mascots, have seen ourselves as vilified. I think the time is now for us to just have our own voice on our terms,” Dommek said.

Dommek’s background is in music and film; he played drums in the indie group The Whipsaws and tribal funk group Pamyua before being hired by Koahnic. Since then, Dommek has been the sole visionary for the online channel and the one-man-band for RIVR.

Dommek was brought on board about a year and a half ago. When he was hired, there was no name or website for the project, only a vision.

Finding Indigenous musicians can be a challenge and Dommek has to oftentimes dig for new content.

Dommek, is half-Inupiaq, and was born and raised in Kotzebue. He thinks the way television has portrayed Native Americans is disparaging.

“It’s important that Native young people hear themselves, and see themselves in media, and I think that’s the direction that the RIVR is going to head, where the content will be produced by the demographic itself, and so that they hear themselves on the product, on the station. And I think just re-establishing a sense of identity,” Dommek said.

Currently, a good amount of musicians, rappers and DJs occupy RIVR’s air time, but Dommek hopes to eventually air speeches by inspirational Native Americans, or comedy bits.

RIVR can be heard at therivr.net.

The Author

Hi! My name is Sam Davenport. I am a freelance writer and lifelong Alaskan who loves reporting on the state’s history, food and culture. I am a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, where I received bachelors degrees in journalism and political science. I was the executive editor of The Northern Light — UAA’s student-run newspaper — for 2.5 years During my time at UAA, I completed internships at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. I am the managing editor of The Spenardian, an award-winning hyper-local news blog and magazine for the neighborhood of Spenard. I have been published in Vice, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News, The Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Magazine, Alaska Business, The Northern Light, The Anchorage Press, The Frontiersman, Alaska’s Energy Desk, KSKA, KTOO, Last Frontier Magazine, Crude Magazine, Mountain View Post, The Spenardian, Alaska Contractor Magazine, Wildheart Magazine and True North Magazine. For freelancing rates or a copy of my resume, please email me at samanthabdavenport@gmail.com.

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