by Vee Hua 華婷婷
An initiative of their parent nonprofit, United Indians of All Tribe Foundation (UIATF), Daybreak Star Radio was founded in 2021 to “Indigenize the Airwaves.” It showcases a curated selection of talk programs and local, national, and global Indigenous music, available to stream via their website or a phone app.
On June 10, Daybreak Star Radio will present “Resilient Voices: A Night of Indigenous Vocal Artistry,” at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. The event will feature Joint Souls, Toni Hill, Khu.éex’, and Carsen Gray as musical acts, and will also have VIP meet-and-greet opportunities and homemade frybread or bison stew. The live music event marks the first of many to come; later this summer, they plan to host a much larger music festival.
“It would be nice to get more [Indigenous] concerts like this here in the Northwest, at least in the Seattle area,” said RONN!E, the Blue Eyed Native, a Sƛ̕púlmx (Cowlitz) Two-Spirit artist, designer, and DJ. “Usually all we have are hip-hop ones and while I love hip-hop, there’s other music people love.”
Daybreak Star Radio grew out of an initial idea from UIATF Executive Director Mike Tulee, who thought that the organization could benefit from a radio station. At the time, he had called in to a request line at the local radio station where current program manager Harris Francis, aka DJ Dirty Harry, was working. Off the air, the two scheduled a time to chat, and eventually, Francis was offered the job. Though Francis is non-Native, he is now in the position to share his extensive radio knowledge with the station’s DJs and program staff, who are largely Indigenous but may not have the same amount of experience in the industry.
Working in collaboration with station manager Sherry Steele, the small team set out to build by hand a soundproofed radio space within the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, which is home to the UIATF office. Their initial playlist library was only 200 songs, but according to RONN!E, Daybreak Star Radio’s library now has around “9,000 Indigenous-made songs.”
“Across all genres, too. It’s not just hip-hop; it’s EDM, it’s R&B [and] flute, it’s drum ʼn’ bass, it’s pow-wow [music],” added Francis.
Cataloging such a large quantity of Indigenous music requires extensive research. The station’s DJs often find music on their own, but prospective artists can also submit music via Daybreak Star Radio’s website. The team then reviews the submissions and chooses select projects for airplay, though they receive more content than they can possibly play on air.
RONN!E also stressed that the team spends time deep diving into which musical acts may have members who are Native or First Nations — at times yielding surprising results. Miley Cyrus’ father, for instance, says that they are Cherokee. Daybreak Star Radio also draws content from the global Indigenous community, which may set it apart from the many other Native radio stations across the country, as many are limited to their geographic zone or focused on specific tribal nations.
Yet turn on Daybreak Star Radio at any given time, and one might hear Native and First Nations music, just as they might hear music that is Aboriginal, Samoan, Mirai, or from any other number of Indigenous groups from around the world. Drawing from such a large well of influence, RONN!E estimates that 90–95% of the music they play now has some Indigenous connection.
“There’s room for all of us,” they say. “I’m not wanting to fight with anyone.”
Daybreak Star Radio hosts in-house music programs, which sometimes include live podcasts and music premieres for up-and-coming artists. They also syndicate more widely known programs such as Indian Country Today News from the news outlet ICT, and Julian Taylor’s Jukebox, which is a diverse music program out of Canada. On occasion, they broadcast podcasts such as the War Cry, which is focused on Pacific Northwest “stories, issues, and historical connection about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Men, and LGBTQ 2 Spirit community members.”
While the Daybreak Star Radio team acknowledged that there is a need for more DJs who do not identify as male, they insist that the door is open for all potentially interested parties. Their own experiences play a role in formulating that mentality. David Hilliare, also known as DJ BIG REZ, hails from the Lummi Nation 200 miles north of Seattle. He shared the many ways in which he was discouraged from what he wanted to do.
“People told me I couldn’t get into radio. I heard that for years. I probably didn’t do it for 10 years, because somebody said it’s too hard. And then after I jumped in … the floodgates opened, and now, we’re here,” said DJ BIG REZ, who began his career as a mobile DJ, then worked for “white man’s radio.” “Don’t let nobody tell you that you can’t do it or you shouldn’t do it.”
RONN!E, similarly, had always been told that they didn’t have a voice for radio. Now, they relish in sharing tips and tricks with Indigenous artists who are just learning about the music industry. One bit of knowledge they share is related to the International Standard Recording Code, (ISRC), which is a type of code used to uniquely identify audio recordings. It is used by companies such as BMI and SoundExchange, which distribute royalties to musicians for use of their work.
“These artists get paid through the radio, because we have to pay [companies like BMI and SoundExchange] to play those songs,” explained RONN!E. “A lot of artists didn’t know about that, and it’s just made me happy to spread that information along. Yes, get paid! You made this; get paid for it!”
According to DJ BIG REZ, Daybreak Star Radio provides a comforting place for Indigenous creators to grow. It can be an intermediate step before they try to send their music to larger radio stations or media outlets.
“This platform, I think, is the best because it solely focuses on Indigenous people [and] Native Americans,” he said. “This is home; this is where you’re always welcome. But you’re always welcome to come here, start here, and then continue to move on.”
Daybreak Star Radio will host “Resilient Voices,” featuring the musical acts Joint Souls, Toni Hill, Khu.éex’, and Carsen Gray, on June 10 at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. Tickets are still available, and the radio station can also be streamed live from anywhere in the world at DaybreakStarRadio.com.
United Indians of All Tribe Foundation, its parent nonprofit, also hosts programs in support of the urban Native population. The largest is their annual Seafair Days Pow-Wow, which brought in an estimated 16,000 people last year.
Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the editor-in-chief of REDEFINE, a co-chair of the Seattle Arts Commission, and a film educator at the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they previously served as executive director and played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences. After a recent stint as the interim managing editor at South Seattle Emerald, they are moving into production on their feature film, Reckless Spirits, which is a metaphysical, multilingual POC buddy comedy. Learn more about them at linktr.ee/hellomynameisvee.
📸 Featured Image: David Hilliare, also known as DJ BIG REZ, in the studio at Daybreak Star Radio. Speaking on his experience in radio, DJ BIG REZ says, “People told me I couldn’t get into radio. I heard that for years. I probably didn’t do it for 10 years, because somebody said it’s too hard. … Don’t let nobody tell you that you can’t do it or you shouldn’t do it.” (Photo courtesy of Daybreak Star Radio.)
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