Byline: Morgan Taylor/Multimedia Producer
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – Mvskoke Media’s very own Mvskoke Radio Host Gary Fife was awarded the 2022 Frank Greer Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalism.
OKSPJ’s highest award honors the late Frank Hilton Greer, the publisher of the Oklahoma Daily State Capital Newspaper, which was known as the first mainstream newspaper published in the state.
From a green reporter in the late 60s to a seasoned storyteller, Fife has thousands of news stories that bring accuracy to native representation. He has received three legislative citations from the State of Alaska, the Governor’s Community Service Medal, and was the first Native American to receive the Ford Fellowship in 1978 and held an internship as a guest editor of National Public Radio.
With nearly half a century of radio, print, and television experience with over a decade dedicated to reporting from Washington, D.C., to moving to Alaska to partake in the creation of the first Native radio show, “National Native News,” to currently doing local reporting back on his home reservation for the Mvskoke Media. His first show hit the airwaves of 181 public radio stations across the country, winning eight national awards in its first seven years. After a few name changes, it may be known today as American Public Radio.
Fife continues to write an opinion column, “Emvpanayv,” Mvskoke word for “one that tells the story,” printed in the Mvskoke Media Newspaper, where he also produces a weekly live broadcast on a local radio station called Mvskoke Radio.
“Emvpanayv” is a fitting title for Fife’s article, but one may call that his “Indian name” given the stories he could tell and a way only he can tell them.
The pioneer reporter and national and state award winner has become the subject of multiple articles for his lifelong dedication to Native American news coverage, highlighting some of Fife’s greatest moments.
Fife earned a bachelor’s degree from the Flaming Rainbow Center of the University Without Walls, an affiliate of Westminster College in Missouri. Initially attending Northeastern State University as a petroleum geology major, piquing his interest in the oil industry, driven by the Civil Rights Movement, he suddenly changed his heart and decided to switch his major to journalism.
“Across the nation, many of our minority groups were standing up and saying we got to make things change,” Fife said. “During that period, I was curious, ‘where are our Indian people?”
Fife saw that the Natives were protesting on Alcatraz Island, desiring the government to uphold treaties and allow the natives to occupy the land for use after the prison shut down. Activists occupied the island for around 19 months before having to return to the mainland ending in 1969.
This “Red Power Movement,” as it was called, lit Fife’s fire.
“I said, ‘ I want to be a part of that somehow.”
That’s when he realized geology and petroleum were not his cup of tea as his interest shifted from oil to news.
“I started developing an interest in how those stories are being told,” Fife said, realizing the lack of accuracy in native representation in the news. “I thought, ‘maybe there is something there for me.”
From there, Fife spread his wings by becoming a part of local groups to get involved in the communities and other advocacy groups. His aim was different from the advocacy groups. “For me, to do something, it had to go far beyond, ‘let’s go get the white man sort of thing. I wanted people to understand both sides of the story. I thought, ‘reporters do this.”
After making his decision, Fife joined the news team at Northeastern as his first introduction to the news. He pledged to the journalism fraternity and stayed in touch with his groups, where he was granted the opportunity to intern in Washington, D.C., with 30 other indigenous students from around the country. He returned to NSU to finish his junior year.
Fife said he joined the University Without Walls movement with a group called Flaming Rainbow. He gained another opportunity to go back to D.C. through the Indian Legal Information Development Service.
“What their function was to examine every piece of legislation that went through Congress and what implications it provided for Indian People,” Fife said.
“I was amazed about how the government works and how the government doesn’t work,” Fife said. ”
He went back to OK to work for Ladonna Harris at Americans for Indian Opportunity for a short time as an information person before having an opportunity to work for the first native news service, the American Press Association.
“I was amazed and delighted at the reaction we got from Native America about the information coming out,” Fife said. “Accurate, timely with a Native perspective.”
After the IRS shut down the organization, Fife spent time bouncing around the country with different tribal organizations to provide information and news.
Fife had seen several monumental pieces of legislation take effect throughout his career, including the Indian Self Determination Act and his most memorable, the Taos Pueblo water rights concerning the Blue Lake.
According to Fife, the people knew nothing about the relationship between tribes and the federal government. They believed that most of the coverage during that time was “episodic,” only covering the “dance or dysfunction” of natives.
“This is a chance to educate people about how these things work,” Fife said.
Fife made it his mission to deliver accurate information to the Native American people throughout his career. Fife’s passion drove him to continue his career in all news sectors even when the paycheck did not measure his success.
Fife’s full interview can be viewed on Mvskoke Media YouTube Channel.