OKMULGEE, Okla. – For those who have tuned their radios and listened to Native American news programming over the air in the United States, there is a likely chance the voice they heard was Gary Fife’s. For over 30 years Fife has served as a radio host, delivering news across Indian Country. On June 22, Fife was honored as a Muscogee Living Legend for his efforts in pioneering Native American media.
Over his decades-long career in media Fife has worked in several different markets, across different communication mediums. This includes television, radio and print. He has worked in Alaska, Oklahoma and Washington D.C.
When he got the call that he was selected as one of this year’s legends, Fife was ecstatic. People in his position are the ones that typically write about living legends, they are not the ones that others write about. According to Fife, the announcement gave him a good feeling.
“You could have knocked me over with a feather, as the saying goes,” Fife said. “I guess there were people out there that were listening, and reading my material. It was nice to know someone was paying attention.”
MCN Assistant to the Principal Chief and Executive Office Manager Anita Daney organized this year’s living legends selection process and ceremony. This year’s selection process was tight. Among the pool of nominated citizens to choose from, the judges could only select five.
“It was a really hard choice for the judges,” Daney said. “Every year it’s getting harder and harder to make a selection.”
Along with Fife, the other four citizens selected as living legends this year included Betty Gerber, Virginia Thomas, Mary Edwards Smith and James R. Floyd.
A Career Decades in the Making
Fife has experienced a lot of growth and change within tribal journalism throughout the years. His career has so far spanned from the early 1970s to the early 2020s. His first job in the industry was working for LaDonna Harris (Comanche) at Americans for Indian Opportunities. He would then go on to work for the American Indian Press Association, now the Native American Journalist Association.
During his tenure at the American Indian Press Association, Fife and his colleagues produced stories on Native Americans that showed a side not seen in the mainstream media. According to Fife, they produced stories that genuinely exhibited the cultures. This provided a more in-depth perspective than simply just portraying Native American stereotypes.
During Fife’s tenure in D.C., it allowed him to see the decisions that federal leaders made, and how they affected Native Americans across the U.S. This involved reading every piece of legislation that was needed to provide astute coverage to Indian Country.
“That was the sort of thing that just absolutely nailed me,” Fife said. “This is what I like doing, this is what I want to do. This will serve our people without having to take sides.”
Technology has also changed a lot within the past couple decades. When Fife started as a journalist, he produced his work on a typewriter. Now all of his work is produced on a computer.
Later in his career, Fife and his wife Ramona (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe) would find themselves moving back to Oklahoma to take care of his aging father. He would work at Cherokee Nation for a spell before landing at the MCN in the media department. Fife said that he has had the pleasure of helping the department grow more professional, and provide accurate coverage of the nation it serves.
Currently, Fife is the host of the Mvskoke radio program that airs every Wednesday morning at 10:00 a.m. on KOKL The Brew. The radio broadcast is a variety program that features guest interviews on many different Mvskoke and Native American topics. The show has featured guests that include musicians, chiefs and state policymakers.
As for the current status of tribal media today, Fife said he is extremely pleased with how Native Americans have used different mediums to tell their own stories about their own people.