On March 21, President Joe Biden hosted a ceremony at the White House, presenting medals of honor for arts and humanities.
Sharing the stage with the president and celebrities like Sir Elton John and Julia Louis-Dreyfus was Shawn Spruce, host of the public radio program “Native America Calling.” The show was one of two Native American recipients of a National Humanities Medal.
Spruce is Laguna Pueblo. He told KTOO’s Juneau Afternoon that he felt conflicted being at the White House as a Native person.
“Because you know the history there, you know where the building stands,” he said. “But at the same time, we’re Americans, and I’m proud, proud to be an American. And that day there in the White House, I’ve never been prouder to be there in that setting.”
Spruce said there was a full day of activities planned for the ceremony and that it was an inspiring and exciting day.
“It was very surreal in that moment when we were all seated there in the East Room, and they announced the president, the first lady and they played Hail to the Chief,” he said. “And for a moment I thought I was like in a movie or something.”
“Native America Calling” is a production of Koahnic Broadcast Corp., based in Anchorage. The daily call-in radio show has been around for almost 30 years. It airs on 139 stations, and more than half of them are Native-owned or controlled.
Spruce attributes the show’s success to finding cohesive themes for Native communities coast-to-coast, while also recognizing the nuances and differences that exist across Native America.
“If you’re a Native person, and you listen to that show — and it might not be a show topic that definitely correlates directly with your community. But we always give every Native person something to take away from every one of these shows, something for them to connect with,” he said.
Twelve National Humanities Medals were given out this year. Cheyenne elder Henrietta Mann received a medal for her work in education. She’s credited with creating many of the country’s Native American Studies programs at both tribal and state universities.
KTOO’s Bostin Christopher contributed to this story.