Athabascan in the Spotlight

Shyanne Beatty – Raven Whirlwind

Shyanne Beatty. Photo courtesy of Koahnic Broadcast Corporation.
Shyanne Beatty. Photo courtesy of Koahnic Broadcast Corporation

Shyanne Beatty is Hän Gwich’in Athabascan who grew up in Eagle, Alaska. Her Dena’ina Athabascan friend, Steve Hobson of Nondalton, gave her the name of Chulyin Ch’ivaya. It means Raven Whirlwind. She laughs and says he gave her the name because she likes shiny things, is mischief like a raven and she comes in and out of a room like a whirlwind.

I worked with Shyanne at Koahnic Broadcast Corporation for a number of years and she certainly has a larger than life personality. She is currently the Network Manager for NV1 (Native Voice One) which is a national distribution of Native American radio programs. Shyanne believes her subsistence lifestyle growing up in the village made her a well-rounded person and made her appreciate the small things in life, like running water, electricity and not having to get up in the middle of night to put wood in the fire.

Shyanne Beatty - ANAF artist by Angela Gonzalez 1-04-13
Shyanne Beatty in front of her gel acrylic art piece at the Alaska Native Arts Foundation. It is entitled “Weneydey” – Han Gwich’in Athabascan for “I Remember Her”. It is in memory of Helen Simeonoff, and you can see Helen’s work portrayed in Shyanne’s piece. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

I am always struck by her talents, including being an on-air personality, producer, emcee, singer, cultural ambassador, leader and an artist. I often wonder how she manages to be all of those things. Shyanne lives her passions of music, culture, language and tradition. Her talents, mixed with her passions, take many different forms and she is constantly evolving.

I’ve always admired Shyanne’s voice and how she uses it. If you know or have ever met Shyanne, she has a very vivacious and outgoing personality, which was perfect for radio. Many KNBA and Native radio station listeners across the US have come to know Shyanne when she was the host and producer of Earthsongs, which was the first national radio show to be broadcast out of Alaska. It is a one hour program that features contemporary Indigenous music with artist interviews.

Shyanne’s biggest challenge when producing Earthsongs was being based in Alaska. It was difficult to make connections with Indigenous musicians in the Lower 48. Being isolated in Alaska made it difficult to keep up with musicians and to market the show. There were very few national Indigenous artists who were coming to Alaska on a regular basis, but she managed to make it work through her networking skills and making the most of every opportunity she had to network at industry events. Shyanne made friends with other producers from other National Federation of Community Broadcasters stations. She relied on advice from them, plus her mentors, including Lori Townsend of the Alaska Public Media and Dixie Hutchinson who is the former News Director of KNBA. She would learn how to make her show better by asking what listeners liked about Earthsongs and what they’d like to see in the future.

Shyanne has also been heavily involved in the Alaska Native Heritage Month Committee, and currently serves as the President of the ANHM Board. She helped to start the Alaska Native Visionary Awards in hopes of recognizing people who perpetuate their culture and traditions in new and innovative ways. Shyanne says that she wanted to show young adults that instead of learning about their culture, traditions and language in the commonly known traditional methods, which sometimes is not appealing to the younger generation, they could use new methods like video, audio, and other digital formats to perpetuate their Alaska Native culture, traditions and language. The Alaska Native Visionary Awards aims to recognize and honor Alaskan Natives who are perpetuating and preserving culture through artistic and visionary ventures such as film, photography, music, visual and literary art, performance art and so much more.

Shyanne as a young child. Courtesy photo
Shyanne as a young child. Courtesy photo

At a conference one year, Shyanne was asking American Indian students who were attending a Johnson O’Malley conference if they would ever pursue a career in media and was shocked to hear that they would not. She asked why, and one young lady said, “Because I don’t’ see anyone on TV who looks like me or hear anyone on the radio who sounds like me.” That was a huge blow for Shyanne and that incident pushed her to do the work she has done throughout her career. According to Shyanne, American Indian and Alaska Native media professionals make up less than 1% of all of the media professionals in the US. She encourages and mentors others to get involved in the media and spread their Indigenous voices across not only the country but the world.

Although Shyanne pushes young people toward media careers, she says they have opportunities right at their fingertips, including:

  • Using your iPad or iPod to do digital storytelling
  • Volunteering at your local radio station
  • Blogging
  • Music
  • Social media tools

People can start by simply telling their own stories in the many different ways mentioned above. Shyanne says, “Be yourself and talk about things that you are interested in.” Shyanne always infuses culture in radio in whatever she does. Shyanne tells people they can tell stories about their culture, traditions and language without a radio or TV station. Using social media tools these days, you have your own form of broadcasting right at your fingertips.

When speaking about confidence, Shyanne says that it is all a process. Your confidence grows as your education grows. You learn different things through the process and that’s how you build your confidence and how you become more focused. When you first start out it can all seem overwhelming. You might not know where you want to go but as you start learning you can see a more clearly defined path that you want to take. Shyanne’s advice is to find things you love and it will help you focus more on the things your passionate about.

Shyanne says Native people who live and share their own experiences can make a bigger impact. She says that is one of the reasons why Koahnic Broadcast Corporation started in the first place. Media often portrayed Alaska Native people in a very negative way. It was very disheartening that people only saw these negative stereotypes and it made it very difficult for Alaska Natives to have pride in themselves. Koahnic wanted to change that by celebrating and showcasing the positive and amazing things that were happening in various Alaska Native communities, especially the biggest village – Anchorage.

“That’s why we have our own Native voice. Who is going to tell the stories that impact us better than us? Nobody can tell our stories like we can.” – Shyanne Beatty

Shyanne’s professional and volunteer work has to align with her personal passions. According to Shyanne, the Alaska Native Heritage Month (ANHM) would like to be a clearing house to help anyone be able to educate, promote, and perpetuate their cultures, traditions and language. She also volunteers for the Athabascan Cultural Advisory Committee and Salmonstock.

Music, culture, language and tradition – that’s my passion, my life, what’s important to me. If money was important to me, I wouldn’t volunteer for anything. That’s not my focus.” – Shyanne Beatty

Shyanne sees many people who are struggling with their identity partially because their parents were discouraged to practice their culture, language and traditions when they were growing up. Shyanne has made it her personal mission to carry on her own culture but also to encourage others to do the same.

In the past year, Shyanne has focused more on being healthy and fit. In her younger years, she wasn’t educated on the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. Since she got married, health became more important to her. She has lost 40 pounds since beginning and has learned that a healthy mind, body and spirit radiates to your passions. She says, “You are more powerful to attain the goals you are pursuing.” Some people don’t recognize her and some tell her, “Marriage looks good on you.”

Shyanne married Aaron Leggett in 2011 in Eagle, Alaska. Courtesy photo
Shyanne married Aaron Leggett in 2011 in Eagle, Alaska. Courtesy photo

Shyanne is happily married to Aaron Leggett who is Dena’ina Athabascan. According to Shyanne, his passions align with her own. Aaron’s passion for researching culture and language complements and enhances her endeavors in many ways. Shyanne recently expressed an interest in learning more about Athabascan porcupine quill work and Aaron got her a book on different aspects of quill work. Shyanne wants to learn more about her Hän Gwich’in Athabascan language but to her it seemed so overwhelming. She didn’t know where or how to start and Aaron helped her see that she can take small steps in learning her language.  Aaron encouraged her to transfer existing audio tape in Hän Gwich’in from analog to digital format. He broke it down into a digestible step that she could take now, that will help her to reach her goal.

Shyanne has already made a stamp in the world through her pursuit of carrying on traditions, language and culture. I am looking forward for the future in what she will be able to accomplish next. It takes people like her to preserve our cultures and other people can do the same.

Shyanne Beatty is the Network Manager for NV1 (Native Voice One) which distributes Native radio programming to radio stations throughout North America. Listeners in Southcentral Alaska also knew Shyanne as a popular local on-air personality for KNBA 90.3. Based in Anchorage, she maintains ties to her home village while coordinating urban events such as the Alaska Native Visionary Awards and the many events throughout Alaska Native Heritage Month.

Shyanne first came to Koahnic Broadcast Corporation when she won a coveted spot as a Koahnic Media Fellow in 1999, and learned the basics of news gathering and audio production. After completing the one-year Fellowship, Shyanne went on to pursue an Associate’s Degree in Audio Production from the Art Institute of Seattle.

Shyanne’s work for Koahnic has included directing the 2004 Native Media Empowerment Project. For this, she designed and constructed media training sessions for Alaska Native participants in rural locations including Barrow, Bethel, Kotzebue, St. Paul Island, Unalaska and Sitka. Shyanne also co-produced the award-winning oral history/Native language programs “Native Word of the Day” and “Stories of Our People” and the award-winning 2008 radio documentary “Coming Home: The Return of the Alutiiq Masks.”

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