Jim DeNomie was born to tell stories.
As a descendent of the Loon clan, DeNomie feels that his ability as a story teller is inherent.
“Culturally, we are the people who often serve as speakers on behalf of the people,” DeNomie says.
“I kind of look at what I’m doing here (as) maybe what I would have been doing a long time ago, I’m just using new technology to speak on the behalf of the people or to communicate.”
DeNomie, now 65, has been using this ability to communicate since he earned a degree in mass communications from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. It was there that he helped his college advisor, Dr. Robert Snyder, start a radio program from scratch.
“I was very fortunate to have been there at the very beginning of the program,” DeNomie said.
“We literally carried the equipment off the truck and wired the radio station.”
Since then DeNomie has been producing a variety of content that has helped Native people in his area in many different ways. One of his passions has been to try to keep a sense of connection within the Native community, starting with his home town of Milwaukee.
“There really wasn’t a way to effectively communicate among the Indian people,” DeNomie said.
“There was no newsletter, there was no newspaper, there was no Web site, etc.”
It was for this reason that he, along with Barbara Jersey, started a Sunday night radio show strictly devoted to Native Americans in Milwaukee. The show, Voices from the Circle, has been a place for Natives to connect in the western Great Lakes area for eleven years now.
"We have a lot of Indian folks from Milwaukee and Chicago who are kind of disenfranchised from their tribes, so a show like this becomes sort of like a touchstone for them, a way to kind of get back in touch with where they’ve been in the past," DeNomie said.
Eric Martin of AIROS and Jim DeNomieThe show has grown quite a bit since its inception. It has been carried by NAPT for the past nine years, which has helped to expand the shows fan base.
According to DeNomie, both Native and non-Native listeners are surprised that the show carries a great variety of music along with traditional powwow.
“You pick a style and an Indian person is playing it, and not only playing it, but playing it exceedingly well,” says DeNomie.
Another firm belief of DeNomie’s involves the importance of Native language. For more than a year he included curriculum from a conversational Ojibwe course on his show to increase knowledge of Native language.
“I think (preservation of language) is crucial because without your language you don’t have your culture. You can take most of the other things away and if you don’t have the language your culture doesn’t exist.”
DeNomie is also trying to bring light to what he feels are important aspects of Native culture. He is in the process of producing a new television show, The Fancy Dance Café, a show about Native American cooking. DeNomie hopes the program will expose people everywhere to Native culture and way of life in a fun and educational way.
Jim DeNomie Ready to Dance at the Millwaukee Indian Summer FestivalOutside of creating media Denomie is also involved in a very important aspect of Native culture - the Indian Summer Festival in Milwaukee. The festival, which was incorporated in 1985, blends a variety of indigenous cultures and showcases Native American entertainers, musicians and craft people. DeNomie was there for the festivals inception, served on the board or directors for eight years and was the vice president for two years.
"We began as an effort by urban Indian people to collectively get together to celebrate our Indian culture," DeNomie said.
The festival has grown from a small gathering in its first year to a large festival that brings 50,000 to 60,000 people -depending on the weather - making it the largest Native American cultural festival in the country. Part of the reason for this growth is the variety of cultures - Wisconsin has six federally-recognized tribes.
The Indian Summer Music Awards are also part of this festival. DeNomie has served as a judge at the awards for the past three years and feels that it is crucial to honor Native artists because of the hard work that they put into their craft.
Denomie says that he intends to continue work on his radio show for at least the near future.
“I enjoy what I’m doing. As long as people enjoy what we are doing, we’ll stick with it,” he said.
As far as Native media in general, DeNomie has high aspirations for the future. He would like to one day see an all Native television channel. Along with that, he would like to see some television shows that will break some stereotypes Natives have been trying to shake off for decades.
“We need to use media, and it’s so accessible now, to begin to tell the... straight information about Indian people,” DeNomie said.
By Zach Oliva