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FNX: SoCal TV network tells the stories of Native Americans

Alfredo Cruz, general manager of FNX and KVCR holds a check from the San Manuel Board of Mission Indians. The funds will support three years of programming and operations
Alfredo Cruz, general manager of FNX and KVCR holds a check from the San Manuel Board of Mission Indians. The funds will support three years of programming and operations
Rob Strauss

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The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians is well-known in the Inland Empire. The tribe’s name is on a minor league baseball stadium, an amphitheater and the casino that the tribe runs. But now it’s also involved in a public broadcasting venture. 

Earlier this year, San Manuel gave $6 million to San Bernardino public TV station KVCR to help expand First Nations Experience (FNX), a 3-year-old public TV network that airs programming about Native Americans and world indigenous groups. San Manuel also gave $6 million to help launch the station in 2011. 

“The second commitment of funding from San Manuel really is a testament to not just the trust that they have in FNX now, but also to how far we’ve come in the three years that we’ve been on the air,” said Alfredo Cruz, general manager of KVCR and FNX. 

Before FNX was established, KVCR had collaborated with San Manuel on a documentary series chronicling the history of Native American groups in California. Cruz and San Manuel spokesman Jacob Coin say the station is the first network of its kind to air programming focused on Native Americans. 

“When this opportunity came up, we jumped at the chance at least to have some discussion with KVCR and learned about the potential, the possibilities, and eventually came around,” said Coin. 

First Nations

FNX gets its name from a term traditionally used to describe Native Americans: First Nations. The station carries some of your usual public TV fare: documentaries, cooking and gardening shows. They’re mixed with programs about Native American languages and tribal history.

Much of the programming is from outside content producers but the station is trying to expand the number of shows it makes in-house. FNX currently produces several programs, including Aboriginal Unity Experience, a show that features music videos by Native American and indigenous artists. 

KVCR has also teamed up with the Sundance Institute on a show called “Native Shorts,” which features short films by Native American filmmakers. 

“It really seemed like a great place for us to take the content that we supported through Sundance Film Festival and Sundance Institute to kind of extend the life of some of these short films,” said Bird Runningwater, co-host of “Native Shorts” and director of Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program. 

San Manuel tribe's investment

The multimillion-dollar gift from San Manuel to establish and expand FNX is a sign of the wealth that the tribe has gained through gaming and other economic ventures. The tribe is also a major donor in the Inland Empire. Last year, San Manuel pledged $10 million to Loma Linda University Health to establish a center in San Bernardino that will help prepare high school graduates for careers in the health care field. 

“I think San Manuel’s example is really amazing because it’s a fairly small tribe in comparison to some of the other tribes and yet they’ve used their wealth and their political clout to really advance themselves and advance the things that they can do for other people,” said Clifford Trafzer, who teaches Native American history at UC Riverside. 

San Manuel has an advisory role in the station. KVCR and San Manuel say the tribe offers input but does not control the programming. 

Right now, about a dozen stations across the country carry FNX and the network is also trying to put more of its programs online. Cruz’s dreams for the station don’t stop there: he hopes to make it as well-known as Discovery or the History Channel. 

“We want to make this a long-lasting initiative, not just for three years, not just for five years, but 25 years, 50 years from now,” said Cruz.