Casually dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, Valene Peratrovich begins her Sunday mornings in the Salt Lake City studio of community radio station KRCL 90.9FM with an on-air land acknowledgement.
“We honor the original ancestors of this land and also offer respect to our other tribal member communities, and we acknowledge the history to cultivate respect for and advocate with our Indigenous communities still connected to this land,” says Peratrovich, who is known to listeners as “Valene MC.”
The acknowledgment kicks off each edition of “Living the Circle of Life,” a weekly radio show that runs 7–10 a.m. every Sunday morning on KRCL. Peratrovich herself is at the mic every other week in an alternating host position shared with her colleague at the station, Dave John.
Peratrovich likes to focus on music, a long-time passion of hers. The music she queues up often highlights “non-traditional” elements of Native culture, preferring to expose her audience to “Indigenous excellence” in the contemporary sphere rather than focusing on the past. Ya Tseen, a Tlingit musician, is a current favorite of Peratrovich.
Originally from Alaska, Peratrovich’s Indigenous ancestry comes from three separate tribes. She has lived all over the western coast of the United States and now holds many titles, including radio host, KRCL production assistant, Native outreach coordinator and current Salt Lake Community College student – all on top of being a mother of two.
Ask her how she’s done it all, and she’ll likely point to her Indigenous ancestry and genuine love of music.
Healing family trauma
Growing up in Anchorage, Peratrovich was heavily influenced by her family’s Native history.
Her grandparents were Native boarding school students who experienced abuse at the hands of the teachers, nuns and missionaries who ran the schools. The forced removal of Native children from their homes in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Alaska started a cycle of generational trauma that trickled down Peratrovich’s family tree.
In Peratrovich’s eyes, it ends with her.
Peratrovich was originally on a pre-medicine track during her undergrad at Oregon State University, but she switched to family sciences, she said, in order to learn more about herself and break the cycle of abuse she personally experienced.
“It sounds funny, but almost in an academic sense, I was learning how to be a parent,” Peratrovich said. “Part of breaking that cycle was healing myself, which is partially why college took [16 years] for me.”
As Peratrovich likes to say, she took the “scenic route through college.” While working in a lab as part of her baccalaureate studies at Oregon State, those around Peratrovich noticed her gift of gab, which she remembers being chastised for as far back as elementary school.
“I’ve always loved to talk to people and ask questions,” Peratrovich said. “I found that even when I worked in the lab, I’d get my work done, but I loved to talk and socialize … so I knew that [the lab work] wasn’t something I wanted to do forever.”
Peratrovich did eventually leave the lab behind in 2010, with her husband also leaving the military around this time. Four years later, the couple had an opportunity to make a major life change. They had their first child, and together, the family decided to move to Salt Lake City.
A “180-degree” change
Once in Salt Lake City, Peratrovich continued to work on her bachelor’s degree online, finishing it remotely in 2016. However, for five years, she felt unhappy with the odd jobs she was working and yearned to find a new direction.
In 2021, Peratrovich enrolled at SLCC as a radio and TV production major and, almost immediately, she found the college’s classes to be a better fit.
“I went to school at a big university in huge lecture rooms,” Peratrovich said. “At SLCC, people are there because they actually do want to teach, not just because they’re being funded by research.”
In her first semester at SLCC, Peratrovich wrote a Native-focused article about the use of Indigenous mascots in sports that, through the nonprofit Amplify Utah, was published in The Salt Lake Tribune in October 2021. The story’s subject matter grabbed the attention of Lara Jones, executive producer of “RadioACTive,” KRCL’s weekday activism show.
“When I began to work with her,” said Jones, “It became clear — [Valene] can do what I do. Why not pass the microphone and see what she wants to do?”
Jones invited Peratrovich to host a RadioACTive Thanksgiving Special, which became “Exploring the Truths of Thanksgiving” and aired on Thanksgiving Day 2021. Alongside Peratrovich, a distinguished panel of Indigenous leaders and community members discussed Native views of the popular American holiday in a roundtable format.
“It [was] a perfect distillation of what KRCL wants to do,” Jones said. “[We want to] empower storytellers, especially those who don’t otherwise have access to the microphone but [nonetheless] are ready to step up to the microphone and knock it out of the park.”
Peratrovich’s first effort as a radio talk-show host did not go unrecognized. Her Thanksgiving Special went on to win first place in the public affairs/talk show category at the 2022 Utah Society of Professional Journalists contest.
“I finally got a chance to talk about Natives the way I want to talk about Natives,” Peratrovich explained. “It was sharing what Thanksgiving means, or non-Thanksgiving, and Indigenizing and telling truths about what Thanksgiving is from different perspectives of people from different native nations.”
A continuing media journey
Peratrovich’s Thanksgiving show solidified her switch from family sciences to media storytelling. Now, as production assistant for RadioACTive and co-host of “Living the Circle of Life,” Peratrovich’s gift for gab and Native history influences a type of storytelling that is meant to entertain and inform – topped with her passion for music.
By focusing most of her show on contemporary Native artists like Ya Tseen, Peratrovich hopes to break the cycle of Native art being pigeonholed as only traditional or something from the past. Peratrovich curates her lineup by mixing the wisdom of ages past with the common vitality of modern artists.
“Music is how I tell people I love them,” she said with a smile.
In only one year, Peratrovich received her associate degree in radio and TV production from SLCC. While in the program, she realized that she also loves being behind the camera, so she’s pursuing another associate in film production from the school.
“I’m always looking for folks to pass the microphone to,” said Jones. “But [I’m also looking] to say, ‘There’s the next person, the next generation.’ Valene is eager to tell stories in a variety of formats and I can’t wait to see what she does next.”
Looking forward, “Valene MC” hopes to keep expressing her diverse history and shed light on contemporary Native culture through media involvement, saying that she feels public, independent radio is the perfect platform to do so.
“I want to create this vision [of Native culture] where it’s just so normal,” Peratrovich said.
Catch “Valene MC” as she hosts “Living the Circle of Life,” every other Sunday morning from 7–10 a.m. on KRCL 90.9FM.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with remarks from KRCL’s Lara Jones.