When I was an intern at the Fargo Forum I found myself a story about the foster care system in North Dakota. In 2010, they were making changes and trying to take it to the Legislature to improve families rather than take kids away. As I was doing my research – and I did a ton of it – I couldn’t help but notice that Native American children were going through the foster care system in numbers almost on par with other children. (Native American children represent a small fraction of the state’s children.) When I calculated the stats I knew that that was way too many.
I asked my editor if I could add a sider to this story about Native American children in the foster care system and I presented him with all the stats I found, which surprised him, and he allowed me to write a sider. That story was on the front page of Sunday’s paper, and the Associated Press eventually picked it up.
That was three years ago. Today, I’m the first Native American writer at the Las Cruces Sun-News. In my time here, Native American topics I have written about included the Idle No More movement, something no one in the newsroom knew about; a Blackfeet New Mexico State University instructor meeting the Queen of England; Miss Native American NMSU; the Dennis Banks visit and documentary, something else no one in the newsroom knew about or was excited for; Native American Heritage month; and Native graffiti artists and art.
All these stories – even if they were short siders to a larger story – wouldn’t have had ink if it weren’t for me. Being the only Native in the newsroom is something special to me because in a city of 90,000, there are more than 2,000 Natives. In a state of 2 million people, there are 200,000 Natives and we have stories to tell too. But they often get overlooked because most journalists are not Native, so they’re out of the loop and they don’t know what’s going on, and why, when it comes to Native happenings. They don’t understand the people and the culture like I do — I’m Navajo and I was raised on the Navajo Nation reservation.
Before I learned the basics of journalism I was taught that diversity in the newsroom was to be my mission and that most likely, where I end up, I’ll be the only one (sure enough…). In the American Indian Journalism Institute, I learned that my stories are valuable and needed because Native Americans are still here and we still have stories to tell. And who better to make sure they get told than Natives like me.
That’s why I want to be involved in this New Mexico In Depth project. I want to do all I can for my people; spread understanding through stories because I am a writer and I can.