Shining a light — and not distorting the view

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For a state with such an important Native presence, it’s surprising how little attention the New Mexico media regularly pays to trends and current events on reservations and among urban Native Americans. Critical issues aren’t given in-depth attention and people are left grappling with injustices in isolation. Not only that, when one crucial population is consistently ignored, all citizens receive a distorted view of the state — and the historic record remains incomplete.

My first career was as an archaeologist, then a tribal consultant. Although I loved learning about ancient cultures and the southwestern landscape, I became increasingly reluctant to unearth other people’s remains — and increasingly frustrated when the living descendants of the communities excavated were ignored or excised from the record.

In 2002, I switched careers, trading a trowel for a recorder. And although I’ve spent most of my career as a journalist writing about the environment, I had the good fortune to work as managing editor of Tribal College Journal, a magazine published by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC). During that time, I met awesome people — from the founders of the tribal college movement to the students who today balance traditional culture with western education — who were generous enough to explain some of the complexities of life in Indian Country today.

In particular, meeting students from the nation’s 37 tribally chartered and controlled colleges and universities has inspired me to seek new ways of sharing news from Indian Country, to ensure Native voices of all generations are represented within the media, and to encourage Native young people to tell their own stories.

And from one colleague in particular, I learned that reporters should avoid the temptation to focus solely on negative stories. Walt Pourier (Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D.), a designer, artist, and founder of The Stronghold Society, inspired me to question exploitation in the name of journalism and to consider the short- and long-term consequences of reporting on topics such as violence, alcohol abuse and suicide. Journalists have a responsibility to portray communities in all their dynamism and complexity. That includes shining a light on problems, yes, but also accurately conveying humor, resiliency and joy. In particular, Walt taught me how sensationalistic or one-sided portrayals of communities can affect young people, their perceptions of themselves and their communities, and their futures.

In all honesty, I’m excited and nervous about the launch of this project. Somehow I find that reassuring. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected] if you have your own stories to share.

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