By KATIE OYAN
PHOENIX (AP) – Tristan Ahtone, a member of the Kiowa tribe, recalls his beginnings in journalism more than a decade ago and his ideas on indigenous topics. His bosses would say things like, “We published an aboriginal story earlier this year. Do we need another?
Fortunately, he says, times have changed.
“Today there isn’t enough content to meet the demand, which is fantastic,” said Ahtone, longtime former board member of the Native American Journalists Association and current editor. chief of the nonprofit media Grist.
Native American communities have enjoyed stronger media coverage in recent years, in part due to an increase in Indigenous affairs reporting positions in U.S. newsrooms and financial support from foundations.
Journalism-focused philanthropy quadrupled from 2009 to 2019 as traditional newspaper revenues declined, according to a report by Media Impact Funders. At the same time, an increasingly diverse population and renewed attention to social injustice have attracted greater media attention.
Nonprofit media, which have mushroomed across the United States, are among those leading the way.
Colorado-based High Country News established an Indigenous Affairs Bureau in 2017 that has published dozens of articles by journalists, authors and experts across the Indian country.
Other non-native outlets followed with new rhythms and staff.
The Report for America national service program provides funds to numerous media outlets, including the Associated Press, and helps fund temporary Indigenous affairs reporting positions in 10 US newsrooms. They are part of a corps of journalists that the organization has established in recent years to strengthen coverage of underserved communities.
The program aims to address some of the unique challenges of covering the Indian country, where many reserves are isolated or have a historically poor relationship with the press after being long distorted or ignored.
“We are trying to restore the confidence that has been lost over the past 20 to 30 years,” said Teri Hayt, Report for America’s deputy director for body excellence and responsible for her Mountain West region. “It’s about rebuilding it and putting talented and emerging journalists in the newsrooms. “
Some of the news organizations with which it associates have never had a dedicated rhythm to Native American affairs. Several members of the body identify as indigenous. They include Frank Vaisvilas, a descendant of the Yaqui tribe of Mexico who is a Native American affairs reporter for the USA Today Network based at the Green Bay Press-Gazette in Wisconsin. It began covering the state’s 12 tribal nations in 2020.
“There’s a lot of education going on with this pace,” including helping people understand the nuances of sovereign nations, he said.
Vaisvilas reported on a land dispute involving the Oneida Nation and the village of Hobart in the Green Bay area, the harassment of Ojibwa underwater fishermen over treaty rights and the suspension of tribal officials by the Menominee legislature . His stories include discussions of tribal laws, jurisdiction, gambling, languages, and a host of other issues, and he produces a Wisconsin First Nations newsletter.
Historically, he said, major news organizations have tended to rely on tropes like poverty and drug addiction when covering Indian country. Vaisvilas said he was working to “seek out the truth that exists and not just feed stereotypes”.
The increase in coverage comes as America’s demographics change. According to the latest census, the growth in the number of people identified as multiracial rose from less than 3% to more than 10% of the US population from 2010 to 2020. Of these, approximately 6.7 million people identified as not Hispanic, American Indian and Native Alaskan single or in combination with another racial group, making up 2% of the population.
Despite growing interest, advocates say more needs to be done.
Many mainstream news outlets still do not have Indigenous affairs reporting posts, including some of the largest in the country.
And there have been missteps. In 2020, CNN received backlash for an election chart that displayed returns by race as white, Latino, black, Asian, and “something else” – a label that outraged many Native Americans.
The Washington Post has also been criticized for reports relating to the now-discontinued Washington NFL team’s native-themed mascot. In 2019, the Native American Journalists Association criticized the newspaper for its “recurring problem” of relying on flawed data from self-identified Indigenous people who said they were not offended by the name.
Last year, indigenous groups – and Home Secretary Deb Haaland – reported overwhelming media coverage surrounding the disappearance and death of 22-year-old Gabby Petito, saying more attention needed to be paid to the long-standing epidemic of missing and murdered Native American women.
Ahtone also pointed out that although the focus has been on investing in local news lately, this discussion rarely extends to tribal media.
Jodi Rave Spotted Bear, executive director of the Indigenous Media Freedom Alliance, said the grant opportunities have been “light in the tunnel” for her organization and its publishing arm, the digital news site Buffalo’s Fire.
Most tribal media organizations are funded by their tribal governments – very few of which have rules protecting the press.
“Freedom of information does not exist in the community where I live. The tribal government doesn’t have open meetings, ”said Spotted Bear, of the MHA Nation. “A lot of reservation communities are like that. “
The result, she said, is decisions made under a “cloak of secrecy,” including the allocation of sometimes massive sums of money.
One of the key achievements of the Phoenix-based news operation Indian Country Today has been independent ownership, which emerged under the aegis of the National Congress of American Indian last year.
The native-led operation has a larger audience than ever after a relaunch in 2018 and the start of a daily newscast. It broadcasts to more than two dozen stations in the United States, Canada and Australia, and reaches another 800,000 unique users each month on its digital site.
Editor-in-chief Mark Trahant, who is Shoshone-Bannock, cites a combination of donations, advertising, fundraising and foundations. Indian Country Today has also collaborated with the AP to reach more readers globally, and recently began partnering with another nonprofit outlet, Underscore.com, for coverage of the Pacific Northwest.
A number of ongoing efforts are aimed at strengthening the ranks of journalists of indigenous origin and placing more emphasis on the Indian country.
A 2019 American Society of News Editors survey found that less than half of 1% of American newsroom workers were Native Americans. However, the Native American Journalists Association said its membership has grown significantly since then.
The organization trains students through a variety of programs, including a scholarship that has helped place interns at NBC News, CBS News, USA Today, and elsewhere. Last year, he started teaming up with NPR on an Indigenous-centric digital workshop for early-career professionals.
It also emphasizes the importance of having Native Americans represented in prominent journalistic roles such as board members, editors, editors and television presenters.
Meanwhile, the Institute for Nonprofit News, which provides support to nonprofit news organizations, announced that a new consortium spanning rural America is starting with collaborations that include investigating economic issues in indigenous communities.
The country has a lot to gain from greater coverage of First Nations peoples, their cultures and languages, which often emphasizes the community rather than the individual, said Vaisvilas. He is happy to be a part of this and strives to honor his elders and ancestors through his work.
“I sometimes feel a lot of weight trying to do it right, trying to do the reporting well and trying to tell the story well,” he said. “A lot of native people say, ‘We’re still here, we’ve never been anywhere. We’ve just been ignored for so long. So I just hope that the reporting can help put an end to this. “
Oyan, a Phoenix-based Associated Press editor, served as editor of Indian Country Today in 2020 as part of a collaboration between the organization and AP.
This version has been updated to remove a reference to a canceled International Women’s Media Foundation initiative.