Reporting on Native American issues is an important and distinct journalistic pursuit in the U.S.
Felicia Fonseca, an AP reporter, Antonia Gonzales, a reporter at Native American News, and Valerie Taliman, an editor at Indian Country Today, spoke to CAMP attendees about the sensitivity and insight needed to accurately tell an Indian story.
“I encourage people to [first] go to a tribal community, not as a reporter, but as a human being,” said Gonzales.
She said the communities are often hesitant to speak with reporters since they have been misrepresented in the past. Access to documents and court hearings can also be difficult without having a prior, trustworthy relationship.
Indians living in the sovereign nations, or self-ruled tribal communities have different laws that journalists must abide by, such as not taking photos in public places and getting special permission from the government.
“The first amendment may not apply there,” Taliman said.
She said obtaining court documents or getting access to a tribal spokesperson can be difficult since each government may have a different structure, background and relationship with the media.
Fonseca said the obstacles were also in understanding the Native American culture — knowing that sources may weave an intricate, “circular” story to make their point, or the historical context of an issue like a law banning the use of eagle feathers.
She suggested writing a positive, sometimes “fluff”, piece to build relationships with the tribes before asking the harder questions.
Taliman, a citizen of Navajo, emphasized that the government and media should pay attention to Native American issues, which are woven into many other national topics. But she said they should always respect their privacy.
“And the number one Indian Country rule, if you remember nothing else: We have the right to speak for ourselves.”
Some additional resources:
American Indian Law Center, Inc. (505) 277-5462, www.ailc-inc.org
Department of Justice, Office of Tribal Justice, (202) 514-2007, www.justice.gov/otj
Department of Labor, Indian and Native American Programs, www.doleta.gov/dinap
Indian Health Services, (301) 443-3593, www.ihs.gov
National Congress of American Indians, (202) 466-7767, www.ncai.org
National American Indian Housing Council, (202) 454-0946, www.naihc.net
Native American Rights Fund, (303) 447-8760, www.narf.org
National Indian Education Association, (202) 544-7290, www.neia.org
National Indian Gaming Association, (202) 546-7711, www.indiangaming.org
National Museum of the American Indian, (202) 633-6644, www.nmai.si.edu
National Park Service, (202) 208-5256, www.nps.gov
National Tribal Environmental Council, (505) 242-2175, www.ntec.org
U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, (202) 208-3710, www.bia.gov
U.S. Department of the Interior, (202) 208-6416, www.doi.gov
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, (202) 564-4355, www.epa.gov
U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee, (202) 224-2251, www.indian.senate.gov
Indian Country Today, www.indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com
National Native News, www.nativenews.net
Native America Calling, www.nativeamericacalling.com
Native American Journalists Association, www.naja.com
Navajo Times, www.navajotimes.com
Reznet News, www.reznetnews.org