Native millennials show a ‘fire’ for journalism

These students made me feel like dancing, so I set some of their images to Native American round-dance music.

I just devoted a big chunk of the past five months to a worthwhile effort that got me thinking even more about the future of journalism.

That effort involved helping the Native American Journalists Association kick off a pilot project called the Native American Journalism Fellowship. The program – a joint partnership between NAJA, the Newseum Institute and the University of Montana School of Journalism – gives Native American college students a yearlong experience in journalism training and access to mentoring.

The first phase of the pilot project took place earlier this month during the National Native Media Conference, held this year in Santa Clara, Calif. The fellowship program used NAJA’s annual student projects (“Native Voices” for college enrollees & “Project Phoenix” for high school participants) as the main training component for the pilot project.

Ten college students and five high school students from around the country participated in this year’s student projects. (See list of names at the end of this post.)

The students were put through two-and-a-half days of intensive training in journalism basics and hands-on multimedia instruction. They wrote stories that were published on and in the Native Voice newspaper, a 12-page broadsheet. They also produced multimedia packages for the website.

Nine mentors and three additional trainers, including me, helped provide the instruction, editing and mentoring for the week. It was so worth the hours and labor that we all put into it.

It was great to see these young people of diverse backgrounds become immersed in journalism for a week. They reported on such issues as sports mascots, federal recognition of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe of the San Francisco Bay area, human trafficking in Indian Country and a variety of stories out of the conference.

Students scored interviews with high-profile figures Chris Wondolowski, a Kiowa who is the first Native American to play in the World Cup, and Wes Studi, a Cherokee actor whose voice is behind one of the characters in Disney’s newly released “Planes: Fire and Rescue” movie.

I enjoyed seeing and sensing the energy these students brought to this project. The deadline pressure was real, and they pressed ahead. It was wonderful to watch. It made me encouraged about the future of journalism, and about the future of Native American journalism in particular. The fire and enthusiasm about covering Native issues and communities was evident in these aspiring journalists.

It’s also important to note that there was a Filipino American among the group, participating as a student representative of UNITY: Journalists for Diversity. Melanie Belakit fit right in, and brought a unique perspective to the project.

I enjoyed Melanie’s tweet that said:

“I love hearing ‘What’s your tribe?’ asked so freely here. Not something you hear everyday.”

With the caliber of students NAJA has participating in its fellowship program, I am a bit more confident about the future of journalism.

Here are a list of students who participated (and mentor/trainers):


Melanie Belakit, Filipino American representing UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, is from Woldorf, Maryland. Melanie graduated in May from the University of Maryland in College Park, with a degree in journalism and Spanish. Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Navajo, is from Fruitland, New Mexico. She is a graduate of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and has a degree in Athletic Training and English-Communications. Brittney Bennett, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, will be a senior at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where she is majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Film & Media Studies. Pauly Denetclaw, Navajo, lives in Gallup, New Mexico. She is a senior at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where she is majoring in Multimedia Journalism with a minor in Native American Studies. Carina Dominguez, Pascua Yaqui, is from Tucson, Arizona. She is a senior at Arizona State University in Tempe, where she is majoring in Broadcast Journalism and minoring in Political Science. Amanda Frank, Athabascan, is from Minto, Alaska. She is a graduate The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. She has a degree in Journalism. Brandon Frye, Choctaw, is from Ada, Oklahoma. He is a graduate student in Journalism at the University of Oklahoma. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in English. Sarah Jones, Chickasaw, is from Ada, Oklahoma. She is a senior at East Central University in Ada, where she is majoring Mass Media, with a minor in English. Charles Perry, Prairie Band Potawatomi, is from Topeka, Kansas. Charlie will be a sophomore this fall at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, where he will be majoring in Media Communications. Erin Tapahe, Navajo, is from Provo, Utah. She will be a freshman in the fall at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where she will be majoring in Journalism and Art.


Dylan Graham, Navajo, is from Gilbert, Ariz. She will be a senior at Mesquite High School in Gilbert. Cheyanne Hodge, Cherokee, is from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She will be a junior Will Rogers College High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Joshua Pulliam, Isleta, is from Isleta, New Mexico. He is a sophomore at NextGen Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dion Tapahe, Navajo, is from Provo, Utah. She will be a junior at Timpview High School in Provo. Monica Webster, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community, lives in Salt River, Arizona. She will be a senior at MountainView High School in Mesa, Arizona.


Begay Jason, assistant professor, University of Montana School of Journalism; Darren Brown, content producer, Cheyenne and Arapho Television; Mark Dreadfulwater, multimedia editor, the Cherokee Phoenix; Mark Fogarty, editor at large, National Mortgage News; Carlos Avila Gonzalez, photographer, San Francisco Chronicle; Joanna Hernandez, director of career services, CUNY graduate school of journalism; Benny Polacca, reporter, Osage News; Sheena Roetman, freelance writer in the Atlanta area, Eugene Tapahe, owner, Tapahe Inventive Design. ALSO, TRAINERS: Val Hoeppner, owner, Val Hoeppner Media & Consulting; Gene Policinski, chief operating officer, the Newseum Institute; Karen Lincoln Michel, independent journalist and short-term coordinator of NAJF

Follow me on Twitter @karenmichel


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