Young Native Journalists Are Drawn to Cover Historic Protest

Mark Fogarty

Coverage of the Dakota pipeline story by the mainstream media has been spotty and in some cases biased. But three young American Indian journalists I have mentored in the Native American Journalism Fellows program the past two years seem to have known instinctively where the top current story in journalism is. They have traveled hundreds of miles to Sacred Stone Camp to cover this historic protest and assist the gathering’s occupants.

Charlie Perry, Prairie Band Potawatomi, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Navajo, and Dyani Brown, Shinnecock, members of the Native American Journalists Association’s 2014 and 2015 NAJF classes, made their way separately to the demonstration against the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota in the last several weeks.

Charlie drove with two friends the hundreds of miles from Kansas, where he is a correspondent for ndnsports and a film student at the University of Kansas, while Jourdan and Anii came from more than 1,000 miles away. Jourdan started out from Syracuse, NY, where she is a student at the Newhouse School of Journalism, and Anii, a recent graduate of American University in Washington, DC, traveled from the Shinnecock Nation of Long Island, New York.

Charlie, former editor of the Haskell Indian Leader, visited the camp during the last week of August and created a short video showing the growing Indian solidarity there. KU will screen the video on Oct. 28 at the Trans/forming Activist Media in the Americas conference to be held on campus. He is planning to return to the site in October with his grandmother, mother and sister.

“It was the most peaceful gathering of people from all walks of life I've ever seen,” he commented.

Jourdan a contributing writer for Native Peoples Magazine and a reporter for Syracuse Media Group, covered the protest during the first week of September after a 24-hour drive to get there with two other people. She filmed footage at the Sept. 3 confrontation where bulldozers disturbed sacred sites and attack dogs were used against the protesters.

Jourdan also posted an emotional video detailing her experience on her Facebook page when she returned to Syracuse.

“It was life changing for me,” she said in the video. “I can’t even describe the emotions that were going through me.”

She took her camera to film the bulldozers tearing up ground containing sacred sites, and described how moving it was that the first protesters through the restraining fence were a woman and a child.

“She was willing to sacrifice her life,” she said.

She described the camp as a place of “overwhelming welcoming” and a place of “so much love and support. So much love. I never felt so much support in my whole life. I felt like I belonged somewhere. I felt like I was needed there, too.”

Jourdan, too, plans to return to North Dakota.

Anii traveled 1700 miles to the site near Cannon Ball, ND starting late at night Sept. 7 with a caravan of Northeastern nations bringing water, food, socks, tooth brushes, sanitary items and other supplies to the thousands of Natives from all over the country who have gathered to protect water rights at Standing Rock. She is still there as of this writing.

On her Facebook page Anii posted information on the crowdfunding site to raise money for the protestors and wrote “As coastal people, our Northeastern sister tribes have relied on the water for sustenance and travel-ways since time immemorial. Without water we all perish.”

Anii has been published in Indian Country Today Media Network, covering a youth gathering at the United Nations where the Shinnecock were the only American tribe represented.

I had the privilege of working with these young journalists at NAJA’s onsite intensive mentoring programs at Santa Clara, Calif. in 2014 (Charlie and Jourdan) and Arlington, Va. in 2015 (Anii) in programs directed by Jason Begaye, Navajo. NAJA has more than 20 years’ experience doing mentoring programs and has trained a whole generation of Native journalists, some of whom have themselves become mentors within a few years of starting their careers.

I can’t tell you how proud I am of the young people (and how I fretted about their safety in the often-tense standoff going on up there). Recognizing an important story, traveling long distances to get there on their own time and money, and seeing it for themselves—these are the hallmarks of great journalists.

A journalist becomes a mentor when he or she realizes they won’t be in the industry forever and hopes to pass on some of their spirit and passion for the business to younger people. Journalists my age need not worry. There are young people with energy, passion and very bright spirits who will carry on brilliantly after our time.

Mark Fogarty has written about American Indian finance for Indian Country Today Media Network, the Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, American Banker, National Mortgage News, Credit Union Journal and other publications.

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