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Media Justice for Indian Country

FLAGSTAFF, AZ – Most people may not realize that nearly 60 radio stations and 4 or more television stations dot Indian Country, filling broadcast and Internet airwaves with information and data critical to the nation building efforts of Tribes and to the decision making of their citizens.

In 2010, Loris Taylor, President and CEO of Native Public Media, participated in the Aspen Institute Forum on Communications and Society, contributing to the News Cities: The Next Generation of Healthy Informed Communities report. This report detailed the worst of times for the news business and the best of times including the expansion of online information sources.

The Aspen report also detailed explicit recommendations such as strengthening public media, increasing transparency and information availability, providing universal broadband access, promoting digital and media literacy, and expanding public engagement.

The road since 2010 of building healthy informed tribal communities for the next generation by Native Public Media has been challenging, often expensive, but steady and focused.

“Media justice for Indian Country is making sure that tribal citizens have access to education in multiple literacies including media literacy. We all need credible information and data provided on multiple platforms so that our Tribal governments and citizens are fully engaged as members of Tribal societies and global communities,” states Taylor.

In 2018, Native Public Media and Northern Arizona University’s School of Communications partnered on a grant to offer the first Media Justice Training in Arizona to grow Tribal citizen reporters with the help of seasoned journalists who serve as mentors for the project. Among the mentors is well-known journalist, Marley Shebala, who has more than 28 years of experience covering stories on the Navajo reservation.

Broadcast and digital platforms provide a voice for Native Americans on local issues that mainstream media often does not carry. Nearly every participant at the Media Justice training cited Standing Rock as a clear example of an event that catalyzed activism about clean potable water but also as an example of a story that was not covered by mainstream media until events turned dire for the water protectors.

“Internet and broadcast technologies are powerful because they help people communicate, learn, and organize around social justice issues regarding equity, parity, power, and ownership about what matters to us like health insurance, assaults on tribal sovereignty, the right to vote, and other broader struggles like clean water. Media Justice is about our right as Tribal peoples to speak and be heard on these issues before decisions are made,” explains Taylor.

The goal of the Media Justice training was to teach Tribal citizen reporters on how to use less expensive equipment to cover stories from geographically remote tribal communities and to upload these stories to social media.

The training also included the teaching of lessons from Native Public Media’s First Amendment Protectors Curriculum that is scheduled for publishing and release in the first quarter of 2019. Over twenty tribal citizens from Arizona attended the training that included a panel discussion on media justice in Indian Country.

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