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Hands-on journalism, writing give American Indians a voice

VERMILLION, S.D. - Several summer programs have provided opportunities for American Indian students and writers to explore possible careers in journalism and enhance their creative writing skills.

Interviewing South Dakota Governor William Janklow was part of American Indian Journalism Institute students' hands-on learning experiences at the University of South Dakota.

Janklow told students he was considering giving AIM activist Russell Means a pardon so he can run for governor of New Mexico in the year 2002. He devoted his afternoon to answering any questions they had.

The institute was the first of its kind and is an outgrowth of the Freedom Forum's commitment to increase employment diversity in daily newspapers. Thirty-eight students graduated June 29 from four weeks of training in journalism at the University of South Dakota.

"Improving diversity, having just one Native American working in a newsroom, makes a newspaper more aware of Indians in its community and more sensitive and intelligent in reporting stories about them," director Jack Marsh said. He emphasized that American Indians are underrepresented in the newsroom.

"I think the institute was a wonderful opportunity offered by the Freedom Forum for Native American students to make a difference through journalism. It makes all the hard work everyone did worthwhile," said Marsh's administrative assistant Janine Vallie, who played a key role in the success of the institute. "Hopefully they learned something they can take or carry with them the rest of their lives."

Meeting deadlines and working under pressure became a daily routine for students. It wasn't unusual for them to get up at 6 or 7 a.m. to begin the long day of intensive training in reporting, photojournalism and editing classes. They learned discipline and what is needed to become a journalist.

Freedom Forum member Cat Camia and Washington Post reporter Dana Hedgepeth were two of many faculty who committed time to teaching journalism at the institute.

"There are more opportunities in journalism for minorities now than there were when I was a student," Camia said. "More newspapers and editors realize that they have to hire staffs that reflect the diversity in the newsroom."

During a dinner speech, Hedgepeth said, "I have never seen education hurt anybody," emphasizing her message of how needed these students are in journalism.

"Give a voice to the voiceless," when interviewing people, faculty members urged during the final week of classes.

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Learning their voice at the National Book Foundation was part of the learning process for students of all ages at Simon's Rock College in Great Barrington, Mass.

The National Book Foundation held its eighth summer writing camp July 6-14. The camp was free of charge to accepted applicants. There were 54 students from 18 states.

Four writers in residence, Kimiko Hahn, Jacqueline Woodson, Cornelius Eady, and Norma Fox Mazer and visiting author Hettie Jones, and visiting playwright Kirk Bromley served as faculty.

Hahn, a published poet of "Mosquito & Ant," told students in her workshop to "pull the reader in by the collar and don't let them go. Make ideas and images work hard for you."

Woodson urged students: "Don't be safe, write what you're scared of writing." Her recent book, "Miracle's Boys," was discussed during the camp on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

The camp had people from many different cultural backgrounds. "We're like the UN and we're battling silence," said Meg Kearney, director and author of a book of poems, "An Unkindness of Ravens."

Kearney also directs the American Voices Program that sends authors to American Indian reservations in the United States. Two of four American Indian applicants attended the camp, Courtney Hill from the Spokane Indian reservation in Wellpinit, Wash., and Glenda Eagleman from the Chippewa Cree reservation in Rocky Boy, Mont.

Kearney said the goal of the program is to visit all the American Indian reservations in the United States and, "Inspire new American Indian authors. There is a deeper connection when an author is there."

In September fiction writer Bob Shaccohis will visit the Lac Courte Oreilles, an Ojibwe reservation in Wisconsin and in December poet Marie Howe will visit the Fond du Lac reservation in Minnesota.

Kearney said she hopes more American Indians will apply to attend the summer writing camp since she thinks the camp will give talented writers the tools they need to continue writing.

Anyone interested in the journalism program or creative writing programs should visit the Web sites: for the American Indian Journalism Institute or for the National Book Foundations' summer writing camp/American Voices program

"Miracle's Boys" can be purchased at