Kauffmann: 'I'll do it'

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A bit of trivia. Who is the only Native American correspondent featured on a national network, covering national issues? Give up? Can't believe there is only one? How about a hint? She is Nez Perce.

It is difficult for many to believe, but there is only one Native American featured regularly on a national news broadcast. She is Hattie Kauffman.

Kauffman began her climb up the television ladder after graduating from the University of Minnesota in the early 1980s and has won four Emmy awards for her work in broadcasting.

She started as a radio broadcaster while still in college and then was hired by KING TV in Seattle, Wash., as a reporter. By 1983 she was the weekend anchorwoman. She has been a reporter for "Good Morning America" and now works on the "CBS Early Show."

Kauffman moved from New York City to the Los Angeles area in to work on the "Early Show."

She was invited to serve as the moderator during the recent Tribal Leaders Summit and Presidential Candidate Forum in Albuquerque. During a luncheon speech, Kauffman told tribal leaders about her work and urged other First Americans to become a part of the media.

"You'd think there would be a lot more Native Americans in the news media. We are culturally suited. We are a culture of storytellers. I come from a long line of story tellers."

She sees the need for more Native Americans to aspire to join her on national news broadcasts, but was emphatic that education is what made it possible for her to get past cultural stereotypes. Kauffmann said Native Americans have to get past being shy or afraid to be noticed. They need to step forward and say, "I'll do it," when opportunities come along. Her ability to simply raise her hand and say it launched her career.

While attending college in Minnesota, a group of students was asked if anyone would report Indian News for a local radio station. "It was Minneapolis and A.I.M. (American Indian Movement) was there. They asked if anyone wanted to report the news and I raised my hand."

Asked how she felt about the national news media's absence at the Tribal Leaders Summit, Kauffman said, "Not only is there not national news coverage, but the two primary candidates are not here. There is a long way to go. They (tribal leaders) need to demand that the candidates be here and pay attention. What sort of united front do we want to have? So far the foray into Native American politics are the cases you read about where one tribe is trying to stop another's casino. It is a sort of battling as opposed to saying, 'We are a force, a united force to be reckoned with.' This meeting is a good place to start."

As a national news correspondent, Kauffman found that covering American Indian issues isn't yet a daily event.

"I think the fact that I am a Native American within a national news network organization allows me to do some stories. It allows stories to be covered because there is somebody inside. There is somebody on the inside that a tribal group can call and say, "Hey, this is going on.' If only there were more people (Native Americans) there on the inside, maybe there would be more stories."

Her advice to young women and men going into broadcasting: "For one, once you get that job inside, forget about - temporarily - covering Native American issues. Cover everything. Raise your hand and say, 'I'll go work at midnight. Go to work and work and work and work as hard as you can."

Kauffman also said that once away from reservation boundaries, racial stereotyping of Native Americans has ended for her.

"I don't think about it. Some think I am Puerto Rican, Jewish or whatever. You forget about how bad it is on reservations. I lived in New York City for 11 years and nobody noticed that I was different."

As she spoke to the tribal leaders, Kauffman remarked on the fact that all of those present in the room were survivors as far as she was concerned. "It is really amazing. It's really incredible, as I look at American Indians who are alive here today, I believe it is a miracle."

Kauffman went down a list of the past 500 years of fights Native Americans had to survive culturally as well as physically.

Questioned about how or if the national media panders to politicians, Kauffman thought a minute. "Some say the media is tougher on the current administration than anyone before it. On the other hand, as a journalist, you want that interview. I would say that you are more inclined to go along with criteria to get that interview. I am not a part of political coverage, so I am answering this as just another viewer. The reality of today's campaigns is that you are stuck with the campaign's schedule. I certainly wouldn't say that anybody at CBS News is easy on the politicians."

Speaking as a media personality, Kauffman explained that Native Americans can't become reporters with an agenda. To do that turns Native American reporters into activists. For Kauffman, the job is to be a storyteller and to bring stories in an unbiased manner to her audience.

She freely admits she would like to have the company of other Native Americans as she searches the country looking for stories.

"There needs to be more people (Native Americans) working on television and in the media, not just in Native American newspapers and Native American radio, but in the regular media. In 1989, I was the first American Indian reporter to ever file a national network news broadcast or report, and I'm still waiting for a colleague to join me. It shouldn't be that way after 11 years."