WASHINGTON - A colorful performance by well-known Hoop Dancer Daniel
Tracker kicked off the opening ceremonies of the 2004 UNITY: Journalists of
Color Convention held at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center Aug. 4 - 8.
Despite the Orange Alert issued in light of new terrorism threats, the
security checkpoints and closures in D.C. failed to deter more than 7,500
minority journalists from descending on the capital, representing the
Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), National Association of
Black Journalists (NABJ), Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) and
the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ). The convention
featured four full days of seminars, workshops, discussions, a Media and
Career Expo, awards ceremonies, and parties. President George Bush, Sen.
John Kerry, Colin Powell, and other notable journalists and celebrities had
opportunities to speak to and with minority writers in attendance.
Tracker danced in florescent regalia to the beat of the White Oak Drummers.
Native actor Gary Farmer was the Master of Ceremonies for the gala opening
Farmer is currently writing the screenplay for "Smoke Signals 2" and plans
to direct the film as well. "The character 'Victor' becomes a casino
executive." Farmer said over dinner. "The script is coming along well, I
would call it a reflection of current events in Indian country."
The activities on Aug. 5 were highlighted by morning speeches by Democratic
presidential nominee John Kerry and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Powell delivered a militant defense of U.S. foreign policy and the war in
Iraq, "I am solidly behind the use of force against Saddam Hussein," said
Powell. "We haven't had a failure in Iraq, we have gotten rid of a horrible
dictator. He has been a thorn in my side for the past 12 years, I can
assure you." Before the invasion, Powell expressed uncertainty about the
President's understanding of the implications an invasion would bring.
However, Powell told the UNITY crowd that he now solidly stands behind the
After Powell exited, John Kerry took the podium and focused attention on
domestic issues, ethnicity and pledged to fund federal programs that target
minority groups. The crowd enthusiastically applauded Kerry's answers to
questions asked by UNITY journalists. "How can you live in America and not
be aware of the special challenges facing people of color?" Kerry asked the
crowd. "The harsh fact is that in the last election, more than 1 million
minority Americans were disenfranchised in one of the most-tainted
elections in history. We have to see to it in November that every vote
counts - and is counted!"
A heated discussion titled "Mascots: Sports and Stereotypes" that featured
Indian Country Today columnist Suzan Shown Harjo and Cherokee Nation Chief
Chad Smith, touched on the sensitive issue of sports teams using Native
images and names as mascots. Harjo directly challenged Minneapolis
Star-Tribune Editor Anders Gyllenhall with the question of whether or not
he knew of his publication's awareness of Native issues. "I don't know,"
replied Gyllenhaal. "That's the problem - it is non-existent," said Harjo.
More than 1,000 schools use derogatory nicknames associated with Native
Americans. "People don't know the issues that plague us. Our cry cannot
only be taken to the newspapers or sports businesses - we should take them
to the government. Otherwise we'll still be debating this issue for the
next 1,000 years." UNITY has requested that all media entities stop using
In contrast to John Kerry's speech the day before, George W. Bush's Aug. 6
speech drew just a hint of applause. A heckler was escorted from the room
after shouting "Shame on you for lying to the media, misleading the
public!" Bush failed to give more detail on issues such as affirmative
action and minority jobs. Bush did discuss his family's ties to Yale. He
also stumbled when responding to a question on sovereignty.
The NAJA General Assembly was held following the Bush speech. This event
was held as part of NAJA's annual membership meeting. New members had the
chance to vote on new by-laws and hear formal presentations by NAJA board
members and staff.
On Aug. 7, NAJA members traveled to Capitol Hill, for a sneak preview of
the National Museum of the American Indian, where a reception was held for
NAJA members only. The magnificent building is still under construction,
yet by observing the architecture, one can vividly imagine the museum when
it opens in September. In the midst of the new museum is the Lelawi
Theater, a circular Kiva-shaped room with an IMAX projector and crystalline
sculpture unit in the center, which reflects scenes from the domed ceiling.
The Salsa and karaoke parties on the evening of Aug. 7 gave all UNITY
journalists the chance to socialize, network and exchange business cards.
The next UNITY conference is planned for 2008.