Nationwide Native news channel envisioned


Native American Television 'is about empowerment'

TULALIP, Wash. - Washington, D.C.-based Native American Television trains multimedia journalists, but doesn't have a regular news program. NorthWest Indian News has an award-winning news program, but has no nationwide channel on which to broadcast.

The two have joined forces with the goal of establishing a nationwide Native news program online and on cable.

Native American Television, or NATV, has partnered with NorthWest Indian News, a Tulalip Tribes-funded news program shown on commercial and public access stations from Alaska to New Mexico, with the goal of producing similar programming throughout the United States.

In what is seen as a major boost for the effort, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians - which represents 55 tribal nations in six states - has endorsed the partnership and its goal.

''Getting out there and presenting Indian news and an Indian point-of-view is of the utmost importance,'' ATNI chairman Ernie Stensgar, Coeur d'Alene, said in a press release. He is also an NATV board member.

''Although the concept has been out there, now is the time to present the truth about Indians and what we're doing in the United States ... This is our chance to stand up and get our word out, to present the Indian voice to America and provide a better understanding of what we're about.''

NATV board chairman James May, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee, added, ''That's what NATV is aiming for - an opportunity to get our view out there. I see a real lack of being on equal footing with any other minority group.''

NATV was founded in 1990 to train American Indian/Alaska Native broadcast journalists. Its Washington, D.C., studio is named ''The Chuck Kaster Studio'' to honor the memory of NATV's founder, who died in September 2002. Kaster, a freelance videographer whose credits included The History Channel, trained students out of a basement studio in his home and dreamed of having a permanent facility to train Native students in news-gathering and television production.

Today, NATV operates an online news site and produces videos of Native events, among them the Tlingit-language production of ''Macbeth'' at the National Museum of the American Indian in March.

NATV teams with Columbia School of Broadcasting in nearby Fairfax, Va., for student training; Columbia's president, William Butler, is NATV's studio operations director. Tara Ryan, Chickasaw/Choctaw, is NATV's public affairs officer and liaison to the entertainment community; she owns a Native entertainment promotion and management company and is a casting consultant.

NATV board members include John Echohawk, Pawnee, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund; Joe Garcia, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, president of the National Congress of American Indians; and Natalie Charley, Quinault, a marketing and public relations consultant who also serves on the Potlatch Fund board of directors.

NorthWest Indian News, or NWIN, was founded in 2003 and covers news and events in the Pacific Northwest. It is hosted by actor/singer Chenoa Egawa, Lummi/Lower Elwha Klallam. Reporters include Ronnie Washines, editor of the Yakama Nation Review, and Niki Cleary, a reporter for See-Yaht-Sub, the Tulalip newspaper.

NWIN makes DVD copies of its programs; the DVDs are sent to TV stations for broadcast. There are no paid commercials.

In 2006, NWIN won an award from the Native American Journalists Association for its feature about the construction of a traditional Cathlapotle plankhouse. In October, NWIN won a silver Telly, an Oscar of sorts for excellence in local and regional TV programming.

While its programs are broadcast by about 60 TV stations, NWIN has expressed an interest in expanding nationwide, possibly via webcasting.

''We send our DVDs out; we produce about 1,000 of them,'' said NWIN News Director Jim Browder, based in Bellingham. ''[NATV Executive Director] Randy Flood saw it and said, 'This is what we want to be doing.'''

Flood said he and Browder first discussed the possibility of partnering about two years ago.

''NWIN is a classic example of how to do it well. With the exception of them, there's not a lot out there,'' Flood said. ''It's a prototype of what we'd like to see duplicated across the country.''

Flood said the national program will likely start online and then move to cable. ''In order to move to cable, you have to have some pretty good content,'' he said. ''You don't have to reinvent the wheel when you have a model like NWIN.''

Flood said mainstream news reports about Indian country issues ''don't come close to what Native people are facing,'' while Native-originated programs seldom reach an audience outside of the reservation. ''The Seminoles do an outstanding job of covering tribal events, but the rest of the world doesn't see the rich culture, language and history that exists with the Seminoles,'' Flood said.

Replicating NWIN rests on creating a nationwide network of trained news reporters and media technicians to provide news and information from Indian country communities. To do this, Flood will rely partly on NATV-trained trainers who will in turn develop multimedia specialists in their communities.

''There are about 500 tribal nations. If you have 500 reporters out there, that makes for a good report,'' he said.

NWIN will serve as a model and will assist in training and in assessing needs in each region.

Flood also wants to start a weekly ''Report from Washington,'' featuring Native organizations such as NCAI, the National Indian Education Association and NARF.

The journalism and technology training that reporters will receive will open paths in a field that has long been sorely lacking in diversity - of the 56,000 reporters, editors and photographers working for U.S. newspapers, only about 300 journalists are Native, according to the Poynter Institute of Media Studies. American Indians made up just 0.5 percent of radio news employees and 0.3 percent of television news employees in 2005, according to NAJA.

Flood envisions NATV as a cultural preservation tool. ''It's about empowerment, about providing tools the nations can use to preserve their heritage and language,'' Flood said.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at