At the Native American Journalists' Association awards banquet held Saturday night in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Valerie Taliman won the Richard LaCourse Award for her series on missing and murdered First Nations women that was published by Indian Country Today in 2010.
"I'm honored and humbled to receive the Richard LaCourse Award for my series," says Taliman, "and I thank NAJA, the Gannett Foundation, Indian Country Today Media Network, my family, colleagues and friends for their support to do this work. I'm accepting it on behalf of my Native sisters in Canada who shared their lives and stories, and who continue to call for justice in their communities."
Taliman said she'd heard stories about Native women going missing, and spent more than a month last year traveling and interviewing families and women's groups in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba. In Vancouver, she met dozens of Native women and families willing to share their losses and daily challenges. But it was at the Turtle Lodge on the Sakeeng First Nation in Manitoba that Taliman said she was given a mandate to spotlight the situation by a group of spiritual leaders when she attended a roundtable on traditional indigenous knowledge.
"At least four people I met there spoke of women family members who were missing or murdered, and a group of traditional healers asked me to spotlight this issue, and offered guidance, contacts and prayers. The more I learned, the more I felt compelled to help give voice to the thousands of Native peoples whose lives were destroyed by colonial government policies that robbed children of their families and cultural heritage. This is one tragic example of what happens to Native peoples when you take away their cultures."
Taliman's ongoing series will resume this month with three new stories.
About Richard LaCourse
Richard LaCourse, for whom the award is named, was a Yakama journalist who had a profound influence on Native journalism in the late 1960s and the 1970s, and who served from 1971 to 1975 as the first news director of the American Indian Press Association. In a column for Indian Country Today Media Network, Charles Trimble called LaCourse, who died in 2001, "the most outstanding" of that generation of Indian journalists. "Had it not been for Richard LaCourse as director of our Washington News Bureau," Trimble wrote, "the AIPA organization would not have gotten off the ground."
LaCourse's influence was not limited to his own generation. "I considered Richard like a father," says current NAJA President Darla Leslie. "I began NAJA as a student in 1998 in Phoenix, Arizona. That's where I met him although we are both Yakamas. He told me there that if I wanted to be a journalist, it was going to take time, dedication, and overall commitment. He taught me the ropes by getting me involved with internships with the Yakama Nation Review and the Yakima Herald-Republic. 'If we don't tell our own stories, they will never be told accurately because of understanding,' he would always say. 'So it's extremely important that you understand why we have to be here not only to tell our people's true stories, but to help make the so called "mass media" understand why it's important for them to become diversified. They may never understand how to relate and accurately write about native issues so it's extremely important to bring in journalist of color who do understand and can write about their people accordingly.' He was absolutely right and today I have realized that more than ever. We are in 2011 and there are non-native individuals who still believe we live in tee-pees. That tells me, we still need to to pressure diversity, not only in these newsrooms, but across the board. On September 11, 2011 it will be a full 10 years that i have been sitting where Richard once did with in the YNR office and I am truly grateful and truly honored to be sitting in such a seat. It alone inspires me on daily basis to do my best on anything I work on. For me, Richard will never be forgotten."
Other Notable Winners
Three other journalists were honored at the banquet for work published by Indian Country Today Media Network. Washington, DC Bureau Chief Rob Capriccioso won an award for Best Environmental Story for "Snowy Relations On Sacred Site Development," and was also recognized for his feature "Obama Failed to Connect Through Native Media in Election Season." Terri Hansen's piece "EPA Tells Wind River Reservation, 'Don’t Drink The Water'" also won for Best Environmental Story, and Carol Berry's series "Exploring Native Identity" won Best News Story.
The Navajo Times was honored with General Excellence and Best Layout awards, and Native American Times won Best Magazine. The General Excellence award for radio journalism went to Susan Braine (National Native News), and Jason Salsman (Muskogee Nation) won for Best Television News Story.
For the full list of winners and more information about the conference, visit NAJA.com.