Indian Country Today editor and award-winning journalist Mark Trahant has worked with FNX / First Nations Experience to create, host and produce the first episode of a weekly news series titled Wassaja.
“The goal of our program is simple, a news magazine for Indian Country, 30 minutes of television, that illustrate Native challenges, as well as our successes,” says Trahant in the opening of the premier episode. “More than a century ago, Elias Boudinot, editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, described his newspaper as a vehicle of Indian intelligence. That’s exactly what we would like to do with Wassaja, convey Native intelligence, by telling great stories, stories about ordinary indigenous people, doing extraordinary things.”
In the first episode, "She Represents," Trahant explains the meaning and importance of Wassaja, meaning signaling or beckoning.
“Why Wassaja? This name sets the tone for what we want to accomplish, It was the name for two great newspapers from our history. The first Wassaja was published by Carlos Montezuma a century ago. He wanted his paper to be the freedom signal for the Indians…”
Trahant also goes on to explain the importance of the history of the two Native newspapers including the first by Montezuma and the second published in San Francisco during the 1970s.
Wassaja also looks at the lack of representation by Native American women and how that might be changing.
Trahant profiles two candidates, Debra Haaland and Sharice Davids, who hope to be the first Native American women ever to serve in Congress.
Trahant says he hopes Indian Country will appreciate the reflection of more Native people on TV. “We are so often missing from television. Missing from drama, comedy, and, unfortunately, news. But this show will be different. Our entire focus is the indigenous world and the Native experience,” Trahant said. “I want Indian Country to see ourselves and and learn from our own history as well as from the interviews with today's news makers.
Next weeks' program looks at the Kalinago people on the island of Dominica. The island was devastated by Hurricane Maria last year. The Kalinago were one of the first people to encounter Columbus and today face a new threat from climate change.
FNX or First Nations Experience is working to get their channel carried in as many communities as possible across the country. Currently, FNX is carried by 22 affiliate stations broadcasting into 14 states from Alaska to New York and is seen by more than 46 million households across the United States.
FNX is currently available in the greater Los Angeles media market on Frontier FiOS Channel 471, DirecTV Channel 24-2, Time Warner Channel 1272, and over-the-air on KVCR-Ch. 24.2.
You can also watch the premiere episode on Facebook now.
The first season of Wassaja will have ten 30 minute episodes.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today.
Here is the link in case FNX is not on the air in your community. If it's not, call your PBS station and suggest it.