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When Alaska Natives were advocating for their lands during the 1960s, they had a secret weapon: a newspaper. In 1962, Howard Rock, Inupiat, founded the Tundra Times, a publication written for Alaska Natives, by Alaska Natives. The groundbreaking paper enabled the state's various Indigenous communities to remain connected across hundreds of miles, stay informed on life changing policies, and highlight critical stories that the mainstream media ignored. 

As part of the ANCSA at 50 profile series, Indian Country Today is highlighting the new generation of Alaska Native journalists who are continuing this legacy. 

Shannon Mason

Shannon Mason is a Tlingit journalist from Juneau. She previously worked as a reporter for New York Daily News and Rolling Stone, and in communications for the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. She lives in Anchorage, and is currently a press secretary for the State of Alaska’s Governor Office.

What motivated you to pursue journalism?

I wanted to pursue journalism ever since I was little. I had always loved writing but something about interviewing people and hearing their stories has been so rewarding. It was always extremely heart warming to give those a voice who normally wouldn’t.

What has working in the media industry been like so far? Is there anything that’s been surprising to you about this experience and career?

I think the most surprising aspect about the media is how it’s really easy to talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk, but what matters is the outcome. Many public media places throughout Alaska have been saying how important it is to support local journalism and support local Indigenous voice … however it’s not always the case that they follow through on their promise. Alaska needs more Indigenous reporters. By adding these voices throughout the nation, we are guaranteeing a whole untapped niche of content that needs to be covered. I love the industry but I want it to be better.

Do you have a favorite story you’ve worked on, or a topic you’re excited to focus on in the future?

I want to document elders stories throughout Southeast Alaska through photojournalism and through recording their stories. It’s important to document these stories before they are no longer passed along. This is a personal project I feel very inspired by and I hope I can pursue it. Furthermore, I want to create a documentary of my family’s story. My family is from Haines, the Raven House, and our history is rich with amazing stories. My grandmother, Jean Vavalis, is losing some of her memories and I am anxious to carry on those stories.

Are there any ways that your culture/community have shaped your storytelling?

I think my story has been significantly shaped by my community of Juneau and the Native community. Growing up and hearing my aunts, uncles and others discuss ANCSA, shareholder benefits, voting and distribution helped peak my interest at a young age. Then when I eventually moved to New York City for college, it was interesting to see how little people knew about these things outside of our small community.

Do you have any advice for younger Alaska Natives who might be interested in working in media one day?

At times, I felt like my perspective as an Indigenous woman was not valued. I want younger Alaska Natives to remember that their stories and perspectives are valued and people will welcome their view points and stories. Don’t stop pursuing the story.

Is there anything else you’d like to add, or anything else you think people should know about this topic?

I would love for people to genuinely listen to others on this topic. Don’t take what you hear from one person as the single truth. Research and try to keep an open mind about any new perspective.

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This story is part of Indian Country Today’s series on the 50th anniversary of the landmark Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Funding for ICT’s ANCSA project is provided in part by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism. Stay updated on ICT’s ANCSA project using #ANCSA50 and at stories are worth telling. Our stories are worth sharing. Our stories are worth your support. Contribute $5 or $10 contribution today to help Indian Country Today carry out its critical mission. Sign up for ICT’s free newsletter.