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Native media: 'That much more important'

For today's show, guests Bryan Pollard, Troy Little and Candis Callison speak on the state of Native media and journalists in the United States and Canada.
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Where do you get your news? Who are the journalists you follow and trust? When it comes to covering Indian Country, it involves knowing federal Indian law, Native history, tribes and history. Many news reports are filled with inaccuracies, so where does that leave the state of Native media?

This is an encore interview with guests Bryan Pollard, associate director, Native American Journalists Association; Troy Little, general manager of the KTNN Native Broadcast Enterprise; and Candis Callison, associate professor at the University of British Columbia. It originally aired on August 7, 2020.

Some quotes from Bryan Pollard:

"There are many Indigenous outlets across North America. Many of them are funded, or at least partially funded, by tribal governments and we refer to those as tribal media in the United States. And then there are also many Indigenous-owned outlets among the First Nations in Canada. They run the gamut across the media landscape. They include radio, print newspapers, newsletter, print newsletters, as well as online newsletters, websites, television broadcasts, social media, you name it. There's a broad array of outlets for Indigenous people to access news that's happening across Indian country and also specific to their communities and their tribes."

"Tribal media is in an interesting position because it is very much local news. It's happening, it's news that's happening within that tribe and getting information out to people who are typically within that community. However many Native communities also have citizens that live outside of that tribal jurisdiction. And so in many ways, tribal media is also a national publication because they're trying to also purpose their news to accommodate an audience that could be anywhere in the United States or around the world."

"I would say that many citizens of tribes rely very heavily on their tribal media to get them news and information about what's happening specifically with their tribe. Mainstream media often does not pay attention to tribal news or tribal affairs. And when they do, they often times get it wrong or perpetuate stereotypes and tropes about Indigenous people and communities in their reporting and because of that many Native people really don't rely on mainstream for news about their communities. And so that makes tribal media that much more important."

Candis Callison:

"We built on a book that was written a few years ago by a couple of scholars based out of Manitoba, one of whom is Metis, it's called "Seeing Red." It's basically a history of how Canadian newspapers have covered Indigenous people through time basically since pre-Confederation."

"It's a pretty damning story, not surprising to anybody here, mis and non-representation and continual negative set representations get repeated, even whilst journalism becomes more objective, even whilst more has changed over time, still those myths and non-representations persist."

"Part of what our book tries to do is basically look at objectivity as one example of how journalism needs to change, is changing. We conclude the book actually by looking specifically at Indigenous journalists, both in the U.S. and Canada, because when it comes to Indigenous issues you really start to see the colonial borders begin to mutate, right? There are so many people from what's now, Canada that went down to Standing Rock. Similarly, Idle No More more brought together many different Indigenous people. Mauna Kea, similarly. Indigenous journalists really do something different when it comes, especially to something like objectivity because you're coming from somewhere, right? You're coming from a community, you have specific obligations and responsibilities to those communities and to your lens and to your waters."

"One of the really interesting areas that I've done quite a bit of research on is in the Northern part of what's now Canada, so in the territories -as we refer to them - so the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, where you have a real polyglot of languages. So you have actual journalism being done in those languages. And you have kind of a different sensibility about journalism as well because there's such a close tie between newsrooms and communities. But I think when you get into the southern urban centers, you really see the ways in which those kinds of stereotypes persist and the struggle that Indigenous journalists have in the newsroom. I always tell a story to my media ethics classes about how I was called the Native intern for years, even though I was working, for pay, and not as an intern."

"There's just sort of no other way anybody could conceptualize that there was an Indigenous person in the newsroom. So I think those sorts of stories are really common for a lot of Indigenous journalists. I think social media has really changed things, the way that Indigenous people can talk back via Twitter. The ways in which Facebook becomes a communal fact-checking process but also a way of sharing information. I know from my own community, Facebook was like a real revolution. We had a number of fires a couple of years ago and I only went to Facebook sort of all day long, first thing in the morning before I even got out of bed I was checking Facebook to see what was happening within our community as they were being evacuated."

Bryan Pollard:

"I think it's important for people to remember that tribal media not only has the power to inform but it also has the power to reaffirm culture and to reaffirm language and reinforce those cultural language values. To that extent, it has a special power that maybe mainstream media lacks or really can't have in Native communities. And so to the extent that tribal media amplifies that cultural identity, it actually empowers self-determination. Tribal media continues to amplify the people's voice and empower the voices of the community."

"Absolutely. [Cherokee Phoenix] the first bilingual publication in North America, they print in English and Cherokee and that's a tradition that they continue today. In fact, just last year, they published an issue that was entirely in Cherokee."

Troy Little:

"Our employees, what they do is they get the news in English and then as they're reading along in English, they're also translating it into Navajo as it's coming out. So they're seeing it in English and then it comes out as Navajo. So they have a really good eye for that. As they're enunciating it too it goes out in that manner as well. So we do our newscast daily, Monday through Friday, in English, and in Navajo as well."

"The Navajo language in itself is very descriptive, so a very small sentence, translating that into Navajo will be a whole description of everything else. So it just makes it a lot longer in my view, but they do a really good job in terms of translating it from English into Navajo."

"The feedback we get from the elders is, they're really glad that we're retaining the language in terms of speaking it and then also putting it over the air as well in terms of our news. And then throughout the day, we'll be speaking throughout the day on-air in Navajo as well. And then to the younger generation, it's our way of also retaining that language and keeping it alive and utilizing it. Sometimes some words we haven't heard in a very long time, so our DJs will announce some of those words but they'll utilize it. And the feedback we get from our listeners is they'll ask, 'What was that word?' So they'll realize it and so some of these words that those words are no longer being used as much as they used to. So it's nice that they're reintroducing some of those words as well."

"A lot of our applicants when they apply for a job that we are advertising, they do know and a lot of them will ask do we have to speak Navajo? Do we have to speak that? And some of the jobs we do have, they do have to speak Navajo."

"Everyone has their own definition of being fluent is what I've come to find out. So our fluency, it varies. So someone can say they're fluent but their definition of fluent is different than mine or yours or anyone else's. So everyone's a comfortable level of what they know in terms of the Navajo language and how well they can speak it over the air, it all varies, but in the end, a year, few months after they start, you could see the growth in terms of their language speaking and also the length of how long they could speak. And some of the words that they didn't know before and how much they've learned."

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"Sometimes some of our listeners will also call in and say, 'This is the way you say that word. This is what they were trying to say but let them know that,' or they'll even speak to the DJs themselves. 'This is what you were trying to say. This is the way you say it.' It's hard because our language is kind of, you know, there's less people that speak it. So it is kind of hard. And then also that's not the only barrier here in terms of recruitment, it's also housing as well, another big issue besides the language."

Candis Callison:

"This is one thing you can say is very similar in both the U.S. and Canada, whether it's in the North or South, I think there's a lot of romanticization. I can think about so many critiques. I've heard some of them, very funny. In academic-speak, we might say the 'othering' but like the idea that there's such a vast difference or there's such specialness and it prevents people from actually getting to the kind of reporting that might shed light on the systems that are at play. And to me, that's really the high bar that I think Indigenous journalists, in particular, are setting. Often when they're telling stories, they're looking at the way in which history matters. They're looking at the way in which various different government bureaucracies matter in a particular situation. So an event is not just an event."

"One Indigenous journalist who said, 'It's not just about whether history matters but when it matters,' so having that kind of perspective I think is really an important contribution that a lot of newsrooms, especially mainstream newsrooms are missing out on because they don't have enough Native people or they have none. Here in Canada, we've had the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network for some time and I think that really took some pressure off mainstream broadcasters to think that 'Well, APTN is covering it so we don't have to.' I think that's a real problem because they're not able to do the kind of in-depth important reporting, especially when it comes to resource development and other things that are of great importance beyond Indigenous communities."

Bryan Pollard:

"That's a really good example of how as Indigenous people, we view this kind of news through a different lens and at NAJA we work with our colleagues in mainstream media constantly to help them understand that there are multiple lenses that you can view a story through that you really need to employ if you're going to cover Indigenous communities with accuracy and context."

"Many mainstream journalists go into a story just looking at it through a news lens, you know, answering the who, what and where of the story but when you're covering Native communities, you really need to look at it through other lenses, including a cultural lens. What is it that makes that community unique on the planet? And then also through the lens of colonialism. How has that community and that story and that event been shaped by colonial effects? So when you employ the additional lenses and start looking at it through more of an Indigenous perspective, it brings many different elements to that story and really makes the reporting more fair and contextual."

Candis Callison:

"We ended our book with a chapter specifically on this but one of the things that's most striking to me is the ways in which Indigenous journalists consider their obligations and their accountability to communities and to their own families but also to lands and waters and non-humans. And to me, I think that really is a different approach than what you're seeing in mainstream journalism and provides a different kind of contour and texture to what they consider to be a problem and what they consider to me solutions and also who the experts are and Indigenous journalists tend to turn to Indigenous people as experts on their own history. And I think that sets them apart from other sorts of coverage."

Troy Little:

"There's a lot of differences and I think with us as Native Americans and Native journalists and us telling our story from, just like one of our other panelists was saying, a lens from our view really helps provide the information better, convey it to our listeners, conveying it in Navajo or any other language within our own communities, it really helps tell the story in a different perspective from our lenses. Like I was saying earlier, the Navajo language is very descriptive so it could be described differently than it would be if we were to just read in English."

Bryan Pollard:

"One thing that we haven't discussed in our conversation is press freedom in Indian country and I think it's important to let the viewers know that press freedom is really inconsistent, across Indigenous communities and that in many ways it's still somewhat aspirational. It is that press freedom and that empowerment of people's voices, their authentic voices, that's really going to empower self-determination. I hope that everyone can join together in supporting free press values in Indian country."


Live news broadcast starting at 8 p.m. Mountain Standard at

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Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. She is also the anchor of the weekday newscast. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider.

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