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Native American students encouraged to be 'agents for change'

By Jordan Dresser, Travis Coleman and Michael Redstone
American Indian Journalism Institute students


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Ron Walters
'Journalism is not just for non-Indians,' Ron Walters of the Native American Journalists Association told students.

VERMILLION, S.D. — Young Native Americans can help get an Indian point of view into mainstream media, the leader of the Native journalism organization said.

“Becoming a journalist will help continue to change America’s perspective and stop newsroom excuses” for ignoring Indian issues, said Ron Walters, executive director of the Native American Journalists Association.

Walters spoke at a dinner June 7 at the American Indian Journalism Institute, a three-week Freedom Forum training program at the University of South Dakota. The 24 students of this year’s AIJI class come from 19 tribes in 12 states and one Canadian province.

“You are all first agents for change in this industry, and you can change mainstream society’s perception of Native Americans,” Walters told the students. “Journalism is not just for non-Indians.”

He encouraged the journalist hopefuls to help give a voice to their people — and to present a truthful perception of Native peoples to mainstream society.

Walters said that it was up to Native American journalists to bring issues that are important in Indian Country and make them important to mainstream people as well. According to Walters, Native journalists have a responsibility to “step up” and break the false perceptions of them from the past.

“They (editors) thought I would be too biased to cover Native American stories,” Walters said of his newspaper reporting experience in South Dakota and Iowa before becoming the NAJA executive director more than a year ago.

Even Walters’ long, braided hair was a problem for some of his coworkers, he said. “There is something about Native American culture that intimidates some people,” he said.

NAJA is headquartered at the Al Neuharth Media Center at the university. Explaining NAJA’s role, Walters said, “We are dedicated to recruiting, training and retaining Native journalists.”

Jordan Dresser, Travis Coleman and Michael Redstone are students at this year’s American Indian Journalism Institute. Dresser, Northern Arapaho, attends Central Wyoming College in Fort Washakie, Wyo. Coleman, Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, attends the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, and Redstone, Fort Peck Assiniboine, attends Montana State University in Billings.


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