Byline: Braden Harper/Reporter
PHOENIX, Arizona – The Mvskoke Media took home various awards at the 2022 Native American Journalist Association Conference Aug. 25-27. The department received honors in various media platform categories. This year’s NAJA Conference was notable for being hosted in person, the first time it’s been hosted in person since 2019.
Radio veteran Gary Fife won first place in the professional division I & II print/online category with his article “Emvpanayv: One Who Tells the Story”. He also took home an honorable mention award for the professional division I & II radio/podcast category.
Jerrad Moore won first and third place in the professional division II multimedia category for “Councilman Implicated in HUD Violation” and “Meet the Candidate – 2021” respectively.
Pauline Randall, Mark Hill, and Liz Gray took home second place for best layout for professional division I print/online. Liz Gray also took home third place in print/online best editorial for her article, “Tribes defend reservations amid continued attacks”.
Morgan Taylor received an honorable mention in the professional division I print/online best sports story for her article, “Mvskoke Ultimate Fighter”.
NAJA’s current staff has a strong Muscogee (Creek) Nation presence. Sterling Crosper serves as membership manager. Sheena Roetman serves as the education manager. Angel Ellis is a board member and Rebecca Landsberry-Baker leads as executive director.
Ellis was extremely proud of the Mvskoke Media team.
“Despite all that we have been through, this team of committed journalists brought home six awards from the National Native Media Awards,” Ellis said. “It is an acknowledgement of their hard work and I am so proud they continue to compete with the best and brightest Indigenous journalists representing Turtle Island.”
Ellis said placing among a national competition is no small feat.
“Our staff compete with the best news rooms,” Ellis said. “We compete with major networks, the people who have created the legacy for Indigenous Journalism and even global networks.”
“To see our team thrive from that professional competition is a very important measure for us at Mvskoke Media. It means we are producing the highest level news for our citizens, and we train to be better every year.
The conference saw attendants from other countries like Canada and Finland. This year’s conference saw a record attendance, over 400 members present. Overall NAJA has over 1,000 members total, a significant increase seen over the past decade.
“NAJA convening I think is unique compared to all of the other diversity journalism conferences” Landsberry-Baker said. “It’s our time to gather with our own community”
According to Landsberry-Baker, Phoenix was a natural choice due the high concentration of NAJA members in the area. The organization also has strong roots there.
The conference saw a large array of Indigenous Media Outlets including the Mvskoke Media, Indian Country Today, Cherokee Phoenix, Osage News and Navajo Times. Members of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Navajo, Lakota, Chippewa, Standing Rock Sioux, Prairie Band Potawatomi, Sandy Bay Ojibway, Cree, Tewa, Maya, and the Kiowa Nations were present.
National media outlets were also present including NBC News, ABC News, USA Today, Vox Media and the Associated Press. The New York Times was notably absent due to their past controversial coverage on Native American Culture.
The conference began with an opening ceremony that included a benediction and land acknowledgement. Tim Giago was honored in a memorial tribute to his contributions to NAJA and Indegenous Journalism. Giago opened the first independently owned Native American Press, the Lakota Times.
Over the course of the three day event, attendees had the opportunity to attend various breakout sessions instructed by the conference’s sponsors. Many sessions dealt with Native American issues including COVID-19 Coverage on the reservations, Native Representation in mainstream media, cultural identity, tribal water rights, and boarding schools.
Members of the Mvskoke Media were featured in a breakout session panel discussing the triumphant journey to becoming a free press organization. This came after the historic vote to amend the MCN Constitution to include press protections over the past year.
“We’re the only place in the world that’s discussing the free press in Indian Country,” Landsberry-Baker said. “There are always going to be challenges in the way you carry out your free press”
On the issue of Indegenous Free Press, NAJA takes a pro free press stance and provides assistance to those who are seeking free press protections.
Other breakout sessions were aimed to help journalists grow in their abilities covering Indian Country. This included lessons in on-air presence, proper cultural language in writing, and how to succeed in working as a freelancer.
An expo featuring various booths from vendors and sponsors were set up for networking opportunities.
A theatrical screening of the Hulu Original Film, “Prey” was offered to conference attendees. Afterward, the film’s producer, Jhane Myers (Comanche, Blackfeet) joined in a question and answer session with the audience.
A period film set in the 1700s, Prey’s story is notable for its accurate depiction of Comanche culture and its lead, a young Comanche Warrior played by Amber Midthunder (Assiniboine, Fort Peck).
The conference concluded with the NAJA Awards Banquet. It featured the White Mountain Apache Crown Dancers performing traditional dances. A silent auction to support Indegenous Journalist Students was held.
The NAJA 2023 Conference will potentially look a bit different. The organization is currently undergoing a potential name change, prospectively to the Indegenous Journalist Association (IJA). This change will reflect the organization’s expansion to other Indegenous tribes and press organizations internationally. While the change has not been finalized yet, it will be voted on within the next year.
“The ultimate goal of changing the name is to be more inclusive of Indegenous Communities across the U.S. and Canada ” Landsberry-Baker said.
2023’s conference is set for Winnipeg, Canada and will celebrate NAJA’s 40th anniversary as a journalist organization.
A Family Reunion
This year’s conference was a cheerful reunion among NAJA’s members. Many had not met in person in over two years.
“It really was like a homecoming this year,” Landsberry-Baker said.
NAJA also affords the opportunity for aspiring journalists to attend the conference through the fellowship program. Although it is primarily composed of college students, it fosters professional development for journalists at every level of their career.
The program consists of students learning about the journalism field and mentors currently working in the field. Lyric Aquino (Ohkay Owingeh), an NYU Graduate Student was selected as a student fellow, as well as a mentor in training.
“Being surrounded by Indegenous Journalists is something that I treasure because it feels like family,” Aquino said. “It’s so amazing to bounce ideas off of each other but also have that warm support”
Aquino was awarded a NAJA Scholarship to attend graduate school and further grow in the field. There she studies in the Science, Health, Environmental and Reporting Program (SHERP). This would not be possible without the financial scholarship opportunities through NAJA according to Aquino.
“Everyone at NAJA is there to support you,” Aquino said. “It showed me a sense of community, a sense of hope, it was heartwarming”
Regardless if you were hosting or attending, many agreed NAJA offered a sense of pride that could not be found anywhere else.
“I’m thankful to have the staff support that we do, and such a powerful leadership in our board of directors” Landsberry-Baker said.
“Being at NAJA it reminds me that these stories are important, they need to be told, as a storyteller it is my job,” Aquino said.
A full list of NAJA award winners can be found on their website.