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Native Sun News: Native Media Summit takes place in New Mexico
Monday, July 2, 2012
Filed Under: National | Technology
More on: journalism, media, native public media, native sun news
 
The following story was written and reported by Jesse Abernathy Native Sun News Editor. All content © Native Sun News.


Native Public Media’s 2012 digital journalism and storytelling course ambassadors – all tribal radio station personnel – break for a photo during one of their hectic days in early June. The inaugural course was held at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and will continue every summer. Both the ambassadors and their journalistic work will be featured prominently during NPM’s 2012 Native Media Summit at IAIA on July 13. PHOTO COURTESY/NATIVE PUBLIC MEDIA

PHOENIX, ARIZONA –– Until 1972, Native American radio stations did not exist.

With the on-air signing first of KTDB Radio in a remote area of the Navajo, or Diné, reservation in New Mexico, then of KBRW Radio in Barrow, Alaska, just a few months apart in 1972, a new era was slowly but steadily under way.

Forty years after those humble public radio beginnings, there are around 50 tribal stations scattered across the country.

And by the end of 2012, there will be some 60 Native American terrestrial radio stations on the air, according to Native Media Resource Center, representing 55 tribes and Native organizations.

Despite this commendable showing, such particulars are dismally disproportionate when juxtaposed against the ubiquity of non-Native American radio, which runs the gamut from traditional terrestrial to online to satellite stations as well as specially designed, individually programmed station applications for smartphones and other technologically advanced gadgets.

Serving to further lessen the full impact of Native radio is the added – but historically reduced – ubiquity of the number of tribes across the country: there are 568 federally recognized tribes with an additional 400 tribes that have yet to attain federal recognition – though this legally misconstrued condition doesn’t detract from their real-world cultural and historical status as tribal nations.

Working against this deficit in Indian country is Native Public Media, a Native American-run public broadcasting organization based out of Flagstaff, Ariz., that provides media services to Natives including programming and funding for Native-owned radio stations, as well as broadband, or high-speed Internet, and cable television services.

In an effort to redefine America’s airwaves by providing a prominent voice for Natives, the organization focuses heavily on facilitating the cross-country spread of accessible, informative Native radio stations and on increasing listenership for those stations.

Founded in 2004 as a nonprofit by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, initially to serve tribal radio stations, Native Public Media’s compelling stated purpose, as contained on its website, is “to empower Native people … to participate actively in all forms of media and to do it on our own terms.” NPM’s purposeful vision is firmly grounded in the premise that “Media has a vital role to play in supporting tribal economic and community development and is tied directly to the nation-building efforts of sovereign tribes.”

“(Native Public Media) started with a focus on radio but quickly realized media’s converging; media’s converging on the Internet, all sorts of media,” explains Traci Morris, director of operations. “And you can’t be exclusive, especially in Indian country. You need all forms (of media) to get out to our community. But we sort of work on behalf of and for all forms of media.” Morris, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, has been with the organization since April of 2009.

“Within six months (of NPM’s founding) … the executive director and CEO Loris Taylor was hired, and she converted it to media, not just radio,” said Morris. “And with the input of tribal radio professionals through a series of meetings, the name and mission were redefined.” Taylor is a member of the Hopi Tribe of Arizona.

NPM originally began in San Francisco, Morris said, but it soon became apparent people weren’t coming to us – we had to go out to them.

“So we’re actually a telecommuting corporation. We travel extensively. We do our partnerships with the Institute of American Indian Arts because of proximity (to Flagstaff) and the number of (Native American) radio stations in the West. It’s kind of the heart of Indian country in a lot of ways.”

You learn how to travel, she said of life away from home and her supportive family, and it gets a lot easier.

“I ‘have office, will travel,’” Morris said with a laugh, “so I have to do (my work) remotely” out of Phoenix.

Three full-time employees, inclusive of Morris and Taylor, make up the heart and soul of NPM, with the third employee also being of Native American heritage. Despite this small, distanced nucleus, which Morris doesn’t see as a setback but rather as an almost welcome challenge to always do her best, the organization seamlessly manages to extend its reach in Indian country.

“Very soon, we will have four (full-time employees),” said Morris. “We do work with consultants, and we work throughout the country. Native Public Media also does work in the northern Great Plains.”

Morris said Native Public Media is not a membership organization but an organization that works for everyone because it benefits entire Indian communities, primarily through outreach, education and training.

“We aren’t serving radio people, we’re serving communities … ,” she said. “We responded by going to communities to see what they needed.”

And, although created and still partially funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the broadcasting corporation is now only one component of NPM, according to Morris. “It’s definitely a part of our mission, but it’s not the only part of our mission anymore,” she said. Other major Native Public Media benefactors include the Open Society Foundation, Ford Foundation and Proteus Fund.

In the past, Morris said NPM was able to take some individual, non-Native American funders on a reservation tour in the Southwest. “The experience was a real eye-opener for them. A lot of them didn’t even realize there wasn’t even phone connectivity, let alone Internet. But they saw the importance of radio and other types of media in Indian country. They saw that firsthand.”

“I love the work that I do, and we have some really dedicated funders. They have been terrific,” she added.

In addition to its Native media-enhancing vision, the organization’s stated mission is “to promote healthy, engaged and independent Native communities through media access, control and ownership.”

As a means to that end, NPM has developed what it calls competency areas. Collectively, these four areas – community engagement, digital ecology, news and storytelling, and policy and advocacy – form the basis for NPM’s “Signature Programs,” which are further rooted in Native American history, arts, language and culture.

The Media Excellence Program and Policy Program comprise the organization’s signature series.

Designed to “bridge the media and digital divides through the offering of intersecting programs,” according to NPM’s website, the Media Excellence Program is subdivided into four components: an intensive digital journalism and storytelling course; the annual Native Media Summit; station services; and the Native Media Landscape Report.

According to Morris, NPM’s Media Excellence Program makes up about 75 percent of the work it does.

NPM launched its digital journalism and storytelling course May 28 on campus at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., wrapping up June 9. The intensive, two-week session provided participants with not only three hours of college credit but also the opportunity to apply their media and journalism skills in ways that benefit Native communities. Through print, video, audio and newer media platforms, and with an emphasis on employing best practices, participants were taught effective, creative methods for telling vital community stories, sometimes directly from the field.

“We had an overwhelming response from our Native radio stations to enroll their staff (in the digital journalism and storytelling course). This speaks to the incredible need and desire of our terrestrial radio personnel to branch out their service to Native American audiences using new media platforms,” Taylor told Michigan-based online media outlet Native News Network in April.

The course, which will continue annually in the summer, encourages reporting from the Native American perspective and telling stories in tribal languages.

Expanding the capacity and services of America’s interconnected Native radio stations is the goal of NPM’s yearly Native Media Summit. Training and up-to-date information important to the growth and sustainability of Indian country’s media systems, as well as networking opportunities, are afforded at the gathering.

“Our Voices; Our Stories; Our Network” is the theme for the eighth annual Native Media Summit to be held July 13-14 at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

The NPM summit is “sort of the ‘best of’ what we do,” said Morris. “It’s not only a gathering, of course, which it’s always great to get radio and media people together, we have radio, journalists, we have TV people, we got online folks that come – it’s really great to get Native media makers in one spot. We also showcase what’s going on in Indian country.”

Longtime newspaper editor, publisher and national columnist Tim Giago, Oglala Lakota, will deliver the conference’s first-day keynote address. Giago has not only won many personal awards over his career, but the newspapers he founded and published – Lakota Times, Indian Country Today, Lakota Journal and Native Sun News – have won more journalism awards than any other Indian newspaper in America.

Giago’s latest book, “Children Left Behind,” won the Bronze Medal from the Independent Book Publishers Association in 2008. He has worked in radio, television and news reporting, so he has seen nearly all aspects of the Native American media’s struggle to gain a foothold. His presentation is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m., local time, on July 13.

Morris calls Giago’s featured address on opening day “the perfect segue” to the remainder of the media summit.

Charles Fox, executive director and chief operations officer of FNX: First Nations Experience Television, will deliver the summit’s second-day keynote speech over lunch from 12-1 p.m. Based out of Southern California and hitting the airwaves last fall, FNX is the country’s first-ever Native American TV channel. The station was created through a partnership between the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and KVCR, a PBS member station located in Southern California’s Los Angeles outlier known as the Inland Empire.

A cultural feast and honoring ceremony will be held at the summit, and the work of the digital journalism and storytelling course students will be showcased.

“We’ve never had a two-day event before,” Morris said. “It’s about community and coming together. It’s the only (summit) for Natives and by Natives and is the hallmark of our mission and everything we do. We believe the strength comes from our communities and that we expect only the best for and of our communities as well.”

On average, she said, around 100 participants attend the annual Native Media Summit. “To bring everyone together is really exciting,” she added.

Through its station services component, NPM monitors and ensures Native American radio stations’ compliance with Federal Communications Commission regulatory requirements and with Corporation for Public Broadcasting standards as well. CPB requires recipients of its Community Service Station grants to certify their continued compliance with the requirements of the Communications Act of 1934.

Conducted jointly by NPM and the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, which is headquartered in Washington, the Native Media Landscape Report “provides a comprehensive overview of the Native media ecosystem including radio, television, print and new media,” according to NPM’s website.

The organization’s Policy Program strives to expand and strengthen the spectrum of Native American public media outlets such as the Internet and low-power FM (noncommercial, educational) radio stations through a systematic approach of policy analysis and representation and advocacy at all levels of government.

As explicated in the Policy Program section of its website, “ … NPM works to secure a voice for Native America among policymaking bodies and among the media democracy movement, promoting greater access and larger audiences for Native American voices,” with such outcomes achieved via “mediums and platforms that are truly community-based, local and democratic.”

Native Public Media is “really about community, but the way we approach community is through radio and media,” Morris further explains. “We work across the realm, from print to digital media; it’s an inclusive umbrella term when we say ‘media,’ so it’s not exclusive of anything.”

And as proof positive of the organization’s commitment to media channels other than radio, she said NPM worked with the Native American Journalists Association in developing the curriculum for the Media Excellence Program’s digital journalism and storytelling course. “And we encouraged all of our participants to become members of NAJA,” she added.

Additionally, Morris said tribal members from the Institute of American Indian Arts also were involved in the curriculum development process.

“We have a curriculum for Native folks, by Native folks,” she noted.

And Morris praised the virtues of the Santa Fe fine arts college: “Not only is it a tribal college in the heart of Indian country, it is actually phenomenally high-tech,” she said. “It’s one of the best facilities for teaching media in the country, not just Indian country (but) the country.”

In echoing the sentiment of contemporary Native American media’s modest – but bold – origination with the advent of not one but two radio stations in 1972, Morris said, “We’re working on bridging that media divide. That is one of the things we love to talk about and focus on.”

For further information on Native Public Media, visit www.nativepublicmedia.org.

(Contact Jesse Abernathy at editor@nsweekly.com)


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