How a rez car caravan brought life to NAJA

by AJ Earl

Tim Giago’s plan for a meeting of Indigenous journalists seemed to hang in the balance. Waiting nervously, Giago sat on the patio of a building at Penn State, looking for any sign of attendees.

“All of the sudden, here come cars,” said Giago (Oglala Lakota). “We called them rez cars, some of them held together with baling wire—but they made it from their reservations all the way to Penn State, so we had the first gathering of them, of Native American journalists.”

The Native American Journalists Association’s first president, Giago gave remarks at the organization’s 2017 luncheon and business meeting, where he received the 2017 NAJA-Medill Milestone Achievement Award. He used his remarks to explain the origins of NAJA.

In his retelling of the organization’s birth story, Giago explained how in 1983, he, Adrian Louis and Professor William Dulaney convened at Penn State to bring together Indigenous journalists in order to form a sorely needed press association.

The following year, this new group met at the Choctaw Nation. There, a constitution and by-laws were established, and Giago was named the organization’s first president, and Loren Tapahe (Navajo), its VP.

The name of the organization at the time was the Native American Press Association, but by 1990, the name was changed to the current name, NAJA, to articulate its more inclusive aims, bringing us to the present day.

Giago went on to explain where he went from the formation of NAJA, explaining how recent developments have changed the landscape, but not his current outlook.

“I chose to become a journalist because of two words: truth and justice,” explained Giago. “With the passing of the child I raised called Indian Country Today, all of us elders that are in this profession pass the mantle to this new generation of Indian journalists, and I know they have the strength and the talent to stand up for our rights and the rights of sovereign nations.”

Indian Country Today, the largest online news outlet for Indigenous news, abruptly went on hiatus at the start of this month after 36 years of publication. Giago was the founder and original editor when it was called called the Lakota Times.

Giago closed his remarks by acknowledging the roots of NAJA.

“I was very proud to serve as NAJA’s first president. And I pray that our strong beliefs in each other will continue to live on.”

In keeping with tradition, Giago was then presented with a blanket and honored by NAJA members with a prolonged standing ovation.

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