A History of NAJA, Part 4: Presidents Reflect, Look Forward

Over the years, NAJA presidents have kept the organization’s sights on the future.

Bryan Pollard (Cherokee) served as vice president under Azocar’s leadership, and Pollard would be elected NAJA president in September 2016. He recalled his early time in NAJA.

“When I first decided to run for the board the first time around, I was encouraged to do so by my editor at the time, Dan Agent; he was the editor of the Cherokee Phoenix at the time, and I was also very much encouraged by Patty Talahongva and Minnie Two Shoes,” explained Pollard, who added that Talahongva and Two Shoes stood out among the many people who instilled in him a sense of loyalty and commitment to NAJA.

“I had a lot of conversations with the two of them about the importance of NAJA and that’s the reason that I’m so committed to NAJA and its success,” Pollard said.

Pollard explained that financial stability is a major goal of the organization, something enduring from its foundation.

“Five years from now I would like to see the fruits of that effort. I would like to see NAJA have enough revenue stream coming in that money is not a concern, that we have enough money we can pay two or three full-time staff to do the work of NAJA, and to be able to serve our members,” Pollard stated.

Pollard also wants to see NAJA increase its outreach to students.

“I think I would love to be able to ramp that up to have instead of having 10 fellows, have 25 fellows,” Pollard said of the NAJA Fellowship Program for college students. He said he would also like to revive NAJA’s Project Phoenix, which was a program aimed at high school students, and would like to have 10 to 20 students attend alongside the college students.

NAJA Presidents Roll Call

84-87: Tim Giago

87-88: Mike Burgess

88-92: Mark Trahant

92-94: Paul DeMain

94-96: Karen Lincoln Michel

96-96: Keith Skenandore

96-98: Paul DeMain

98-99: Kara Briggs

99-00: Lori Edmo-Suppah

00-02: Mary Annette Pember

02-04: Patty Talahongva

04-05: Dan Lewerenz

05-07: Mike Kellogg

07-08: Cristina Azocar

08-10: Ronnie Washines

10-11: Rhonda LeValdo

11-11: Darla Leslie

11-13: Rhonda LeValdo

13-15: Mary Hudetz

15-16: Jason Begay

16-18: Bryan Pollard

Enduring purposes

“NAJA is unique in that we really have two missions that serve to advocate for our members, and one mission is we advocate free press in Indian Country,” explained Pollard. “Because tribal media—which is more often than not owned, or at least funded by the tribe itself—oftentimes does not have the editorial independence that they really need to practice good journalism.”

He says on one hand, NAJA is advocating for tribes to enact legislation and other reforms that will help create an independent press in Indian Country. In doing so, he says, NAJA is advocating for its members who work in tribal media.

DeMain agreed. He said promoting First Amendment issues has been a focus of NAJA throughout its history.

“I think every other year, perhaps for a number of years, we would have workshops on freedom of the press in Indian Country, and it had to do with going back to rewrite or add to tribal constitutions to try to get tribes to pass resolutions that supported freedom of press,” DeMain stated. “[That] gave some of the writers and editors on Indian reservations the capability to pursue their career without having to worry about getting fired.”

The other mission, according to Pollard, is to work with advocating for NAJA members and non-members who work in mainstream media.

“We have members who work in mainstream, and so our mission with those members is to help them find their way in the industry, whether it’s recruiting our young journalists and getting them their first job in a newsroom, or whether it’s someone who’s already established, and they maybe want to move into a different part of the newsroom,” explained Pollard.

Another aspect of this outreach is geared toward the news industry itself by ensuring that non-Native journalists have a resource for accurate representations of Native Americans in their news coverage. NAJA has long presented itself as a clearinghouse for such information, from one-sheet references to guides like “Covering Native America from A to Z,” “500 Nations, 100 Questions” and “Reading Red.

“Accuracy of the non-Indian press, the development and revision of the Associated Press [style]book, trying to make sure that the big newspapers had a Rolodex of Indian people on it so they could call people and say, ‘Does this sound right?’” described DeMain. “Is it stereotypes, is it racist, what is it we missed?”

In 2017, NAJA developed its own style guide of terms for newsrooms to use. NAJA continues to be relevant.

Next up: The future is the next generation

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