A History of NAJA, Part 5: “What are you doing for the next generation”

by AJ Earl

NAJA has long invested in students and their futures. These students, seen at conferences almost every year, are the final —and perhaps most crucial — part of the NAJA story.

Each year NAJA brings on board a new class of Native American journalism fellows and awards scholarships to college students. Not only do these programs provide opportunities for students to get the training and education they need to start their journalistic careers, but they also give students a chance to advance within NAJA.

“I was the first NAJA scholarship recipient … when I was going to go to the University of Oregon,” stated Lori Edmo-Suppah, who became a NAJA president in 1999 for a one-year term.

This focus on opportunity and building relationships is foundational to NAJA. The chance to meet, visit and build a rapport with the next generation of journalists is paramount.

Talahongva says she values the relationships she has made with aspiring Native journalists.

“I mentored students from all the other [UNITY] organizations and some of them have gone on to be news directors, others are anchors on their local newscasts, others are at network, and it’s so cool to see them growing,” explained Talahongva. She says she likes to ask former mentees, “Who are you mentoring, because now you’re in a position where you can help somebody else out, so what are you doing for that next generation?”

See you next year

“For a long time, I went to every NAJA conference, and then I quit going for four or five years after I went off the board, but I’ve still always come back, and I’ve always been a member. I make sure to, even though I’m a lifetime member, still pay them an individual membership every year. To me, it’s really important in my life.” Edmo-Suppah says she has made many contacts and maintained friendships. “Every time I go to the NAJA conference, it’s like it really reenergizes me and … renews my soul. It gives me a whole new perspective to go away from there and know that … the work we’re doing is important.”—Lori Edmo-Suppah

A sign of a valuable organization with a lasting legacy is when the group’s members routinely ask, “When is the next conference?”

It’s at these conferences where the mission is solidified and meaningful relationships are formed. Members have the chance to sharpen their skills through career-building workshops and learn what’s happening in Indian Country through issue-oriented sessions. It’s also a time of celebration of the body of work produced by NAJA members. And much of the work in planning the conference—building sponsorships, finding meeting locations and accommodations—is made possible through the efforts of NAJA’s executive director and board. It matters to members that their leaders demonstrate their commitment in this way.

This narrative of NAJA’s history is based on research into records and interviews with current and former leaders. It’s only one in what is hopefully a long series of histories. It isn’t the first, and it shouldn’t be the last.

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