Haskell President rescinds directive that violated student press freedom

The leadership of Haskell Indian Nations University has rescinded an October order barring The Indian Leader editor Jared Nally from engaging in basic news gathering practices.

NORMAN, Oklahoma — On Oct. 26, 2020, The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) joined the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) and called on Haskell President Ronald Graham to stop intimidating student journalists and respect press freedom.

Unbeknownst to NAJA, Nally (Miami), FIRE, and SPLC, Haskell president Graham rescinded this directive on Nov. 20, 2020, but as the Bureau of Indian Education informed NAJA on Jan. 13, 2021, notification was not sent due to an “administrative error.” In the time since the initial directive, Nally and The Indian Leader spent months operating under its initial demands that violated the First Amendment.  

“I don’t think a lot of the world, a lot of the U.S., and our university, think the press is their friend and there is that hesitancy to have a relationship with news organizations. I think that’s both a detriment to those institutions and the community because we’re not seeing clear communication. There is so much good that can come out of having that relationship, and that directive being rescinded is one step towards developing that open communication to the community through the conduit of the student newspaper,” Nally said.

NAJA’s mission is to defend and support Indigenous journalists and press freedom. It is important to highlight these victories in a time when significant free press issues are spread across Indian Country, as many Indigenous communities lack access to information. 

“I want this moment to have meaning, where Indian Country has to reflect on its students and the Indigenous youth that we’re bringing up to have a voice; to make sure that voice exists in their educational institutions and that when we notice that voice isn’t present, that we fight to get that voice back,” Nally said.

NAJA is proud of this developing outcome, a win for press freedom, and commends FIRE for the important work being done here. The rescinding of this directive could not have been accomplished without FIRE’s support. NAJA applauds their continuing efforts and looks forward to future partnerships.

NAJA looks forward to working with Haskell on further reforms. We also demand the immediate reinstatement of Rhonda LeValdo as the paper’s advisor, and we join Nally, FIRE, and SPLC in demanding Haskell continue to commit to meaningful changes that support an independent press.  

Student reporters like Nally who seek information from the academic administration should never be met with threats and challenges to their First Amendment rights. NAJA will continue to push forward on its mission to support Indigenous journalists and members through free press resources and education.

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