NAJA selects Haskell Indian Leader as 2021 NAJA Elias Boudinot Free Press Award recipient

Staff to be recognized during 2021 National Native Media Awards virtual ceremony Oct. 28

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma — The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) has selected The Indian Leader as the recipient of the 2021 NAJA Elias Boudinot Free Press Award, which recognizes a publication or media outlet that has shown dedication and commitment to upholding freedom of the press, information and transparency in Indian Country.

The Indian Leader was selected for their response to former Haskell Indian Nations University President Ronald Graham’s attempts to silence the student publication, as the editorial staff were lawfully covering issues of concern to the university community.

Graham issued a directive Oct. 16, 2020 forbidding student journalists from routine newsgathering. 

In response, NAJA joined the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) statement calling for Graham to stop intimidating student journalists and respect press freedom.

Graham later rescinded this directive in Nov. 2020, but notification was not sent until Jan. 2021, due to an “administrative error” according to the Bureau of Indian Education. During that time, Editor-In-Chief Jared Nally (Myaamia-Miami) and the newspaper staff spent months operating under the directive’s initial demands that violated the First Amendment.

On March 2, FIRE announced that it was filing a lawsuit on behalf of Nally and the Indian Leader against Graham for his actions. 

The Haskell Indian Leader will be recognized during the 2021 National Native Media Awards virtual ceremony on Oct. 28 at 3 p.m. CT via Zoom. Registration is available here.

The Haskell Indian Leader team

Jared Nally, Editor-In-Chief
For Jared Nally (Myaamia-Miami), people don’t just listen to good stories; they retell them. His investigative work on Native mascots in Kansas high schools has been cited in publications like The Kansas Leadership Center Journal, and his breaking stories have been picked up by both local and national news outlets. Nally serves as the editor-in-chief for The Indian Leader, an award-winning student publication, and has received individual accolades for his work, such as ‘Best Editorial’ at the 2020 National Native Media Awards in the student division. An advocate for free speech, Nally is looking to continue his education and writing career by pursuing a master’s degree in journalism after finishing his degree in Indigenous and American Indian Studies at Haskell Indian Nations University.
Rhonda LeValdo, Faculty Advisor
Rhonda LeValdo (Acoma Pueblo) is faculty in Media Communications at Haskell Indian Nations University. LeValdo, from Acoma, New Mexico, received both her bachelor’s and master’s degree from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas in Journalism and Mass Communication. LeValdo has written for various outlets and produced audio/video work for: Indian Country Today, FNX | First Nations Experience (TV), Native News Online,, Tribal College Journal, National Native News (radio) as well as host for her own show, Native Spirit Radio on KKFI in Kansas City every Sunday. LeValdo has also worked in mainstream media: Journal of Mass Media Ethics, Online NewsHour (PBS), Kansas Magazine, Kansas City Star and VOX media. She is currently a member of the board of directors for Indian Country Today. She also sat on the board of directors for Native Public Media, Unity: Journalists for Diversity and is a past president of NAJA.

Zachary Arquette, Staff Writer 
As an advocacy journalist, Zachary Arquette (Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation) works to keep the public informed. His stories add context to complex topics surrounding community events such as protests and climate summits. He received recognition for his piece, “Lawrence Kansas Participates in Global Climate Strike,” receiving second place in the 2020 National Native Media Awards student division for ‘Best Environmental Coverage.’ Arquette will be graduating in the fall with his bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and plans to attend a graduate program the following year.
James Benson, Staff Writer 
Inspired by the work of The Indian Leader, James Benson (Cherokee Nation) hopes to kickstart a legacy writing career. Benson understands the role of student-press and has started his writing career off covering administrative actions. As a Cherokee Nation citizen, Benson admires the longstanding prestige of the Cherokee Phoenix, and he hopes working for the Indian Leader provides a stepping stone to working for his tribal news outlet.
Kayla Bointy, Distribution Manager 
Kayla Bointy (Kiowa, Comanche, and Omaha) is recognized for her style of letting people tell their own stories. Her article “Haskell Students Protest at Arrowhead Stadium”was reprinted in Native News Online and Kiowa News, receiving first place for ‘Best News Photo’ and third place for ‘Best News Story’ in the 2020 National Native Media Awards student division. Bointy is dedicated to continuing to share stories and advocating for Indigenous people taking control of Indigenous narratives.
Jayde Lanham, Secretary/Treasurer 
Collecting individual and community stories is what attracted Jayde Lanham (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma) to social work, but it is also what attracted her to journalism. Serving as The Indian Leader’s secretary/treasurer, Lanham has supported the Indian Leader through her administrative role while learning the differences and similarities between the two fields. Lanham graduated with an associate’s degree in social work at Haskell Indian Nations University and is continuing her education in business administration.
Connor MacDonald, Assistant Editor
Originally from Alaska, Connor MacDonald (Healy Lake Tribe) came to Haskell as a nontraditional student in 2018 and joined the Indian Leader team shortly after. In the years since, he has worked both as a staff writer and a member of the leadership team, primarily responsible for the Indian Leader’s print layout, and received ‘Best News Story’ at the 2020 National Native Media Awards in the student division. MacDonald recently finished a term as a member of the Healy Lake Traditional Council from 2019-2021 and is looking forward to more opportunities to serve the people after graduation.
Makayla Sloan, Staff Writer 
Makayla Sloan (Cherokee Nation) is known for her ability to tell stories through her photography. As a photojournalist, Sloan received third place for ‘Best Sports Photo’ in the 2019 National Native Media Awards student division. Sloan has also worked as a Native American Journalism Fellow producing work for the 2019 Native Voice.

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