NAJA selects Graham Lee Brewer as 2023 Richard LaCourse Award for Investigative Journalism recipient

📣 Stay tuned for the regular awards announcement the week of July 3!
Brewer to be recognized during 2023 National Native Media Awards Banquet Aug. 12

NORMAN, Oklahoma — The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) has selected NAJA President and NBC National Investigative Reporter Graham Lee Brewer (Cherokee) as the recipient of the 2023 Richard LaCourse Award for Investigative Journalism, which recognizes groundbreaking work by journalists that creatively use digital tools in the role of community watchdog. Special consideration is given to journalism that helps a community understand and address important issues. 

The committee selected Brewer for his story on the Lakota Language Consortium over access to recordings of Ray Taken Alive’s grandmother speaking their language as part of a project to generate a standardized Lakota dictionary and textbooks. 

Taken Alive asked for the recordings after she died from COVID-19 in 2020 and learned that the consortium had “unrestricted permission to copyright” and publish them, according to the agreement she signed. While the tapes were eventually provided, this raised a larger issue. The tribe had helped fund and support funding for the project and was now being charged for access to its own culture. 

After receiving the tapes, Taken Alive began uploading their content for other citizens to use and received a copyright infringement notice from the consortium. He took to social media to raise awareness. 

The tribe eventually voted to banish the consortium and implement intellectual property rights. The issue, which first received broad attention thanks to Brewer’s work, raises unique questions regarding Indigenous data sovereignty. 

“While teaching this incredible piece of journalism over the past year I’ve had the pleasure of watching it inspire many up-and-coming Indigenous journalists in my classes. In addition to delivering a critical, innovative, and timely investigation, Brewer has set a high bar for investigative reporting in Indigenous communities at the mainstream level, one many of our youth are already looking up to,” NAJA Vice President Christine Trudeau said.  

Graham Lee Brewer
Brewer is a national investigative reporter for NBC News and president of the Native American Journalists Association. Before joining NBC, Brewer was an associate editor for Indigenous affairs at High Country News and a regular contributor to NPR and the New York Times. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma and is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Brewer will be recognized during the 2023 National Native Media Awards Banquet Aug. 12 as part of the 2023 National Native Media Conference Aug. 10-12 at the RBC Convention Center in downtown Winnipeg.

The NAJA Special Awards Committee is comprised of board members as well as past NAJA Special Award winners. The current NAJA president serves as chair. However, Brewer recused himself so the committee could review his nomination independently.

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