Centering Indigenous voices, accurately reporting on Indigenous communities in student media

Centering Indigenous voices, accurately reporting on Indigenous communities in student media

By Sergio Luis Yanes, CJE, director-at-large

November is Native American Heritage Month, honoring the contributions of Indigenous and Native peoples throughout history and today. Indigenous peoples have endured a difficult history and are still battling systemic erasure and invalidation among American society. 

As with other marginalized experiences, Indigenous voices are the ones best positioned to report on the stories of their own communities. Still, it is important that all journalists learn more about tribal nations and their peoples and that they work to amplify more voices from these communities.

Student reporting

There have been several pieces featured on Best of SNO recently that center on Native American individuals and communities. 

Share these standout articles, objective and opinion, with your staff:

Professional organizations and native media

When speaking with students about professional organizations, be sure to mention NAJA: Native American Journalists Association, which “encourages both mainstream and tribal media to attain the highest standards of professionalism, ethics and responsibility.” 

Here are some possible ways to engage with resources on their site:

  • Use the Tribal Nations Media Guide to encourage students to know more about the complex Indigenous communities around them. Discuss how they might act on their increased awareness and help improve representation of these nations in your media.
  • Explore the Tribal Media Map to find tribal media outlets in your area. Students can then have access to Native news by Native journalists. They can also identify possible story ideas by analyzing what journalists are reporting about their communities. Perhaps there is an opportunity to visit or build a connection with a local Native journalist who could possibly mentor any Native student journalists on your publications’ staffs.
  • If you have reported on Indigenous individuals or communities, use the NAJA Bingo Card to conduct an audit on your own media. This can help reduce instances of harmful stereotypes or clichéd reporting. During this audit, also compare your use of Indigenous versus non-Indigenous sources and creators. Read the 2021 NAJA Media Spotlight Report afterward for ideas for possible solutions to help your publication improve.
  • Post a copy of the Reporting and Indigenous Terminology to serve as reminders while writing stories. One key reminder, for example, is to include tribal affiliations for any Indigenous individuals mentioned. For a deeper look at language around Native peoples and nations, take a look at How to Talk about Native Nations: A Guide, which is a resource provided by the Native-led non-profit organization Native Governance Center.

Additionally, the National Congress of American Indians is a non-profit advocacy organization that can be helpful in staying aware of current topics of discussion in Indian Country. Their press resources page provides more information about the organization as well as links to more resources about tribal governance and demographics. Their guide, Tribal Nations and the United States: An Introduction provides important context, history and information that can be helpful to non-Native people in understanding and engaging with tribal nations.

Histories of Tribal Nations

While tribal nations share a history of oppression, it is important to remember that tribal nations are diverse and unique. Taking time to explore the histories of these communities can deepen our understanding and help provide important context and perspective.

When covering the history of journalism, use the list of Native American newspapers on Chronicling America — a project led by the Library of Congress — to access digitized issues of various historic newspapers from tribal communities around the country. The Library of Congress also shared a blog post in 2018 with suggested activities and discussions.

Guest speakers for Native American Heritage Month

The Pulitzer Center offers another opportunity to connect student journalists with professional journalists through virtual visits. Here is a description from their site:

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, we are featuring several journalists who have reported on relevant topics, and who would love to visit your classroom! Take a look at our featured guest speakers below, and click here to connect your class with a guest speaker.

Journalists can share stories about Native American communities and discuss issues affecting Native people.

  • Allison Herrera, an award-winning radio journalist whose Native ties are to the Xolon Salinan tribe. Herrera reported on treaties signed between the U.S. Government and Native nations that shaped and continue to impact the country today.
  • Tristan Ahtone, a citizen of the Kiowa Tribe and award-winning journalist who reported on the violent removal of Indigenous people, and removal’s connection to some of the most powerful educational institutions in the U.S.
  • Nate Hegyi, a journalist who has reported on negligence and misconduct in tribal jails, as well as the broader challenges Native communities experience.
  • Alice Qannik Glenn and Jenna Kunze, Alaska based reporters who together cover how Alaska Natives are adapting to changes in the environment brought about by climate change. 
  • Daniella Zalcman, an award-winning photojournalist who reported on the lasting impacts of government-mandated residential schools for Native Americans in the U.S. and First Nations children in Canada. 
  • Melodie Edwards, producer, host, and journalist who reports on the history of pandemics in Native American reservations.
  • Eléonore Léo Hamelin, a filmmaker and journalist who produced a documentary on the Navajo Times, a local journalism outlet serving the Navajo Nation.
  • Mary F. Calvert, an award-winning photojournalist who reported on the legacy of U.S government mines on Navajo Nation and their devastating health impact. 

As always, we’re looking to amplify voices in our JEA community. If you have something you’d like to add to this discussion — resources, stories, lesson plans — please reach out to or so we can feature them.

This article is part of a series of resources JEA is recommending to advisers in an effort to provide antiracist teaching resources to educators. JEA is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in its membership and practices. See the official statement here.

Founded in 1924, JEA supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities, promoting professionalism, encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and an atmosphere which encompasses diversity yet builds unity. It is headquartered at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.

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