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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Site aids cultural awareness

A UA website’s toolkit is helping journalists report more accurately and improve their relationship with Indian groups.

UANativeNet.com, a partnership of several UA groups, shares information on Indian tribal governance and law. It has resources for attorneys, educators and journalists, but the site can provide useful information for anyone looking to learn more about the topics, said Melissa Tatum, NativeNet contributor and associate director of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the James E. Rogers College of Law.

Reporting on Indian affairs can be difficult for journalists that aren’t familiar with tribal customs. Common journalist mistakes, like reporting that Indians don’t pay any taxes or don’t follow U.S. laws, coupled with Tatum’s experience of answering the same questions in different interviews, sparked the idea for NativeNet’s journalist toolkit.

The toolkit lists information ranging from common mistakes to avoid to recommending experts to contact.

It’s particularly useful in Arizona because the state has so many tribes, said Rhonda LeValdo, president of the Native American Journalists Association and an adjunct faculty member in media communications at Haskell Indian Nations University. Arizona is home to 21 federally recognized tribes, according to the UA’s Economic Development Research Program.

LeValdo, who is part of the Native American tribe Acoma Pueblo and has covered indigenous people’s issues for more than a decade, said reporting errors are a frequent problem.

“It’s important for non-Natives to understand what they’re treading on regarding native lands and native people,” LeValdo said. “These aren’t small cities, they’re nations. And you have to abide by their laws like you would if you were going to Mexico or Canada.”

Many inaccuracies are honest mistakes, the side effects of an education system that doesn’t focus enough on Indian issues, Tatum said. Covering complex topics on tight deadlines and uncooperative sources contribute to the problem as well.

“The fact that people don’t think of tribal governments as governments with court systems and legislatures means they approach reporting about it like they would a business or club,” Tatum said. “And that causes mistakes.”

A tribe’s reaction to an error depends on the circumstances, said Randy Yazzie, a Navajo tribe member who grew up on a reservation and a senior studying family studies and human development.

Tribe members aren’t allowed to talk about aspects of ceremonies and some things on the reservation can’t be photographed, making it more of a challenge for journalists, Yazzie said.

Kevin R. Kemper, an assistant professor of journalism and non-enrolled Choctaw/Cherokee, said he’d recommend the toolkit to his students because it encourages tribes and journalists to communicate more effectively. Kemper, a research fellow and adviser to the UA’s Native American Journalists Association chapter, researches the laws and ethics of journalism in these areas. He said there are unique challenges in covering tribes and that hopes the toolkit can better prepare journalists to report on them.

“We should be looking for ways to do honest and effective journalism without hurting tribes and tribal sovereignty,” Kemper said. “We need to understand one another more and build better relationships.“

The UA is filled with experts on Indian issues and hopefully resources like NativeNet can bring them together, prompting discussions, identifying problems and finding solutions, Kemper said.

Tatum agreed, and said she hopes NativeNet can contribute to a better-informed media as well.

“I don’t want to change what journalists do, but I want them to better understand what they’re reporting about,” Tatum said. “And I think the quality of the stories will show that.”

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