January 24, 2019; Native News Online
The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) has announced a partnership with the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources (IJNR) to promote Native involvement in the national conversation on environmental issues.
IJNR CEO Dave Spratt said, “It is critically important to include these voices if we as a society want to fully understand our diverse and complex relationships with natural resources. This partnership will offer Native journalists additional tools and resources for reporting on the environment and bring important perspective to that coverage.”
IJNR hosts what they call “institutes,” where they take journalists on “multi-day, expenses-paid, immersive field trips” to regions like the Wisconsin watersheds or Chesapeake Bay. They explore the region and learn about its economic, environmental, and cultural landscape to produce deeper, more thoughtful journalism that communicates environmental issues more fully and truthfully.
The initial plans of the partnership include taking members of the Chitimacha Tribe on the Lower Mississippi River Institute trip in April and collaborating on a one-day natural resources workshop hosted by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Prior Lake, Minnesota.
NAJA President Tristan Ahtone said, “Our partnership with the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources will lead to more opportunities for NAJA members, better coverage of Indigenous communities, and provide a blueprint for future collaborations with organizations that actively support inclusive, accurate journalism.”
Both organizations are small; neither has posted annual revenue over $500,000 in the past 10 years. Neither pays anyone more than $50,000. In 2016, the majority of both expenses and revenue for NAJA were related to their annual conference. But both organizations also play a critical role in training journalists to provide a fuller picture of important issues.
Native communities have often been on the forefront of environmental justice and preservation battles, without full acknowledgement of their leadership from the mainstream press. From the Standing Rock protests in South Dakota to the Nestlé water contracts in Michigan, indigenous peoples of the Americas have often served as the bulwark between natural resource extraction companies and the land held in trust by the tribes. The international movement “Water is Life,” or mni wiconi, is a network of camps, most of them Native-led or on Native land, dedicated to global water protection. Susan M. Larned at Barry University School of Law wrote, “environmental protections are often most effective when implemented at the local level. Native Americans have a significant role in connecting with local government to require federal and state governments to protect their water resources.”
The hope of this partnership is that contextual information like this will be more frequently and faithfully reported in the mainstream press. Ahtone said, “Context matters, as do Indigenous worldviews, and we are excited to be working with IJNR.”
This isn’t the first partnership effort by NAJA, which “serves and empowers Native journalists through programs and actions designed to enrich journalism and promote Native cultures.” They have a partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal to offer a NAJA/NBC News Summer Fellowship to give Native students experience reporting in a real newsroom. They partnered with MarketWired in 2014 to share news distribution networks and increase readership for NAJA members, and with several professional journalism associations in 2015 to host an Excellence in Journalism conference.
This is an excellent example of two small organizations each contributing the expertise they have to offer to achieve both their missions. NPQ has noted that real partnerships, those that have impact on issues of equity and are responsive to their communities, value the on-the-ground leadership of organizations doing the daily work in communities. By offering NAJA journalists a learning opportunity that can help amplify the work they’re already doing, IJNR, despite small resources, seems to be following this model. We look forward to seeing the stories they produce.—Erin Rubin