TEMPE, Ariz. —Nine months after touring the Navajo-Hopi reservation as part of an environmental fellowship, reporters and editors from Arizona ethnic media recounted their experiences in a panel discussion last Friday.
The discussion, “Empowering Communities Through New America Media,” was part of a four-day Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) conference that drew hundreds of journalists from across the country.
In October, five reporters representing Latino, African American, Chinese and Native American media toured the Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant located within the Navajo Reservation near Page, Arizona. During the discussion Friday, they shared their experiences and spoke about the role ethnic media plays in highlighting Native American issues.
“I was surprised at how isolated the reservation residents were from their surrounding communities,” said Ruben Hernandez, one of the fellows and a contributing editor at Latino Perspectives Magazine. These residents, he continued, are “unknowingly, the recipients of electricity and water” generated on the reservation.
The fellowship was funded by the Mize Family Foundation and was organized by New America Media, in partnership with the Black Mesa Water Coalition and other environmental groups in Arizona.
Part of Hernandez’ story focused on the growing convergence of environmental concerns impacting both the Latino and Native American communities. Pointing to America’s rapidly diversifying landscape, he added, “A strong ethnic media sector is needed to cover ethnic community issues with cultural sensitivity.”
Reporter Floyd Galloway with the Arizona Informant, a weekly targeting the state’s African American community, also stressed the importance of covering environmental issues for ethnic communities. “The fellowship validated the fact that … the effects of coal mining, poverty, a lack of basic needs such as water and electricity relate across all racial lines.”
This year’s NAJA conference, held under the banner of “Our Voice, Our Stories, Our Future,” marks three decades of work spearheaded by the organization to help bring information and innovation to coverage of Indian Country.
For Noel Smith, a reporter with the Navajo Times, the fellowship opened her eyes to the many stories that are falling beneath the radar of even the most experienced journalists covering issues on the reservation.
“Without the fellowship, I would have not had a chance to look at [these issues] closely,” she told the audience.
Joshua Jovanelly with the Gila River Indian News chose to focus his story for the fellowship on water usage and rights that directly affect the Gila River Indian community, located about an hour from Phoenix.
Caught between the competing forces of economic necessity and environmental degradation, Jovanelly notes the community is “dependent on [its] own cultural destruction because of this fossil fuel-based system.”
He told the audience Friday that working with reporters from a diverse array of media backgrounds demonstrated for him the “critical role” and potential impact that ethnic media brings to the debate around climate change and the environment.
Closing the discussion was Tinna Xie, a reporter for the Arizona Chinese Times, who recalled for the audience how the Navajo Reservation reminded her of her own homeland, China.
“I thought I was not in the United States,” she said, “but traveling in some parts of China.”
Like the Navajo, China has struggled to balance the demands of economic growth and opportunity against the environmental damage that results.
“Both [places] have the same environmental and economic problems,” continued Xie. “I looked at the conflict of having the Navajo Generating Station on the reservation. It is true that [Native Americans] get jobs, but the environment suffers.”