August 2012

Native Public Media’s Digital Journalism and Storytelling:


An Innovative Approach to Address the Digital and Media Divide in Indian Country


Media has a vital role to play in supporting tribal economic and community development and is tied directly to the nation-building efforts of sovereign tribes. Native Public Media’s name reflects the Flagstaff, AZ-based organization’s explicit vision to empower Native people across the United States to participate actively in all forms of media and to do it on their own terms.

Native Public Media’s programs are rooted in Native American history, arts, language and culture. Members represent a cross-section of broadcast facilities, both terrestrial and digital, serving Indian Country and Native media-makers whose voices are increasingly being heard across tribal communities and throughout the world.

NPM’s mission is to promote healthy, engaged and independent Native communities through media access, control and ownership. The organization is achieving this through partnerships with Native media makers, tribal leaders, industry, government, allies and the corporate and nonprofit sectors. NPM’s mission focuses on four competency areas:

Community Engagement—providing Native communities with access, knowledge and resources to ensure they have a voice to fully participate and benefit from the Information Age

Digital Ecology—creating a digital footprint for media growth in Indian Country

Storytelling— providing information, technical support and training to build a solid national communications system in Indian Country

Policy/Advocacy— producing proactive programs of policy analysis, representation and education to secure a voice for Native America among policy-making bodies and among the media democracy movement, promoting greater access and larger audiences for Native American voices.

Last month NPM hosted its annual Native Media Summit on the campus of its partner, the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe. The summit followed NPM’s first Digital Journalism and Storytelling Intensive, which was also based at IAIA. The tribal college provided a unique learning environment to support focus, reflection, critical dialogue, skill sharing, culturally-relevant teaching and the development of a Native, peer-to-peer network. Native American academic professors created the course; curriculum was rooted in an understanding of the challenges and barriers tribal communities face in bridging to digital technologies. Students earned college credits and learned to apply media and journalism skills in ways that benefit Native communities.

The students came from 12 diverse tribal communities, including Tlingit (AK), Nez Perce (ID), Hopi (AZ), Tohono O’Odham (AZ), Southern Ute (CO), Confederated Tribes of Umatilla (OR), Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (OR), White Earth Band of Chippewa (MN), Chippewa Cree from Rocky Boy (MT), Leech Lake Band of Objibwe (MN), Pascua Yaqui (AZ), and the Chickasaw Nation (OK).

The students learned both theory and practice—from journalism ethics and story construction to equipment and software use. NPM provided industry-standard equipment for the course: a Macbook Pro, iPod Touch and a Tascam digital audio recorder.

Ohkay Owingeh leaders invited the class to apply their skills by working with the Pueblo’s elders and youth. Students learned firsthand about cultural considerations that may impact storytelling with regard to tribal communities. Through personal interactions and interviews, the students learned how new digital storytelling tools can help tribal communities preserve tribal languages, culture and history.

The students are now ambassadors of the Native Media Network. Part of their responsibility is to ensure that the network is accountable to their tribal relations. Through their work, the voices and intellectual capacity of Native people will add to the discourse on the economy, climate change, health, education, public safety, the electoral process and much more. The stories they help share, once untold or underappreciated, can provide a window into Native cultures and lifeways, help place the significance of Native people on the historical timeline and symbolize the freedom of Native people being who they are.

For more information, to donate equipment or funding, call 928.853.4562, email or visit




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