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In a move signaling a major shift in the organization, UNITY: Journalists for Diversity announced Monday that the coalition will hold its first regional conference for an event planned on the homeland of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.
The regional event titled “Empower Your Lakota Story” on May 2 will bring journalists around the country to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for a gathering centered on media literacy, multimedia training, entrepreneurial journalism and a special town hall.
The conference comes weeks after 57 children from American Horse School were racially harassed at a Rapid City minor league hockey game. Calls by the community and the tribe have been made to get the story out beyond the usual stereotypical pieces.
UNITY president Russell Contreras said members of the Oglala Lakota nation asked for UNITY’s assistance following the fallout over the harassment and rising tensions. Contreras was happy to appoint former Lakota Country Times Editor Karin Eagle to head a task force to explore a regional event.
Eagle said UNITY’s presence is long overdue on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation because of the need for tribal members to be empowered to tell their own stories.
“We have a long and beautiful tradition of storytelling,” Eagle said. “The only people who can best tell the stories of the Lakota people are the Lakota people, and I am proud to work with UNITY to bring the skills and knowledge to Pine Ridge in the pursuit of that kind of empowerment.”
American Horse School board member Justin Poor Bear is helping to organize the event.
Lincoln Journal Star writer Kevin Abourezk, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, will be the event’s keynote speaker.
Among the scheduled presenters are Syndicated Native American Cartoonist Ricardo Caté, Associated Press Navajo Nation writer Felicia Fonseca, and Colorado Springs Gazette Social Media Manager and Native American Journalists Association board member Dalton Walker.
Workshops will include building simple websites, social media training and cartooning. A town hall meeting with local journalists of color also is planned for members of the community.
The day after the regional event, a delegation from Pine Ridge will show journalists around the reservation to demonstrate the nation’s challenges and illustrate the need for more accurate stories.
Contreras said UNITY, a coalition of minority journalists, is moving toward an active and impactful mission, rather than an organization that is seen as just holding a conference every four years. “I believe it’s time that UNITY start organizing regional events in areas of the country frequently overlooked and in communities struggling with poverty,” Contreras said. “Pine Ridge is hopefully the first of many such gatherings. We are excited for this new effort.”
The board of directors for UNITY is scheduled to meet in Washington on April 11 to discuss a long-term strategic plan for the organization. Contreras said board members will review, comment and approve any plans that will be shared with the public.
UNITY Journalists for Diversity is a strategic alliance that:
- Advocates fair and accurate coverage about diversity — especially race, nationality, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation.
- Aggressively challenges that industry to staff its organizations at all levels to reflect the country’s diversity.
The UNITY board is made up of representatives from the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association, and NLGJA: The Association of LGBT Journalists.