Debra Bolton (Ohkay Owingeh/Diné/Ute), director of intercultural learning and academic success at Kansas State University, spoke at the “Indigenous Voices in the Media: Telling Our Own Stories” lecture. (Julie Freijat/Kansas Reflector)
MANHATTAN — Manhattan community members and Kansas State University affiliates gathered in the K-State Student Union Tuesday to hear about indigenous experiences from indigenous people.
“Nothing about us without us,” said Debra Bolton (Ohkay Owingeh/Diné/Ute), director of intercultural learning and academic success at Kansas State University during the lecture on Tuesday. She was talking about how the news media can better tell the stories of indigenous peoples.
Her comments were part of “Indigenous Voices in the Media: Telling Our Own Stories”, sponsored by the Huck Boyd National Center for Community Media at K-State as the second annual Diverse Voices in the Media lecture.
The speakers included Bolton; Audrey Swartz (Miami), University Archives and Special Collections librarian; and Nate Armenta (Diné), assistant community coordinator for Housing and Dining Services.
The lecture is associated with events surrounding this year’s K-State First Book “The Marrow Thieves” by Cherie Dimaline. November is also Native American Heritage month, and Gloria Freeland, professor emerita of journalism at Kansas State and director emerita of the Huck Boyd center, said she thought the lecture was a good way to kick off the month.
The lecture focused on a number of topics related to indigenous peoples, including the history of exclusionary laws, generational trauma, the digital divide and indigenous voices in the media.
Bolton also spoke about how implicit bias relates to indigenous representation in the media. Implicit bias describes the subconscious bias an individual has towards a person or a group of people.
Implicit bias, Bolton said, resides deep in the subconscious and is not accessible through introspection.
“Implicit bias does feed into the indigenous voices in the media,” Bolton said. “Who was telling our story? Were we? Not always. Probably never, until now. I think we’re really trying to change that.”
Armenta talked about the digital divide on reservations and how a lack of connectivity will make it difficult to keep indigenous languages alive and cultures intact.
“For context, I have individuals, I have friends whose families have just this year gained access to running water and have gained access to electricity,” Armenta said. “There are still families who do not have access to running water or electricity, but have to travel hours to gather firewood to heat their homes.”
These issues are not recognized by the media or society, Armenta said, and need to be recognized.
After the lecture, there was a panel discussion moderated by Steve Smethers, director of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State. Lecture questions focused on how community news media could improve its coverage and repreentation of indigenous people.
Swartz said one way to help bridge the gap between indigenous voices and the media is to talk to local indigenous people.
“Reach out to the tribes, to the organizations and get that assistance,” Swartz said.
Swartz also said that the language that the news media uses in articles matters.
“The rhetoric that you’re using is perpetuating people viewing us as historic — as in the past, as not in the present,” she said.
Freeland said she hopes the lecture shows attendees how previous media images have not represented indigenous peoples well.
“If you ever, ever have a need for an indigenous point of view, don’t go to someone who reads books about it a lot or really promotes indigeneity — go to the source,” Bolton said. “We have plenty of people with the Native American student body and the indigenous faculty and staff alliance. So we’re here. We’re still here.”
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