Santa Clara Plays Host To The Native American Journalism Association’s Native Voice’s Project And Media Conference.

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by Charlie Perry


The majestic hills surrounding the city of Santa Clara

The majestic hills surrounding the city of Santa Clara (photo pulled from Google Images)


Silicon Valley with its never ending hills of beige and green timber laden mounds and  chiseled caverns surrounded me as I stepped out of the spotty populated terminal to a cool desert breeze. I took a moment to take in Northern California as a large white passenger van pulled up on my position. “Are you Charlie,” the driver said. I slowly shook my head with a bit of hesitation as I began to recall what my parents told me growing up about strangers in white vans. “Yep that’s me,” I replied. “Well hop in, I’m Pam Silas with the Native American Journalism Association and I’ll be your ride around Santa Clara for the rest of the week.” Taking another leap out of my comfort zone I climbed into the van and we were on our way.
I’m not even supposed to be here right now. I missed the initial application deadline for the NAJA internship due to an epic one on one battle of wits the night before between my friend Taylor and I. Going bucket for bucket on a best of seven series in “NBA2K” for the PlayStation I ended up on top but by then the deadline had past. Looking back it’s surreal how things seem to fall in place as I was informed two days later by my editor Ryan Coody that the deadline was pushed back a week.
As i walked through the grand golden swinging doors of the Hyatt Convention Center and Hotel I was greeted by a lavish all encumbering Victorian motif, complete with chandlers and fancy draped tables that held glass pitchers of water filled with juicy blue berries and thinly sliced green cucumbers. I couldn’t help thinking about how fancy this hotel was. This was a foreign place to a small town Kansas boy like myself until i got to my room to find the TV was broken.

After a quick nap I met Pam in the hotel lobby where she escorted me to a conference room 200 feet past the gift shop. The Native Voices Project newsroom with its dozens of MAC Computers and bounty of professional quality digital cameras was surrounded by a large exhibit on the Alcatraz Prison complete with all the luxuries of inmate life. I took some time to view a prisoners cell. I couldn’t help but compare their beds to those of Winona.
Over the next two days fifteen young people ranging from high school sophomores to students in graduate school took part in a crash course over the nuts and bolts of journalism. Students expanded on knowledge of social media, digital videos and photography alongside the basics of journalism writing. I felt like the NAJA nuts and bolts program taught me more in two days than the average college student learns in a year when it comes to journalism fundamentals. I was also very happy to be awarded the opportunity to take a satellite course in journalism through Montana University.

NAJA mentor Pam Silas leads a seminar over the effective use of social media in journalism. (photo by Charlie Perry)

NAJA mentor Val Hoeppner leads a seminar over the effective use of social media in journalism. (photo by Charlie Perry)

With training finished it was now time to research our assigned stories. Knowing the impact sports can have on society, I decided to take on an issue involving a non Native fan wearing a headdress at the San Francisco Giants promotional “Native American Heritage Night” last June.
For those of you who don’t know, a University of California Davis student April Negrette and Kimball Bighorse were detained by Giants security for confiscating a headdress from a Caucasian man attending the game. Initially when confronted the man handed over the headdress willingly after Negrette broke down in tears. A few minutes later security approached Negrette and Bighorse and returned the headdress to the man. The two were then roughly escorted from the game leading to minor injuries to Negrette. Shortly after a video of the altercation was posted on YouTube leading to national outrage from Indian country.

Read the whole story here.

A great deal of negative press came down on the Giants organization so i decided to get their side of the story. I also wanted to find out what steps, if any, the organization was taking to move forward from this incident. After hours of conversations with The Giants and Luke Lightning the head of the community organization that held “Native American Heritage Night,” I was informed that the Giants organization will no longer tolerate culturally insensitive attire and vowed to remove any parties involved in the future. I raced to the nearest MAC and updated my story minutes before deadline. Two hours later Native Voices launched our student website breaking the story to the rest of the world.  The San Francisco Giants would become the first professional sports organization to take such a stance against racist attire.

My story partner and I had at work.

My story partner Carina Dominguez and I had at work.

At the conclusion of the NAJA Native Voices Project I had a tremendous sense of pride. In only three days our team of students were able to launch a website, broadcast a thirty minute news segment and put together a twelve page newspaper.
With the Native Voices Project in the books I was rewarded with two days of free time to enjoy NAJA’s 30th Annual Native Media Conference. I had the opportunity to attend workshops on topics such as writing a better feature story, securing funding for a media project and the Sacred is Sacred panel discussion to end the continued desecration of Hickory Creek a burial sight of the Muskogee people in Alabama. I also had many chances to talk to great people such as Karen Lincoln Michel who is launching a 2016 Native American initiative to report on the presidential election and Eugene Tapahe who was a lead mentor in the Native Voices Project that shared my love for sports as a vehicle for change in society.

The 2014 Native Voices news team. (Photo courtesy of NAJA)

The 2014 Native Voices news team. (Photo courtesy of NAJA)

On my final day i had an opportunity to represent Haskell and the Indian Leader Newspaper at the NAJA Media Awards Ceremony where The  Haskell Indian Leader newspaper took home 15 of 21 awards in the student category. I was able to connect with many professional journalists as well. I took advantage of many opportunities to shed light on the state of our campus and the positive steps Haskell University is doing to help advance Native American youth.
As the 747 Southwestern “sky bus” took off for home I fought desperately to fall asleep in the dreaded middle row seat. Giving up I opened “The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance.” As i turned the page I reflected on my time in Santa Clara. In my five days as part of the project I put in over sixty hours of research, phone interviews, and writing. I met dozens of Native journalists from all corners of the country that are pushing issues affecting all of our people into the national spotlight. I had an opportunity to work with an amazing team of students and mentors well averaging four hours of sleep a night and four cups of coffee a day. I was challenged, uncomfortable and uncertain. I can honestly say i wouldn’t have had it any other way.


Charlie Perry is the Editor in Chief of the Indian Leader Newspaper, he is also a contributing writer for Charlie can be reached at