Native Students Express Themselves: Literature, Politics, New Media

Aug 15th, 2008 | By | Category: 20-1: Native Voices, Modern Media, Editor's Essay
By Tina Deschenie

DIGITAL ARTS STUDENT CONTEMPLATES A POSSIBLE LOGO. Anthony Yazzie, student at Salish Kootenai College, is studying for a job in digital media. Photo courtesy of Frank Tyro.

I admit that I tend to panic in late January when only a few student entries to the TCJ Student Writing Contest have trickled in, but then, only days before the deadline when I am inundated with entries, I regret worrying. This year was no different. Suddenly I was madly downloading entry after entry and wondering how many more could possibly flood in. The tribal college and university (TCU) teachers and their students always pull through. To all our participants, thank you so much for sharing your stories.

Native writers Elizabeth Cook-Lynn (Crow Creek Sioux) and Esther Belin (Diné) graciously read over 100 students’ entries this year. Cook-Lynn introduces the Student Edition. TCJ and the students are lucky she agreed to do so. She writes unflinchingly about all sorts of matters critical to Native communities.

Don’t miss out on all of the student writings. Many more are posted on the TCJ website at since we simply don’t have room to publish everything in our print edition.

In this issue, we are excited to bring you photos from the annual American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) Conference which was held in Bismarck this year. The conference brings together students from all 37 TCUs for meetings and competitions.

At the conference, TCJ held focus group sessions. Several students participated, including some who had submitted writing entries and others who had been the subjects of TCJ articles. They all appreciated being recognized. One asked, “What other magazine would tell our stories or publish our work?”

We use the focus groups and reader surveys to get feedback from readers. Recent responses to our reader survey indicate a desire for more student stories and particularly stories on successful alumni. We urge readers who are alumni or who know TCU alumni to contact us so we can pursue their stories.

A new – for me – find at this year’s AIHEC Conference was TCU student basketball. What a rush of excitement! Every chance I got, I watched a game or two, and I found myself yelling my head off at the men’s championship game.

Those Native guys really hustled up the hardwood at the United Tribes Technical College court. This winter, if you have the opportunity, do watch a Native basketball team – high school or TCU – play. You could just get “hooked.”

This issue focuses upon the media, including libraries. Much has changed since Tribal College Journal last addressed this theme 14 years ago in Vol. 6, No. 1. Then TCJ editor Paul Boyer wrote, “An active press cannot, on its own, build stronger societies. But it does have an important role to play. In tribal nations, the growing vitality of Indian-owned media offers reason for hope.”

Today, there are a myriad of relevant Native websites. We can key in to,,, or, in my case,, and instantly bring up news pertinent to our people. We bookmark these sites, and many others, to ensure we have relevant news on our monitor all the time. Although Native people still lack adequate representation in the publishing world, we’re inching along.

Perhaps our young people will break through in a big way in the new media; there appear to be new opportunities for them every day. From a conference on digital media by the Stanford Publishing Course, we received some of their smart, new ideas about the business of publishing: “Traditional media is focused on controlling content, while new media aims to give users tools to create content. With the convergence of wireless and digital media, we’re approaching an era of ‘all the media you want, all the time.’ YouTube is just a warm-up act for mobile. The power of the Brand is eroding –and being replaced by the Wisdom of the Crowd.”

Walt Pourier (Sicangu Lakota), our magazine designer, shares his wisdom with us regarding many things, including the need to expand our readership using the internet. He talks about the thousands of contacts one can acquire on MySpace and about the dynamics of that cyberspace community. He says, “I can post something and watch it spread everywhere within a few hours.”

You’ve probably seen it in your own households. Increasing numbers of Native youth enjoy a vibrant, constantly evolving media community on the internet.

Alongside our history with radio, print, and television, we now have podcasts that can take you onsite orally and visually. A growing number of filmmakers are documenting various aspects of Native lives. This is an exciting time of constantly changing media forms and formats. Salish Kootenai College, Oglala Lakota College, United Tribes Technical College, Haskell Indian Nations University, and the Institute of American Indian Arts are leading the way in this realm, according to the research done by Juan A. Avila Hernandez (Yoeme/Yoi) and reported in this issue.

Back in 1994 (Vol. 6, No.1), Marjane Ambler, my predecessor, compared tribal libraries to storytellers and noted how they can help to release reservations from isolation. Much of what she wrote back then remains true today.

In this issue, James Thull writes about the TCU libraries and the challenges they face. While much work remains in order to upgrade and improve many facilities, some progress is being made. The Institute of American Indian Arts Library is all hushed elegance and beautiful artwork. This magazine, along with other publications, is kept in a glass compartment there. A library everyone can visit anytime is the AIHEC Virtual Library (at

Patty Talahongva (Hopi/Tewa) reports the opinions of some TCU students about Election 2008 – the Big One. Interestingly, both Democratic presidential contenders have visited Indian Country, and one campaign stop took place at Salish Kootenai College!

Close to our press deadline, we became aware of Kevin Killer (Oglala Lakota/Kiowa), who is in the South Dakota legislative state race. He is also a student at Oglala Lakota College. Killer has been actively involved in politics for a few years now.

We welcome our new leader, Carrie Billy (Diné), who took over as executive director of AIHEC in June 2008. She was formerly our deputy director, so we’ve actually known her for some time. And Dr. Gerald Gipp, our former executive director, we know you’ll continue reading. Thank you so much, and we wish you grand times as you drive that RV all over Indian Country.

Tina Deschenie (Diné/Hopi) worked in Indian education prior to joining the Tribal College Journal as editor in 2006.

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