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Native American Journalists Association Owes A Lot to Allen Neuharth, Founder of USA Today

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There have been so many people assuming to be co-founders of the Native American Journalists Association that I will tell you how it started and let you determine who is a co-founder or not.

In 1983, after sending letters to every Indian newspaper we could find, Adrian Louis, Professor William Dulaney of Penn State and I raised the money through the Gannett Foundation to invite any and all Indian journalists to come to an explorative meeting on the campus of Penn State to determine if there was enough support for an Indian journalist association.

About 30 people met on June 22 - 24 at Penn State. We discussed the idea and then everybody went their separate ways. After securing more funds through Gannett I sent out more letters asking those still interested in forming a Native American press group to meet at Tuskahoma, Oklahoma on August 24 - 26 of 1984. The Choctaw Nation was kind enough to give us a place to stay and food for the three-day meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to draw up a constitution and by-laws, name the association, and elect a board of directors.

We accomplished all of these things. We named the group the Native American Press Association. Thirteen Indian journalists showed up for that first official meeting. They were Adrian Louis of the Lakota Times, Mary Polanco of the Jicarilla Chieftain, Mike Burgess of the Talking Leaf, Sid Miller of the Spilyay Tymoo, Patty Bowen of the Bishinik, Minnie Two Shoes of the Wotanin Wowapi, Jose Barreiro of Cornell University, Anita Austin of the NARF Legal Review, Lenore Keeshig-Tobias of Sweetgrass Magazine, Loren Tapahe of the Navajo Times Today, Verna Friday of Sweetgrass Magazine, George Gorospe of the Pueblo News, Richard LaCourse of the Indian Finance Digest, Professor Bill Dulaney of Penn State, and I of the Lakota Times.

On the ballot for president I received 8 votes, Richard LaCourse got 2 votes and Adrian Louis got 1 vote. Loren Tapahe got 7 votes for vice president, Anita Austin got 6 votes for Secretary and Mary Polanco received unanimous votes for Treasurer. And so the first board of directors was set. All of the people listed above were then named as Directors. I invited Charles "Chuck" Trimble of the National Congress of American Indians to address our first board meeting.

We scheduled our first convention for the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon. The two people most responsible for funding us in the early days were Jerry Sass and Al Neuharth of the Gannett Foundation. Neuharth suggested that we invite members of the other minority journalists associations to our convention. We invited Gerald Garcia of the Hispanic Journalists Association and Ben Johnson of the Black Journalists Association and Neuharth advised us to change our name to the Native American Journalists Association in order to tie us closer to the other minority journalists associations and this was done at a later date.

Our initial funds of $86,000 were provided by Sass and Neuharth of the Gannett Foundation in Gannett stocks. We did not choose an executive director until after our first convention at Warm Springs. Margaret Clarke Price of Scottsdale, Arizona was selected as our first executive director and Karen Lincoln, an Arizona State student at the time, was chosen as her assistant.

Our first task was to find the funds to survive. Neuharth, Sass and Dulaney were the anchors that provided the funds to get us through the early years. Without their generosity, NAJA would not have survived.

Allen Neuharth continued to come to our annual conventions, make a short speech and hand me a generous check. NAJA owes a great debt of gratitude to this man from Alpena, South Dakota, and the founder of USA Today.

When Al retired from USA Today he took charge of the Gannett Foundation changing the name to The Freedom Forum. Al's autographed book, "Confessions of an S.O.B.," is still on my bookshelf. He wrote, "Don't ever let up on us, Tim" on the inside cover.

NAJA celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2009. The association has had to adapt to the new onslaught of the I-Phones, Internet, Twitter, Texting, blogs, Facebook and all of the other innovations that continue to change the face of journalism.

And like any non-profit in these hard economic times, securing adequate funding is still a struggle. A new generation of journalists, led by Rhonda LeValdo of Haskell Indian Nations University at the helm as president, NAJA is seeking to find its place in the new world of journalism.

So in a nutshell, that is the history of the Native American Journalists Association and I encourage all Natives involved in the media to join this vibrant organization and help lead it into the 21st Century. Just go to naja.com or call 405-325-9008 for the answers to all of your questions.

(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the editor and publisher of Native Sun News. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1990 and he was the first president of the Native American Journalists Association. His weekly column won the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985. He was the first Native American ever inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame. He can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com)