I was rewarded with a lost art form this week: I got a real life, as I live and breathe; letter.
That's right. It was a letter that came in an envelope with a U. S. Postal Service stamp on it.
In this day of email, texting, twittering and tweeting, a genuine, hand written letter is about as rare as 25 cents a gallon gasoline. Yes, I remember when one dollar could buy four gallons of gas.
I took the letter from its envelope and held it like someone had just sent me a check for $10,000. I felt as if I had hit a major jackpot at Prairie Wind Casino at Pine Ridge. Enclosed in the envelope was a photo of one of my favorite heroes. It was the photo of the man who was my journalism mentor and the good friend who helped me found and formulate the Native American Journalists Association. His name is Bill Dulaney, former Professor of Journalism at Penn State University.
In the photo I see the face of a man who is just a shell of the vigorous, robust professor I knew 27 years ago. Bill is suffering from cancer and has come back from the steps of death several times. In fact, when he first subscribed to my newspaper, Native Sun News, last year, he said he was only going to take it for six months because he didn't think he would be around after that.
Those six months passed and shortly after I got a check for a one-year subscription with a short note telling me that maybe he wouldn't win the fight, but that he was giving it a hell of a battle. He added that Native Sun News was one of the best newspapers left in this business even adding that it was better than the daily newspaper he read in Jacksonville, Florida. Coming from this veteran of journalism it meant a lot to me.
Bill started his letter with: "How come Native Americans age better in looks than the occupiers of their land? Damned awful photo isn't it. But you should see the ones I didn't send."
Referring to a cartoon Del Iron Cloud did to accompany an editorial I wrote that depicted me sitting on a donkey, he wrote: "Congratulations to Iron Cloud for his cartoons. Only problem is that I can't figure which is better looking; you or the donkey?" The folks at the Native American Journalists Association would surely say the donkey.
This professor of journalism worked his tail off helping me raise the money to hold our initial meeting of Indian journalists at Penn State. He used his connections with the Gannett Foundation (now the Freedom Forum) to get our initial grant and then raised the money for our second meeting on the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma. We formed our first board of directors of NAJA at Choctaw with Bill present and presiding over the activities.
This man meant more than anyone else in helping Native Americans form NAJA, an organization that just celebrated its 26th anniversary. I am bothered, nay angry, that the officers of NAJA refuse to recognize the man who is mostly responsible for their very existence.
I would urge NAJA's new president, Rhonda LeValdo, to recognize the efforts of Bill Dulaney because he may not be with us much longer.
Professor Dulaney would be the first to admit that letter writing is fast becoming a lost art. It so much easier for us lazy people to send off a quick email, or go to our Facebook or send a text message, than to sit back and write a nice letter. Without letters much of the history of America would have been lost and my fear is that someday a huge burst of rays from an explosion on our sun will wipe out all of the data on computers and websites all over the world and the history they contained will be lost forever.
The letter sent to me by Professor Dulaney will be framed so that I can read it occasionally and remember how this great man went out of his way to help Native Americans join the ranks of African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans by forming the fourth journalists association. And what is more, he loved it.
I hope Native journalists who knew the "professor" will support me in my efforts to gain recognition from the organization he helped to create. Prof. Dulaney doesn't tweet, text or twitter so please write him a letter. That's doing it the old fashioned way. He would love to hear from you.
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. His weekly column won the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985. His book Children Left Behind was awarded the Bronze Medal by Independent Book Publishers. He was the first Native American ever inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2007. He can be reached at email@example.com