By Jodi Rave Lee: Need To Tell Stories About Natives Fuels Pen
- Tanks to Mary M.
Need to tell stories about Natives fuels pen
By Jodi Rave Lee
Lincoln Journal Star
"In order to write really well and convincingly, one must be somewhat
poisoned by emotion. Dislike, displeasure, resentment, fault-finding,
indignation, passionate remonstrance, a sense of injustice are perhaps
corrosive to the container but they make fine fuel."
--Edna Ferber, author, 1963 NEW YORK --
"Somewhere, someplace, perhaps over the course of time, journalist and
Pulitzer-winning novelist Edna Ferber undoubtedly wrote stories and books
where she drew upon "indignation, passionate remonstrance, a sense of
As a Native person, the same passions often fuel my pen. But I'm also moved
by compassion, a need to tell culturally and spiritually uplifting stories
about the indigenous people of America. Writers are moved by a number of
passions. Some aim to turn the perfect phrase. Some to inform the reader.
Others to tell a good story.
In New York City last week I joined print and broadcast journalists
representing the ranks of reporters, editors, producers and newsroom
managers. We met as part of Columbia University's "Let's Do It Better"
workshop, where we focused on well-told stories that addressed issues of
journalism, race and ethnicity. About half the invited group included media
decision makers, so-called "gatekeepers" who have a heck of a lot to say
about what does or doesn't make it into the newspaper or the six o'clock
We all had something to learn, we all had something to share. Some of us even
were rewarded for writing well and convincingly. One thing was evident --
even among the gatekeepers known to bring diverse stories to the public --
Native people are still the "invisible" group in America, the unknowns in our
own homeland. It's a story heard too often.
We're called invisible despite our uncanny ability to not disappear.
Still, others continue to see past us. It's unsettling. Absent a national
image, our young people see only shadows of themselves; others succumb to the
darkness through suicide, substance abuse and high dropout rates.
One of the few consistent images our young people get from the media come in
the form of Native-based sports mascots. Stephanie Fryburg, a Stanford
University psychologist, and a co-worker have been researching indigenous
students' reaction to how they felt about Native peoples' names and images
used by sports teams.
The last time I reported on the results, they looked like this: 50 percent of
indigenous high school students said they opposed Native mascots; 50 percent
said they didn't mind. But overall, 90 percent said they felt it was
disrespectful. When asked why they didn't mind being used as a mascot even if
they felt it disrespectful, Fryburg said, students responded: "It's better
than being invisible."
It's a sad day when our youths are left to accept demeaning sports images
because it's the only distorted depiction of their lives that newspapers and
TV consistently bring them.
While in New York I met photographer Gwendolen Cates, a non-Native woman who
spent about two years taking pictures of Native people for "Indian Country" a
photo book filled with Native images and quotes from indigenous perspectives.
A quote from singer and songwriter Annie Humphrey remains unforgettable.
"Someone told me this; our children are looking out into society trying to
find where they belong. It's like looking in a mirror and not seeing your
reflection," said Humphrey, an Anishinabe of the Leech Lake Reservation in
Minnesota. Some of us are trying to make Native people more visible.
At one point during the Columbia University workshop I was asked if I had an
agenda. I said no. In retrospect, I would change my answer and say, "Yes, I
do." My agenda: to tell stories about indigenous people. Whether I'm filled
with compassion or poisoned by emotions, hopefully it's enough to pick up a
pen or sit down at the keyboard and "write really well and convincingly. ..."
Contact Jodi Rave Lee At: 402-473-7240 or jrave@...