Reporting On Reservations: Native News Sends Students Into The Field

Landscape photo with a sign in the foreground that reads "Welcome to Blackfeet Indian Country."
J-school students divide into teams and travel to visit different reservations across the state. Photo by Courtney Gerard.

After weeks of planning and preparation, UM journalism students in the class Native News are spending spring break reporting on their stories. The students work in teams of two that pair photojournalists with print reporters to create a complete multimedia story.

With the upcoming presidential election in November, Native News professors Jeremy Lurgio and Jason Begay decided this year’s project should focus on politics. “The President has a lot of influence over Indian country,” Begay said.

Yet Begay said the theme is not just about seeing how people on reservations vote. He posed the question, “What do they consider when thinking about politics?”

“Voting on reservations tends to be less bipartisan, especially when it comes to internal politics,” Lurgio said.

However, the reporting teams have chosen stories that dig into the specific political issues that impact their designated reservations, instead of covering the national influence. The students reporting on the Crow Reservation recently followed tribal leader Darrin Old Coyote to the 2016 Montana Energy Convention in Billings to hear him speak about how coal affected jobs on his reservation.

On Fort Belknap, Sophie Tsairis and Lenny Peppers are investigating access to voting and the satellite voting offices on the reservation. Tsairis has been posting reporting updates from Fort Belknap on Instagram.

On the Blackfeet Reservation, Courtney Gerard and Peter Friesen are digging into constitution reform. However, their trip also aligns with the arrival of 88 bison from Elk Island in Canada returning to the reservation, as part of a cultural and ecological relocation effort. To see live updates from the Blackfeet, follow Gerard’s posts on Instagram.

When the students return from the reservations, the pairs will start synthesizing their individual stories into a collaborative, multimedia piece. The final projects from each team will appear on the Native News website in May and circulate the state in the annual print edition.

Native News photographer Sophie Tsairis lays in the middle of a deserted highway to snap a photo of the landscape.
Native News photographer Sophie Tsairis tries to find the best angle to capture a spectacular landscape to illustrate her story. Photo by Lenny Peppers .

To catch the latest updates from the Native News reporting teams, follow their accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

By Jana Wiegand
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