Last September, the Indian Country Today Media Network suddenly stopped publishing, citing financial pressures as the reason for its decline. The network consisted of a book publisher, a magazine, and the Indian Country Today website, a prominent source of writing on Native issues. That news hung in the air as Native journalists Christine Trudeau and Tristan Ahtone discussed the future of Indigenous media, the challenges of covering Native issues, and the evolutions of their respective careers in a wide-ranging conversation for World Policy Journal. Ahtone, an award-winning journalist and member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, was in Boston on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard; Trudeau, an accomplished radio and print reporter, and a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, spoke with him from her home in Alaska.
Christine Trudeau: I work as a public radio reporter for KYUK, a station serving the entire Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, which is made up of Bethel and 56 other villages. The population here is predominately Alaskan Native—Yupik and Cup’ik, specifically. I live in Bethel, which is sort of an anomaly in a bunch of village communities, as it’s a rapidly expanding community of about 6,500 or 7,000 people.
Tristan Ahtone: I know you’re originally from California, so how did you end up there?
Trudeau: I grew up in California and studied in Northern California; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and New York City. I saw the job and a number of mentors said, “This is a great opportunity, and by starting at a smaller station, you’re going to have a lot more responsibility.” I wanted to take on something challenging and not get an internship or be an associate producer somewhere, so I applied for the job and got it. They wanted me quickly because they had just lost somebody. It was a small newsroom: They had two people when I applied, and one of those people had just left, so they were down to one.
Ahtone: To jump into our topic area here, you cover a lot of Indigenous stories. Is that because of your interest, or because of the region you’re reporting on?
Trudeau: I think I’m attuned to the kinds of stories that are valued in Indigenous communities, but it’s also definitely because of the region. When the vast majority of the population is Native, a lot of your stories are going to be Native-focused. Prior to this, I did have an interest in covering Indian country—in covering Native lands, Native issues, Native people.
* * *
* * *
[Illustration by Dominique Holmes]
* * *