American Indian Journalist Mark Trahant

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Journalist Mark Trahant is an independent American Indian journalist whose blog covers Native Americans and politics. He is also a faculty member at the University of North Dakota and a former reporter at several papers, including the Arizona Republic. Trahant will talk to journalism students at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication about how Native Americans are changing the political landscape, and will talk about that on Arizona Horizon.

TED: NATIVE AMERICANS ARE CHANGING THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE. SO SAYS MARK TRAHANT, AN AMERICAN INDIAN JOURNALIST WHOSE BLOG COVERS A VARIETY OF NATIVE AMERICAN ISSUES, HE'S ALSO A FACULTY MEMBER AT THE UNIVERSITY THE NORTH DAKOTA AND A FORMER REPORTER AT SEVERAL PAPERS INCLUDING THE "ARIZONA REPUBLIC." HERE NOW TO DISCUSS THE IMPACT OF NATIVE AMERICANS ON AMERICAN POLITICS IS MARK TRAHANT. THE IMPACT OF AMERICAN INDIANS ON AMERICAN POLITICS, WHAT ARE YOU SEEING?

MARK TRAHANT: TWO CENTURIES WHERE FOLKS HAVE BEEN DISCONNECTED AND THIS YEAR, THERE'S BEEN A BLOSSOMING BOTH IN TERMS OF NUMBERS AND MORE IMPORTANT, IN TERMS OF TALENT. THERE'S A EXTRAORDINARY GROUP OF PEOPLE RUNNING FOR OFFICE. FROM COUNTY COMMISSIONERS TO CONGRESS.

TED: THINGS ARE CHANGING, WHY DO YOU THINK THEY'RE CHANGING?

MARK TRAHANT: I THINK PEOPLE ARE FINDING OPPORTUNITIES. ONE OF THE FIND INFORMATION MY BLOG, WE'RE NOW AT SEVEN STATES THAT MIGHT HIT PARITY WITH AS MANY NATIVE AMERICANS IN THE LEGISLATURE AS A PERCENTAGE OF THE POPULATION.

TED: INTERESTING.

MARK TRAHANT: THAT SAYS A LOT OF GOOD THINGS.

TED: WHEN YOU SAY AMERICAN INDIANS ARE CHANGING THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE, WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

MARK TRAHANT: LOOKING FOR NEW WAYS TO DEFINE SUCCESS AND NEW WAYS TO GET REPRESENTATION. I'LL GIVE AN EXAMPLE. THE MOST SUCCESSFUL STATE HAS BEEN MONTANA AND IN MONTANA, NOW CAUCUS OF THE STATE LEGISLATURE GOT TOGETHER AND SET PRIORITIES. ONE WAS LOOKING FOR WAYS TO FIND NON-INDIAN STUDENTS TO ATTEND TRIBAL COLLEGES AND PUSHED IT THROUGH THE LEGISLATURE AND ADDED THEM TO THE SYSTEM.

TED: I KNOW KEY ISSUES, JOBS AND HOMES AND THESE THINGS, LIVING CONDITIONS AND THESE SORT OF THINGS, BUT ISSUES LIKE THE STANDING ROCK AND THE PIPELINE. WHAT ARE THOSE THINGS AND -- THE PIPELINE, WHY ARE THEY SO IMPORTANT?

MARK TRAHANT: THE DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE AND THE STANDING ROCK, IS THE MOST INTERESTING STORY, THE FIRST TIME IN THIS CENTURY, THE TRIBES CAME TOGETHER FROM ACROSS NORTH AMERICA, INCLUDING SOUTH AMERICA AND SAID WE SHARE THESE VALUES. IT STARTED OFF AS A FIGHT OVER A PIPELINE AND WHERE IT WAS LOCATED BUT BECAME FOR BROADER IN TERMS OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND OUR VALUES AND A CROSS-SECTION OF WHAT IS IMPORTANT GOING FORWARD.

TED: SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAVE AMERICAN INDIANS SPEAKING WITH ONE VOICE.

MARK TRAHANT: VERY CLEARLY. I'VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT, PEOPLE COMING TOGETHER. AND ANOTHER THING, IT'S A EXTRAORDINARY SOCIAL MEDIA STORY, THERE WILL BE A POST OF AN INCIDENT AND WITHIN A HOUR, 700,000 VIEWS OF FACEBOOK.

TED: I WAS GOING TO ASK HOW MUCH OF THAT VOICE WAS ON SOCIAL MEDIA. THE IMPACT OF SOCIAL MEDIA ON GETTING NATIVE AMERICANS JUST MORE INVOLVED, I MEAN, I WOULD HAVE TO IMAGINE IT'S HELPING QUITE A BIT.

MARK TRAHANT: IT IS, KIND OF BRINGING TOGETHER PEOPLE FROM ACROSS INDIAN COUNTRY SO PEOPLE FROM ALASKA CAN CONVERSE ON A DAILY BASIS WITH PEOPLE FROM ARIZONA AND SHARE IDEAS AND DREAMS.

TED: A FACTOR AS WELL IS GETTING ACCESS TO THE EQUIPMENT NEEDS TO GET ONLINE.

MARK TRAHANT: AND WHAT CHANGED THAT IS THE CELLPHONE. THE CELLPHONE IS NOW THE PRIMARY DISTRIBUTION VEHICLE.

TED: ISN'T THAT INTERESTING? SO MUCH CONCERN WITH COMPUTERS AND P.C.'S ON RESERVATION LAND, THAT'S TAKEN A BACK SEAT BECAUSE EVERYONE IS CONNECTED ANYWAY.

MARK TRAHANT: IT'S MOBILE.

TED: AS FAR AS THOUGHTS ON THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE, WHAT YOU HEARING OUT THERE?

MARK TRAHANT: WELL, BY AND LARGE, EXCEPT FOR OKLAHOMA AND A COUPLE OF OTHER PLACES, INDIANS TEND TO VOTE DEMOCRATIC IN ONE-SIDED NUMBERS. THAT FACTORS IN THIS ELECTION AS WELL. I THINK OF THE BIG QUESTION IS WILL MILLENNIALS VOTE AND THE SAME QUESTION WITH NATIVE AMERICAN PEOPLE, IS WHAT KIND OF NUMBERS WILL THEY HAVE. IT'S NOT WHETHER, IT'S HOW MANY.

TED: WHY DO OKLAHOMANS VOTE REPUBLICAN.

MARK TRAHANT: PROBABLY FROM THE DAYS OF ANDREW JACKSON WHERE THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY HAD A BAD NAME.

TED: AS FAR AS CURRENT CANDIDATES I READ, I THINK ON YOUR BLOG, SOME FOLKS ARE SEEING DONALD TRUMP, THEY MAY NOT AGREE WHAT HE DOES, BUT HE'S A CHANGE AGENT AND SEE HILLARY CLINTON AS THE ESTABLISHMENT, TIME FOR A CHANGE. ARE YOU HEARING THAT?

MARK TRAHANT: A LITTLE BIT AND I DID WRITE IT. WHERE YOU SEE THAT IS FOLKS THAT WERE REALLY FOR BERNIE SANDERS AND THEY THOUGHT THAT HILLARY CLINTON IS VERY MUCH THE ESTABLISHMENT AND THEY WONDER IF DONALD TRUMP WOULD BRING MORE OF THAT. IT'S INTERESTING BECAUSE ON THE SAME LEVEL OF DISCOURSE YOU'LL HAVE THEM SAYING THAT ABOUT DONALD TRUMP AND THEN THEY'LL ALSO TALK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S ROLE. THEY'RE KIND OF CONTRADICTORY.

TED: IT'S INTERESTING BECAUSE I JUST WANT CHANGE, I JUST WANT SOMETHING DIFFERENT. EVEN IF IT'S OFF THE BEATEN TRACK.

MARK TRAHANT: EXACTLY.

TED: WHY DO YOU THINK BERNIE SANDERS CONNECTED SO WELL?

MARK TRAHANT: ONE, HE UNDERSTOOD THE IMPORTANCE OF PROTOCOL. WHEN THEY WENT INTO A COMMUNITY, THEY WOULD SET IT WITH TRIBAL LEADERS AND IT SHOWED A GREAT DEAL OF RESPECT AND I THINK THAT STARTED IT. THE OTHER THING, YOUNG PEOPLE UNDERSTAND -- THREE OUT OF FOUR, RECOGNIZE CLIMATE CHANGE AS THE BIG THREAT GOING FORWARD AND HE TALKED ABOUT THAT A LOT. AND IN A WAY THAT'S NOT JUST YEAH, CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL, BUT WE'VE GOT TO TAKE REAL STEPS TO MAKE CHANGES.

TED: YEAH, AS FAR AS TURNOUT?

MARK TRAHANT: TWO STATES -- DOESN'T GET REPORTED. NATIVE AMERICANS VOTE IN HIGHER PERCENTAGES THAN OTHER POPULATION GROUPS. NEW MEXICO AND MONTANA, WE'LL SEE IF THAT SPREADS ACROSS INDIAN COUNTRY.

TED: ON YOUR BLOG, AS FAR AS MILLENNIALS, NATIVE AMERICAN MILLENNIALS GROWING AT A FASTER RATE.

MARK TRAHANT: IT'S VERY YOUNG AND GROWING MUCH FASTER.

TED: YOU MENTIONED GETTING OUT THE MILLENNIAL VOTE. ARE THERE GET OUT OF THE VOTE EFFORTS UNDERWAY?

MARK TRAHANT: THERE ARE A NUMBER OF THEM AND THE BIG PUSH, I THINK, FROM A LOT OF VOTER ORGANIZATION GROUPS IS TO VOTE EARLY AND THE ADVANTAGE OF AN EARLY VOTE, YOU DON'T FORGET. YOU'RE DONE, THERE'S A BIG PUSH TO GET ABSENTEE BALLOTS, VOTE BY MAIL. WHATEVER TAKES IT OUT OF THE EQUATION.

TED: YOU'RE A JOURNALIST -- BEEN A JOURNALIST FOR A LONG TIME. NATIVE AMERICAN, JOURNALISM AND AMERICAN INDIANS, WHAT IS THAT DYNAMIC LIKE?

MARK TRAHANT: I THINK JOURNALISTS ARE NATURAL STORYTELLERS AND THERE'S A STORYTELLING TRADITION IN MOST AMERICAN INDIAN CULTURES. SO THAT FITS TOGETHER PERFECTLY. WHERE WE HAVE MISSED OUT IS THERE HAVEN'T BEEN ENOUGH PEOPLE TO HAVE REPRESENTATION IN THE MEDIA. NATIONAL TELEVISION HAD ONE NATIVE AMERICAN AND WHEN SHE RETIRED FOM CBS THAT WAS IT. I THINK WE HAVE TO DO BETTER IN TERMS OF GETTING REPRESENTATION.

TED: HOW DO YOU DO BETTER?

MARK TRAHANT: GET -- HIRING EDITORS AND TELEVISION NEWS TO TAKE A CHANCE. ON THE NATIONAL SCALE, THERE'S A WAY TO GO.

TED: AS FAR AS PLACES LIKE NEW MEXICO, OKLAHOMA, MONTANA, DO YOU SEE MORE JOURNALISTS THERE?

MARK TRAHANT: YES, AND ARIZONA AT THE LOCAL LEVEL, THERE'S GOOD SUCCESS STORIES.

TED: I MENTIONED GROWING -- YOUNG FOLKS GROWING AT A FASTER RATE THAN THE REST OF THE COUNTRY, ARE THERE FOLKS TO KEEP AN EYE ON AS FAR AS LEADERSHIP. POLITICAL LEADERSHIP BUT OTHER LEADERSHIP IN GENERALLY. ARE THERE NAMES THAT WE'LL BE HEARING IN THE COMING YEARS?

MARK TRAHANT: ABSOLUTELY. MY PUNCHLINE FOR THE TALK I'M GIVING TONIGHT, BUT THE LEADERSHIP ALWAYS COMES FROM STATE LEGISLATURES AND IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHO THE FIRST AMERICAN INDIAN PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, I WOULD LOOK TO THE STATE LEGISLATURE AND SEE WHO IS THE STAR AND I SUGGEST HER NAME WILL BE PAULETTE OR DENISE OR SOMEBODY LIKE THAT.

TED: ARE THOSE SPECIFIC PEOPLE YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT.

MARK TRAHANT: OH, YEAH.

TED: WHERE ARE THEY?

MARK TRAHANT: MONTANA, IDAHO, PEGGY FLANAGAN IN MINNESOTA IS ONE THAT IS A REAL STAR.

TED: AND WE SHOULD MENTION YOU'RE SPEAKING AT THE WALTER CRONKITE SCHOOL OF MASS COMMUNICATION TONIGHT. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO TALK TO THEM ABOUT?

MARK TRAHANT: THE ELECTION. WE'LL GO THROUGH THE DATA AND THE RACES AND HAVE A GOOD CONVERSATION.

TED: QUICKLY, OF COURSE, IF THERE'S ONE THING THAT SURPRISES YOU FROM THE DATA YOU HAVE SO FAR, WHAT IS IT?

MARK TRAHANT: HOW DEEP THE TALENT IS. WE HEAR ABOUT THE CHALLENGES. BUT RARELY ABOUT THE REMARKABLE PEOPLE THAT ARE LEADING THE NEXT GENERATION.

TED: IT FEELS LIKE A OPTIMISTIC TIME.

MARK TRAHANT: I THINK SO.

TED: GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE. THANKS FOR JOINING US, WE APPRECIATE IT.

Mark Trahant: Independent American Indian Journalist

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