Native editor ends chapter at P-I

by Annie Greenberg, RezNet

This story could start out: Newspapers are dying — Mark Trahant is losing his job. But Trahant wouldn't like that.

While Trahant, editorial page editor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, will join thousands of other laid-off journalists after the paper's last print edition today, he remains optimistic about the state of the industry.

"I think the opportunities are going to be extraordinary," he said. "(Young journalists) aren't going to be doing the things I did, but they're not going to be any less important — they just have to get used to the changes and see where it goes."

Trahant, 51 and Shoshone-Bannock, is perhaps the best known Native American journalist of his generation, with a resume stretching from the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Idaho to the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. He was publisher of the Navajo Times in Window Rock, Ariz., over 20 years ago when the Navajo Nation president suspended publication — a move largely believed to be retaliation for the paper's endorsement for a rival candidate.

"He's the Guy I Looked Up to and Wanted to be"

For Rhonda LeValdo, vice president of the Native American Journalists Association, Trahant has been an inspiration since she was an undergraduate at Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas. When the school newspaper celebrated its 100th anniversary, she said, she and the rest of its staff could think of no one else they'd rather celebrate with at that year's NAJA conference than Trahant.

"He was the icon of Native reporting, of actually doing things that needed to be done, like when he went to the Navajo Times and to Idaho," LeValdo, 34, explained. "He's the guy I looked up to and wanted to be — a person who had a following, who's a great writer AND a great reporter."

For now, Trahant said he plans to focus on the book he's writing about Henry Jackson, a U.S. senator from Washington whom he described as the primary sponsor for the golden era of Indian legislation. Trahant specifically wants to recognize the work of Forrest Gerard, a Blackfeet Indian who was one of Jackson's aides and the first Native to work on Capitol Hill.

Looking back on his 34-year career, Trahant said he couldn't pick a single favorite career highlight — every job has brought with it something equally amazing. He said he'd miss the people he's worked with at each newspaper the most, followed by the landscape outside his current office.

A Unique Vantage Point on the World

"I have the best view in the world — my office looks over the Puget Sound, and some days I look out my window and think, 'Oh my, I'll miss that," he said.

Fittingly enough, Trahant's lasting legacy in this digital age isn't anything he's written. Mention his name to any young Native reporter and they'll probably laugh, and then bring up the YouTube clip of him and George W. Bush.

At the UNITY: Journalists of Color conference in 2004, Trahant asked the then-president what tribal sovereignty means in the 21st Century. And in front of thousands of reporters, Bush answered: "Tribal sovereignty means that. It's sovereign. You're a ... you're a ... you've been given sovereignty and you're viewed as a sovereign entity."

No matter how many times the clip is mentioned, Trahant said he doesn't get tired of it, because it's a great way to talk about tribal sovereignty.

For LeValdo, it was the kind of moment that resonates. "Who would have thought he would have stumped the president?" she asked. "What a great memory ... people may not remember (Trahant's) name, but they'll remember that."

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey