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Native Storytelling Workshop at KU aims to help students hone journalism skills, improve representation

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High school students from across the country gathered at KU this week to attend the Native Storytelling Workshop, a camp held by instructors who aim to amplify Native voices through journalism.

The workshop, now in its second year, lasts four days and is co-directed by Assistant Professors Melissa Greene-Blye, member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, and Rebekka Schlichting, member of the Ioway Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska. 

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During the four days, 15 students spent time learning a wide skill set, including film production, photojournalism and more, as well as working with professional Native American journalists. They also visited the campus of Haskell Indian Nations University.

Returning student Lucius Ridge, member of the Cherokee Nation, hopes to help spread the word on Native American issues through skills he’s gained at the workshop. Ridge’s favorite part of the workshop was the ability to be creative.

“You’re doing all this work with media … It’s very cool to do this kind of stuff and to mess around in the studio,” Ridge, of Oklahoma, said. “In the news studios you get to film and get to write and brainstorm a lot of ideas. There’s a lot of freedom to be creative.”

Other students said they enjoyed the experience in general. Returning student Karen Middleton, member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas, said her favorite part of the workshop was the community they built.

Natasha Torkzaban/Lawrence Times Karen Middleton, Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas, practices running the camera.

“I think it’s a really good experience because I get to be with all Native kids, like at school I’m usually not around a lot,” Middleton said. “I really like the community we have within the class.”

The storytelling workshop is in partnership with KU’s Jayhawk Media Workshop, a journalism camp for high school students.

In addition to the community and skill set the workshop provides, it strives to teach students about the power behind storytelling.

Melissa Greene-Blye

“A lot of times, our young people don’t see journalism as a way to give back to our community,” Greene-Blye said. “We want them to understand the work of a journalist in our community; holding our leaders accountable, holding entities who come into our communities accountable … It’s a really valuable way to honor our culture and give back to their community.”

Through the power of storytelling, the workshop aims to increase representation and Native American media, as well as educate students on the harmful effects of misrepresentation. 

“Our voices and our representation has historically been underrepresented,” Greene-Blye said. “When our stories were told, they were told about us — not by us, not with us.”

Schlichting echoed that message.

“[Misrepresentation] just doesn’t create a healthy environment for any Natives going into any space,” Schlichting said.

Rebekka Schlichting

“There’s these stereotypes pushed onto you … and oftentimes, those are wrong. Media is constantly portraying us in the past, as though we don’t exist today. It can be very harmful.” 

Greene-Blye also said Native American stereotypes and misrepresentation continue to manifest in the media. She believes it’s caused by a lack of knowledge surrounding sovereignty, the right of Native American tribes to self-govern.

“There is a real lack of knowledge and understanding of what it means to be tribally sovereign,” Greene-Blye said. “It’s very difficult to cover the story accurately and fully when you don’t know that.”

Greene-Blye said there’s many obstacles that students face when trying to learn about Native American storytelling, so the workshop works hard to provide support for all Native American students to attend the event free of cost.

“There are a lot of potential obstacles to our young people pursuing that path,” Greene-Blye said. “It is a priority for us to keep this at no cost to the students because that removes one of the obstacles for them being able to do this … And the fact that we are partnered with the Native American Journalists Association to make it happen, are all things that set it apart.”

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Check out some of the students’ work from the camp at nativestorytellingworkshop.com.

Natasha Torkzaban/Lawrence Times
Natasha Torkzaban/Lawrence Times Alexandra Blye, from Tennessee, practices speaking on camera.
Natasha Torkzaban/Lawrence Times Karen Middleton, from Lawrence, practices running the camera.
Natasha Torkzaban/Lawrence Times Karen Middleton and Alexandra Blye are visible on a camera screen with a cameo from Ron Burgundy.
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Natasha Torkzaban (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a current senior at Lawrence High School. She was an editor-in-chief of The Free Press at Free State High School before becoming an editor-in-chief for The Budget at Lawrence High School for 2023-24. Read her work for the Times here.

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