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Learning to cover Indigenous communities with JoVonne Wagner

Journalist JoVonne Wagner, a fellow for NPR's Next Gen Radio project this year reported about how a Blackfeet chef uses food knowledge to combat global warming.

Wagner, who is also a member of the Blackfeet Nation, then spent the summer teaching high school students about how to cover stories that involve Native people. She joined MTPR’s Freddy Monares to share her experience watching others cover Indigenous communities and her approach as she starts her career.

This is an automatically generated transcript which may contain transcription errors.

Freddy Monares Yeah. So you're a senior at the journalism school at the University of Montana. Tell us about the story you produced for the next gen radio project.

JoVonne Wagner Yeah. I produced a story involving Mariah Gladstone, who is an Indigenous chef from the same community I am from from the Blackfeet Nation. She also has her own cooking show called The IndigiKitchen.

Freddy Monares What drew you to that story?

JoVonne Wagner So that NPR Next-Gen had a topic and it was climate change. I thought, Mariah, because I knew that the interview had to be in person. And she works greatly with food sovereignty and traditional food systems and food security with Blackfeet Nation. I think that's great work. I asked her if she wanted to sit down with me for a recorded audio interview, talking about her work and I guess how she sees it's impacted by, you know, climate change and the changing environment.

Freddy Monares You're in the last semester, is that right?

JoVonne Wagner Yeah, I'm a senior and I will be graduating in December.

Freddy Monares Very cool. And I only bring that up because I want to know, what do you want to do with your career?

JoVonne Wagner Ultimately, I want to stay and sharpen my skills reporting in Indigenous communities or on Indigenous affairs.

Freddy Monares Is there a particular subject that you'd like to tackle within Indigenous communities?

JoVonne Wagner For me it's been a really big learning experience trying to figure out reporting and in a tribe in regards to freedom of press, freedom of information. And I think that it's it's interesting because each tribe is so different and how how that works. So I want to I want to learn more about it. I want to, I guess, report more about it, understand the challenges that come with that.

Freddy Monares Do you think it's important to have more native representation in the news industry?

JoVonne Wagner Yes, I think that. I think representation matters across any career choice, any any school. Specifically in media and news and journalism. We are super, super underrepresented. And even though there are very great trends and strides right now, that's changing. But I'm so glad to see. We need more. You know, we need more indigenous storytellers. That's who we were as people. The more representation we have the lead to a fuller and accurate stories being reported in Indian Country. But that's also not to say that, you know, encouraging all journalists, non-native and native journalists. We need more people to be reporting in indigenous communities.

Freddy Monares Yeah, that kind of brings me to my next question kind of nicely. How do you hope Indigenous communities are represented in the news and are you seeing that right now?

JoVonne Wagner I am seeing more and more amazing stories being being brought by native publications. I follow such as Indian Country Today, Navajo Times, High Country News. But you know, their main audiences are indigenous people. I would hope to see, I guess, for local newspapers and radio stations, even national national publications. Just more stories about the incredible and diverse and powerful things happening within our our reservations, within our communities, our schools. There's just so much to tell. There's so much good things happening.

Freddy Monares Yeah. And what advice do you have for covering Indigenous communities for early career journalists?

JoVonne Wagner I guess the top thing to say really work on or build relationships and understanding Indigenous people in communities, whether that's giving support to your local campus power that happens every spring or just, you know, being a human and talking to people and making friendships, you know, it is I can understand how it might be intimidating to do so. But, you know, at the end of the day, we're just people trying to talk to other people and learn from their experiences, too.

Freddy Monares Jovan Wagner completed a fellowship with NPR's next gen radio this year, where she reported on a Blackfeet chef who is using food knowledge to combat climate change. Jovan, thanks so much for taking the time and sharing with us today.

JoVonne Wagner Thank you for having me.

Montana isn't all cattle herds and fields of waving grain. This sprawling state is also full of food deserts — places without many affordable, healthy…

Freddy Monares is a reporter and Morning Edition host at Montana Public Radio.