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UNL journalism project on Native women gets $150K boost

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Danelle Smith

Danelle Smith was born on the Winnebago Reservation in Thurston County. After spending some time at an Indian boarding school in South Dakota, she went to Iowa City for law school, and now helps the Winnebago Tribe with legal issues. (CLAY LOMNETH/University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Astrid Munn's life changed the day she met Danelle Smith, an attorney from the Winnebago Tribe who opened the Scottsbluff woman's eyes to the legal needs of Native women.

Unsure about what she wanted to do after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Munn decided to study tribal law after meeting and interviewing Smith for a magazine that featured profiles of Native women called Native Daughters.

"Native Daughters had a huge role in what I'm doing right now," said Munn, now a second-year law student at Washington University in St. Louis. She plans to focus on tribal law and hopes to one day help Native women free themselves from domestic violence, she said.

Joe Starita, a UNL journalism professor, said Native Daughters has affected all of the student journalists who helped produce it in similar ways. He and other UNL instructors plan to give more students the opportunity to learn about and meet Native women this fall as the project continues with funding from an unlikely source.

"It's just unleashed this tidal wave of responses of Native American women in the United States," Starita said. "They just want to wrap their arms around it and hold on to it."

The first Native Daughters project began in January 2009 with a $125,000 grant from the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education, a grant that triggered several other grants. Students completed reporting for the magazine in fall 2009 and designed it in spring 2010.

The 142-page color magazine features stories about Native women leaders such as Smith, environmental activist Winona LaDuke and former Oglala Lakota President Cecilia Fire Thunder, as well as young Native women from Nebraska's tribes.

After reading the magazine, Ginette Overall, a Creek and Muskogee CEO of a power generator company in Tulsa, Okla., called Starita to offer the college $150,000 to produce a Native Daughters II magazine focused on the Native women of Oklahoma. The second project starts this fall and will involve students traveling to Oklahoma and Oklahoma women visiting Lincoln, Starita said.

"It's the first publication I've ever picked up in my life that I could clearly see myself in, that I felt was written for me," Overall said.

Last month, the UNL journalism college published a free online curriculum guide meant to help teachers educate their students about Native women. Carol Rempp, coordinator for multicultural and Native education in Nebraska, said the state Department of Education decided to help produce the curriculum guide to help students learn about Native people past and present.

"We're still here. We didn't go anywhere," said Rempp, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. "We may not be as numerous as we were, but we're still here."

In July, 14 Native and non-Native educators gathered in Lincoln to design the curriculum, which matches the magazine's content to state educational standards.

"A lot of them were crying," said Scott Winter, a UNL journalism professor who helped secure a $13,000 grant from the Nebraska Humanities Council for the curriculum guide. "They felt so good about what they had done."

Rempp realized she was part of something that mattered to the future of Native women in America when her niece held up a copy of the magazine with Rempp's photo in it and said she wanted to be like her aunt.

"Just being a good role model for my own family, for my nieces, is one of the personal excitements that just makes me feel really good about being part of the project," she said.

​Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or


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