Shelby Fleig first met the young Native mother at a gathering the woman’s family hosted.
Tawna Little, a 31-year-old Muscogee (Creek) from Tulsa, Okla., seemed shy and said little to her interviewer.
Fleig worried the woman’s reluctance to talk to her might jeopardize her ability to capture the details and quotes necessary to bring Little’s story to life.
And what a story.
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Fleig, a senior news editorial and political science student, had traveled to Tulsa to interview Little for a story in a magazine her class at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was producing. The recently published 146-page magazine, Native Daughters II, features profiles of Native women from Oklahoma.
A $150,000 grant to the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications from Ginette Overall, a Muscogee (Creek) woman who is CEO of a power generator company in Tulsa, funded the project. It involved 10 students, participating in a class in fall 2012 and spring 2013, traveling to Oklahoma to interview Native women and then writing their stories and producing videos for a website.
In fall 2013, another wave of students designed the magazine and website.
As with the original Native Daughters project, an accompanying curriculum guide will be created and made available for use in schools.
Other stories in the magazine include profiles of longtime Native poet, author and musician Joy Harjo, WNBA player Angel Goodrich and former Cherokee tribal president Wilma Mankiller, who died in April 2010.
Faiz Siddiqi, a junior news editorial major at UNL, served as a reporter and design editor on the project. He said his hope is Native women and girls will see the stories and photos in the magazine and be inspired to succeed in their own lives.
“If you stopped a random person on the street, they’d have trouble naming more than two Native women,” he said. “We wanted to give young Native American girls an opportunity to see themselves in a glossy magazine.”
Judi M. gaiashkibos, director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, served as a cultural expert for the students. She said the project gave the students an opportunity to immerse themselves in Native culture, while also forging connections between Oklahoma and Nebraska.
She said she intends to work to encourage schools in Oklahoma to incorporate the magazine into their classes. Oklahoma and Nebraska have much in common, she said, including connections to tribes that originated in Nebraska but were forced to move to Oklahoma.
“Nebraska is connected to Oklahoma in many, many ways,” she said.
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Little, the Muscogee (Creek) woman, served from 2008 to 2009 in the U.S. Army in Kuwait, experiencing sexual harassment from American troops. One male soldier even stalked her after she rejected him, forcing her to hide from him and adding to the stress of serving in a combat zone.
Back home, Little suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and couldn’t stop thinking about her time overseas. But she never talked to her family about what she had experienced, fearing it would only cause them to worry about her even more should she be deployed again.
So when a young college student from Nebraska knocked on her door and asked her to tell her story, Little hesitated.
Fleig now knows Little was only hoping to spare her family the ugly details of her experience. Later, when she and Little met alone, Little shared her story openly.
“She spoke about things, about her PTSD and war experiences, that she didn’t want to tell me in front of her family,” Fleig said. “It just kind of teaches you not to judge.”