This originally appeared on ohiotoday.org.
From a young age, Caitlin Hunt loved to do three things: read, write, and talk to people. So, it came as no surprise when the Ohio University junior chose to pursue a career in journalism.
Hunt, a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, was surprised to learn, though, just how severe the lack of Native American representation in the news really is.
Today, she’s determined to be part of what she sees as the solution.
“I think we should use the media to really tell more Native American stories and break down those stereotypes and give them coverage that they deserve on a national level,” she says.
Hunt’s not alone, which she discovered this year after being named one of just ten fellows of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), a national organization dedicated to improving Native American representation in mainstream media.
The first NAJA Fellow at OHIO, Hunt landed a summer internship at the “Today Show” and received a $10,000 scholarship—both opportunities made possible by her involvement with NAJA.
Additionally, Hunt attended this fall’s National Native Media Conference, which is designed to give the NAJA Fellows a crash course in the fast-paced world of journalism.
“With how the conference is set up, we really are diving into the journalism field. It’s very much a newsroom setting,” Hunt says. “I just really realized, ‘Okay, this is where I’m meant to be. I want to be a journalist. This is exactly what I want to do.’”
It was Hunt’s academic advisor, Associate Professor of Journalism Victoria LaPoe, who pushed her to pursue the NAJA Fellowship, unlocking this cascade of opportunities to grow outside the classroom.
Hunt and LaPoe share more than a passion for journalism, though. They also share their indigenous heritage.
“I feel really blessed to have been connected with her because she’s just been so supportive, especially in this past year,” Hunt says of LaPoe, who is Cherokee. “It’s just great to have a support system here, especially someone who is also Native American, who is also involved in Native American media.”
As a lifetime member and a former board member, vice president and education chair of NAJA, LaPoe is deeply connected with the organization and its mission. But for LaPoe, NAJA means even more than that.
“When I was on the board, several members became like family,” she says. “We worked like a newsroom addressing ethical issues and fundraising for the good of Indigenous journalism. Working with those who have the same passion as you doesn’t feel like work, but a mission.”
That sense of belonging is now being passed down to Hunt, who says she, too, discovered a new “family” in NAJA.
“I felt really comfortable interacting and talking with them because they understood a lot of the issues I am passionate about regarding Native American and racial relations that a lot of my friends don’t necessarily understand or feel comfortable talking about,” Hunt says. “So, it was just really cool to connect and bond and make those connections with those people.”
Applications for the 2020 Native American Journalism Fellowship are due March 31. View more and apply here.