After an interest in photography sparked Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community youth Shanae Conger to work as an intern at Au-Authm Action News, it led her to even more opportunities. Each year, the Work Inforcement Act (WIA) program provides summer jobs to students in the various areas in the tribal governemnt.
After two sessions with Au-Authm Action News, Conger’s name came up as a possible candidate to apply for the Native American Journalists Association’s (NAJA) high school program, Project Phoenix. Au-Authm Action News, Managing Editor Dodie Manuel contacted WIA Case Manager Melissa Gonzales to get in touch with Conger about the opportunity. Conger would be the fourth SRPMIC Community member to participate in Project Phoenix and explore a possible career in journalism, following Ira Goodwin, Michelle Washington and myself.
Each year, up to a dozen high school students from around the country gather at the NAJA convention to find out what it takes to put together a newspaper. During the course of one week, the Project Phoenix students learn the basics of news writing and photojournalism and produce a newspaper called Rising Voices.
Some of the best reporters in Indian Country, who include former Project Phoenix participants, serve as the instructors for the program.
Project Phoenix seeks to expose high school students to the powerful world of journalism and how it can have an impact on not only Indian Country, but the rest of the nation. Several Project Phoenix grads have gone on to pursue journalism as their college major and career.
This year the NAJA Convention was held in St. Paul, Minn., July 21–24. In past years, Project Phoenix students have traveled to cities such as Buffalo, N.Y.; Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Green Bay, Wis.; Lincoln, Neb.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Tempe, Ariz.; San Diego, Calif.; and Seattle, Wash.
Conger applied for Project Phoenix with help from Salt River High School teacher Erica Bayles and Early Childhood Education Center teacher Barbara Moreno. Conger had to write an essay describing her interest in journalism and her views on how Native Americans are portrayed in mainstream media.
After turning in the application, Conger waited one week before she heard the good news that she had been selected to participate in this year’s Project Phoenix.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking because I didn’t know if I got in or not; but they finally let me know I was selected, and then it was exciting,” said Conger. “It was strictly Native Americans. They had every type of person working in the media business: there were video people, photographers, radio people and writers.”
Conger participated in the Project Phoenix program during the week of July 18–23. From the beginning it was a very new experience for Conger—it was the first time she had traveled out of state on her own, and, perhaps a little more frightening, it was her very first plane trip.
“I was kind of scared to go on the airplane, but everyone kept telling me that it was just like a roller coaster,” said Conger. “A couple of days before I left, my mom showed me this old Twilight Zone show with a monster on the wing of an airplane. I fell asleep on the plane and had a nightmare. The landing was kind of scary, but other than that I think it was OK,” she said, laughing.
After landing in St. Paul, Conger checked into the hotel that was hosting the NAJA convention and met her roommate. Then she met all of the other Project Phoenix students, 10 college students and six other high school students. They reviewed the programs and their duties for the week.
“We had a meeting in the ‘news room,’ which was just in the hotel conference room. It was like a staff meeting, like what you guys [Au-Authm Action News] do,” said Conger. “We talked about what [stories] we wanted to cover in the newspaper we would be working on. I wanted to [write my story on] the Dream Act, which was a law that was supposed to be passed in Minnesota to help illegal immigrants who lived in the state for a certain amount of time go to college. Unfortunately, the contact information I had didn’t go through, so I didn’t get to do that story. I ended up doing a story on former NAJA Project Phoenix and college-level Rising Voices students who are now teaching the two programs.”
Conger also had the opportunity to work on the video-production side of the media. She recorded some audio for a tribute video on the late Minnie Two Shoes, a longtime NAJA board member who passed away earlier this year.
Conger said some of the highlights of the trip for her included the NAJA banquet, which is held for all convention participants. Conger and other Project Phoenix students toured the offices of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, and the biggest highlight of all for Conger was taking a trip to the Mall of America.
“It was good, I liked it; I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Conger about the overall experience. “It was great. I had a lot of fun with all the people out there. I plan on applying again next year. It’s a good program for those who are really interested in journalism.”