Hattie Kauffman, the national news correspondent for CBS’ “The Early Show,” based in Los Angeles, California, returned to her home state as the event’s featured speaker. The organization gathers funds from donors, grows the funds over time through investment and then grants the money for a variety of philanthropic projects statewide—a mission that Kauffman endorses.
Kauffman, the first and only American Indian to report for a national network, hails from the Nez Perce Reservation in Lapwai, Idaho. She spent the first three years of her life on the reservation, then Kauffman and her mother relocated to Seattle, Washington. She still considers Nez Perce her home, where she often returned to “visit grandparents and uncles and aunts,” she told Indian Country Today Media Network.
“I got Native American culture when I would go home in terms of the native foods like huckleberries, salmon, deer meat, that sort of thing—even learning how to gather that kind of food,” Kauffman told ICTMN. “That was a traditional thing my grandfather did. We all jumped in the pickup truck to go to the huckleberry grounds up high where the grizzlies haunt and we’d pick.”
Kauffman has been with CBS since 1989 and was on “Good Morning America” on ABC News from May 1987 to March 1990. Her television career dates back to 1981, when she began as a reporter for KING-TV in Seattle and transitioned to an anchor in 1983. During her tenure in Seattle, Kauffman earned four Emmy Awards for her work, according to her profile on CBSNews.com.
“I have been extremely fortunate to have had a very long career on television,” Kauffman told ICTMN. “It’s the kind of business that sort of chews reporters up and spits them out.”
As her career was budding, Seattle’s thriving urban Indian population was inspiring an Indian renaissance. “Dancing, beading, putting together an Indian outfit—I actually learned that in Seattle,” she said.
Times in Seattle were sometimes tough for Kauffman’s family. She told the audience about having the power and water shut off at her house, because they couldn’t pay the bills. She told of having to walk six blocks with a bucket to get water from a gas station, then walking six blocks back. She explained her situation was different than reservation life, because her support network was not nearby. Typically a relative would serve as a safety net when things got tight.
“After a number of years, the ship righted itself,” she told the crowd.
She attended the University of Minnesota (U of M), following two sisters who also attended. “It was the only university in the country that offered a bachelor’s degree in American Indian studies,” Kauffman said. Earning her B.S. degree, she continued at the U of M’s Graduate School of Journalism under a WCCO-TV Minorities in Broadcasting Scholarship.
Kauffman has used her background and education to influence story decisions at CBS. “I think sometimes the story would not have been reported had I not been there in the newsroom,” Kauffman told ICTMN. “If you don’t have somebody on the inside, who knows what’s going on in a particular community, go to the editor and say, ‘There’s a story here,’ those stories remain untold.”
Going forward, Kauffman hopes to use her position to improve American Indian education. “I emcee the [American Indian College Fund’s Flame of Hope] Gala every year and would love to be more involved with Native American education, Native American youth. I would love to use my abilities to be of greater service. I look forward to finding opportunities to do that.”