When journalist Valerie Taliman was dressing to attend California’s Native American Day ceremonies where she was to receive a Native American Women in Leadership Award, she didn’t put on her best silver and turquoise jewelry appropriate to her cultural heritage as an enrolled citizen of the Navajo Nation. Instead she wore a dentallium shell necklace, earrings and a beaded bracelet that had been given to her by the people she writes about – the women and families who are victims of sexual abuse, racial violence and hate crimes.
Taliman, who is Indian Country Today Media Network’s West Coast Editor, received the Native American Women in Leadership Award for her groundbreaking investigative journalism and media advocacy on behalf of indigenous victims of violence, particularly Indian women. The award ceremony took place September 29 during the 45th Annual California Native American Day celebration in Sacramento.
“They train journalists to be objective. But when the subject is violence, especially violence against Native women, I get to know the families and communities, and it’s hard. People take you into their homes and open up their lives, and as Indian people we’re crying together as they talk about the hate crimes being directed at our people,” Taliman told ICTMN. “I was reminded of the teaching that ‘we are all related’ when I met women who’d been attacked and women working to assist them, and learned that we were Navajo clan relatives. I went to the award ceremony with that in my heart, wearing the jewelry that people had given me along the way that carried their stories and struggles and prayers. I’m honored to win an award for media advocacy, but I see myself as a conduit.”
Taliman was notified in September by Anecita Agustinez of the Office of Native American Affairs in the California Attorney General’s Office that she was one of nine Native women to be honored at this year’s Native American Day. “Your media advocacy and work to bring attention to hate crimes and violence against women specifically embody the theme of our program, which is to honor Native American Women in Leadership for their outstanding commitment and tireless work for tribal communities and future generations,” Agustinez wrote.
“Valerie’s work on behalf of Native women and communities in California—indeed, on behalf of Native women throughout the country—is exemplary. Her articles for this publication, online and in print, serve as a beacon of hope for the disenfranchised, and as widely-read celebrations of women (and men) who have made a difference in our world,” said Ray Halbritter, Oneida Indian Nation Representative and CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises which owns ICTMN. “We are pleased that this dedicated journalist, and community leader in her own right, was recognized for her tireless and selfless accomplishments.”
Taliman is no newcomer to journalism or to the underworld of violence against Indigenous Peoples. In addition to her writing, she has more than 25 years of experience as a media strategist in branding, media campaigns, newspaper and magazine production, and multi-media promotions using print, radio, TV and social media.
Her media advocacy work on behalf of victimized women is rooted in her experience as co-chair of Amnesty International’s Indigenous Peoples Task Force in 2003, which resulted in a report documenting human rights violations against Native peoples in the Americas, including attacks on the Western Shoshone and Dann Sisters.
Taliman was an editor of Indian Country Today newspaper, a previous incarnation of ICTMN, which is owned by the Oneida Nation of New York. In addition, she works as communications strategist for FNX – First Nations Experience Television, the first all-Native channel in the United States, created by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.
As a journalist and editor, Valerie has won numerous awards, including the Richard LaCourse Award from the Native American Journalists Association in 2011 for her investigative series on the 720 missing and murdered First Nations women in Canada that was published by ICT in 2010. She continues to highlight violence against women and the racism inherent in violence against Native families in her articles for ICTMN.
The Native American Day event at the capitol was highlighted by Gov. Jerry Brown’s attendance to read a newly updated Proclamation for Native American Day.
The day began with a drum group leading a march to the capitol, followed by presentations by tribal leaders and a keynote speech by former Yurok Tribal Chair Susan Masten, who is currently running for office. There was music and dance performances by the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians; “Otsigeya,” an all Cherokee women’s hand drum group; Wally Antone, renowned Quechan bird singer of Southern California and Arizona; a special exhibition dance depicting a “coming of age ceremony dance” by K’iwinya’n-ya:n, representing members from the Hupa, Yurok and Karuk people from Northern California; Chumash Samala Singers and dancers from Central California; and flutist Albert Tenaya from the Yosemite Valley. The Tule River Color Guard and Native Veterans led the opening ceremony and posting of the flags.
‘It was a wonderful event. They really did a great job, and I thank the co-chairs and committee. As I met the women honorees, I was inspired by the work women are doing in our communities. I looked at those strong women and I know they are all working for the betterment of our people. I was very humbled and honored to be among that group of women,” Taliman said.
The 2012 Native American Day Leadership Honorees and the categories of their work were: Public Safety, Chief Mary McQuillen, Yurok Tribe, chief of Police, Yurok Tribal Police Department; Women and Victim Advocacy, Mary Howe, Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, president, Southwest Indigenous Women’s Coalition; Cultural Resources & Sacred Sites Protection, Morning Star Gali, Ajumawi Band of the Pit River cultural information/asst. Tribal Historic Preservation officer; Family Preservation, Vida Castaneda, Chumash/Ohlone/Zapotec, Tribal Projects Unit, Administrative Office of the Courts; Media Advocacy , Valerie Taliman, Navajo Nation, West Coast Editor, Indian Country Today Media Network; Tribal Policy Development, Denise Turner Walsh, Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians, attorney general of the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians; Tribal Justice, Honorable Abby Abinanti, Yurok Tribe, chief Justice of the Yurok Tribal Court; Tribal Government Honoree, Honorable Chairwoman Lavonne Peck, La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians; Lifetime Achievement Award, Honorable Vyola J. Ortner, former chair, Agua Caliente Band of Mission Indians.
The kind of journalism Taliman undertakes is also hard and dangerous – finding and talking to abused women, hanging out in the funky drug-infested streets of Downtown Eastside Vancouver with drug abusers shooting up and listening to women dying of AIDS. “Those women have educated me and taught me so much,” Taliman said. The widespread issue of violence against women provides a metaphor for what is happening to Mother Earth, she said. “I started my comments at the award ceremony with that Cheyenne proverb that ‘a nation is not defeated until the hearts of its women are on the ground’ and that really speaks to the strength of women in our communities,” Taliman said.
There is now a call by some tribal chairman and activist groups supporting those attacked – Patty Dawson, Johnny, Lisa and Ali Bonta, April Carmelo and her son Sage – to bring public focus to the growing violence against Indian people, especially in California, Taliman said.
The California Attorney General’s Office of Native American Affairs is helping to organize a panel discussion on the subject during the National Congress of American Indians annual convention October 21—26. Taliman will participate on the panel as a journalist who documented the crimes to bring attention to fact that all the cases remain unresolved.
“It’s not enough to write about it. We’ve got to do something about it,” Taliman said. “I hope people take a serious look at why Native families are not getting justice.”