A round dance at the Native American Journalists Association's 2019 National Native Media Conference. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Tim Giago: Would there be a Native American Journalists Association without Bill Dulaney?

Notes from Indian Country
Would there be a Native American Journalists Association without Bill Dulaney?

I was looking for some information on the Professor of Journalism from Penn State, Bill Dulaney, when I ran across this: "William Lee Dulaney was born on August 24, 1929 and passed away on March 31, 2019". Needless to say, I was shocked.

I had been trying to reach him just to visit as we have for all of the years he was my friend. I knew he was ill with cancer, but the last time I spoke with him he said he was giving it a good fight and I knew him to be one helluva fighter. I knew something was wrong when I discovered his phone was disconnected.

Bill Dulaney came into my life in 1983 when he was a professor at Penn State. He had been bringing different journalism groups to Penn State so that his students could learn from them He had invited the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the National Association of Asian-American Journalists so far, but he was totally bewildered as to why he could not find a Native American group of journalists.

Former faculty member Bill Dulaney, early in his career at Penn State (left) and then near retirement. Image: Penn State Photos

I was the editor and publisher of the Lakota Times back then and he had read the paper and really enjoyed it. He saw my phone number on the opinion page and called me. He invited me to come to Penn State and meet with him so we could talk about Native American journalism and discuss why we (Natives) did not have a newspaper association. With that invitation in hand, I and my managing editor, Adrian Louis (now deceased) flew to Pennsylvania to meet with Bill.

We spent two days discussing plans for a Native journalists association and finally decided to head back home, and with the professor’s help, we set about trying to contact every reservation in America to see how many Native newspapers were still out there and how many would come to a get acquainted meeting at Penn State.

A date was set, all of the calls and letters had gone out and on the set date Adrian and I flew back to Penn State and sat at an open air café on the campus with Bill waiting with trepidation and wondering if any Native journalists at all would show up. It was getting late and we were getting fearful when on to the campus came a dozen rez cars held together with bailing wire, filled with Indian journalists honking and waving. It was then, and only then, that we decided we were on to something good. Professor Dulaney, a visual journalist, never got this picture out of his mind.

We had our meeting to form the organization on the Choctaw Nation at Durant, Oklahoma. Thanks to the editor of their newspaper, Bishnick, the Choctaw let us used their camp grounds and facilities for our meeting. At the meeting Bill worked with us to draw up a Constitution and By-laws, and we elected our first Board of Directors.

I was lucky to be chosen as NAJA’s first ever president, Loren Tapahe of the Navajo Times was our first vice president, and Anita Austin of the Native American Rights Fund Magazine was our first treasurer, and Mary Polanco, editor of the Jicarilla Chieftain was our first Secretary. Bill rubbed his hands together gleefully when he saw how much we accomplished in two short days.

It is sad to see what happens in some organizations when there is a change in leadership. When new leadership assumed control of NAJA after I resigned they decided to erase the history of the organization. Professor Dulaney was completely eliminated. Loren Tapahe stayed on board and tried to get the organization pointed in the right direction. My name was removed from all records as was that of Mary Polanco and Anita Austin.

When I found out Professor Dulaney was dying of cancer I notified the Board of NAJA and told them about his history with us and that it should be a major objective of NAJA to honor this man who was so instrumental in getting the organization moving and keeping us funded in the early days. My request went unheard.

Gerald Garcia, the founder of the National Hispanic Journalists Association said the same thing happened at NHJA when he resigned and we puzzled over it. But even to this day you will find no record of Professor Bill Dulaney at NAJA. And this is so sad because NAJA would never have been formed without his guidance and support. I hope that some of the early members of NAJA read this and help me point out Bill’s early leadership in forming NAJA.

In the early days NAJA was called the Native American Press Association simply because all of its members worked for newspapers. Maybe when the name was changed to NAJA it was assumed that all of the people from the early days did not matter. For whatever reason, it was wrong.

Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

I butted heads with NAJA’s leaders for years just to get the names of NAJA’s first Board of Directors listed on their history page. And I also tried my best to get Professor Dulaney’s name mentioned as part of NAJA’s history. They haven’t done that yet.

In any event, Bill Dulaney’s role in forming NAJA is here for all to read. He has journeyed to the Spirit World now, but he will always be in the memory of those Native American newspaper editors and reporters who knew, loved, and admired him. Let this be our tribute to a true journalist.

Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com. Giago has been a newspaper publisher for 40 years and was the founder of the Native American Journalists Association.

Note: Content © Tim Giago

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