I met John Sanchez a few years ago at a Native American Studies conference in Tucson, where he was presenting a paper on Indian journalism. We were among a small cadre of academics working in media studies, who shared an interest in Indian issues, and became fast friends.
He was working on some of the first Native journalists and I was studying how Kennewick Man was covered in mainstream media. Media aficionados are quick to note that individual journalists—regardless of their personality, identity and ethnicity—assume the mantle of the organization’s ethos rather than deploying their personal values.
John (Yaqui-Apache) teaches at Penn State and mentors his students using tough standards and high expectations. This man-bear has a heart of gold, loves his students and adores teaching.
He writes and speaks eloquently of ethics, journalism and stereotypes, and we share classroom notes and ideas between meeting once a year at the media educators conference. When we had supper in St. Louis in August I offered John one of my fish tacos but he says he doesn’t eat fish: they don’t have fish where he comes from.
In the Pacific Northwest, where I call home, fish is central to Native life. But I know what he meant.
John told me that, when he was little, bullies would make sure he arrived home bruised and bloodied. Some relatives told him to hit back, but his pop said, no. Don’t hit back. John said if you were an Indian and hit back, then you’d shoulder the blame. So he just took it.
Today John confronts bullies head on with his work in journalism and ethics. He works diligently to ensure that when the discussion turns to Indians and the press, he’s right there at the front lines. Armed for battle.