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Osage News wins 16 NAJA awards, including free press award in 2014

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Osage News staff won 16 Native American Journalists Association Media Awards this year, including a special award recognizing the newspaper for its work in free press.

The Osage News entered several pieces of work from the 2013 calendar year for the annual NAJA news media awards contest marking 2014 as the year the newspaper won the most NAJA media awards. The News competes in the contest with other nationwide news outlets covering issues impacting Indian Country.  

The newspaper was also nominated to receive the prestigious Elias Boudinot Free Press Award – an award honor named after the Cherokee journalist who printed the first edition of the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper in New Echota, Ga. during the 19th century and the first bilingual newspaper in the Western Hemisphere.   

NAJA Executive Director Pamala Silas told the newspaper via letter: “Your nomination was reviewed and selected by the NAJA Board of Directors based on the courageous work of the Osage News over the past year, bringing forth information critical for public official accountability and challenging responsibility in following open records laws.”

The Boudinot award honor for the News comes nearly five months after the Red Eagle administration ended with the Chief’s impeachment for several allegations including he withheld a professional contract (considered a public document under the Nation’s open records act) after Osage News Editor Shannon Shaw Duty requested a copy several times.

At the approval of the newspaper’s editorial board, the Osage News filed suit in the ON Trial Court seeking a copy of a consultant’s contract authorized by the Red Eagle administration in June 2013. The case was eventually dismissed after the Chief provided a copy of the contract and paid the Osage News’ legal fees. The case became one of the focuses of the ON Congressional investigation and removal trial, which resulted in Red Eagle’s impeachment in January of this year. 

According to a 2001 Associated Press article, the Cherokee Nation won the NAJA’s Boudinot award that same year in recognition of the CN passing its 2000 free press act into law. The First Osage Nation Congress passed the Nation’s free press act into law in 2008.

Senior Reporter Benny Polacca was also chosen to help mentor high school and college Native American students for the second year for NAJA’s Project Phoenix, a weeklong journalism workshop where students produce a newspaper and website that is displayed at the NAJA conference.

The NAJA media awards for the Osage News in its respective monthly publication division include:

Duty won first and third place for best sports photo for two images she took of Osage MMA fighter Chance Rencountre at a match in Newkirk, Okla.; Photographer/ editorial assistant Chalene Toehay won second place for her photo of Native American youth playing soccer; Toehay won second and third places for best feature photo; Duty won second place for best feature story about Osages involved in the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee and she also won third place for her story about the house featured in the ‘August: Osage County’ film that was built by an original Osage allottee.

For best news photo, Toehay won second place for her photo taken at a ballet tribute performance honoring the late Maria Tallchief and Duty won third place for her “Cultural Oil” photo; For best news story, Senior Reporter Benny Polacca won first place for his story ‘Osage News and Osage Nation chief headed to court’; Duty won second and third place for best news story for her stories titled ‘Osage Casino denies sponsorship for Osage MMA fighter’ and ‘Oklahoma AG to BIA: State should take over oil and gas monitoring in the Osage.’

The News also won second place for best layout and second place in the General Excellence category. The staff attended this year’s annual NAJA National Media conference in Santa Clara, Calif., to receive their awards.  

Duty, who also sits on the NAJA board and was elected Secretary this year, was not involved in the selection of this year’s Boudinot award. The NAJA board is also not involved in the selection of media award recipients but relies on volunteer judges with journalism experience from outside news outlets, journalist associations and journalism schools to evaluate the award entries each year.