FORT HALL — As a child growing up on the Fort Hall reservation, Mark Trahant knew he was destined for newspapers.
“I knew instinctively that I like to tell stories,” he said.
Today, he’s a renowned journalist: He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, has interviewed world leaders like George W. Bush and the Dalai Lama, and is currently the editor-at-large for North America’s largest Indigenous news source: Indian Country Today.
And Wednesday, he returned to the reservation that was his launchpad. His first stop — before making a keynote speech for a major academic conference and receiving a Distinguished Achievement Award — was Shoshone-Bannock Jr./Sr High.
Before an audience of Indigenous youth, he told the story of his life and career — one that started right here in Idaho.
“With high school students you have to make sure they know that there’s these new opportunities out there that they may not have thought about,” Trahant, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, said. “If I reach one person who says ‘Yeah, I could do that’ (it’s worth it).”
Trahant’s first job was at a radio station as a basketball commentator. From there, he became editor at Sho-Ban News, overseeing its rebirth after a decade of dormancy, and its transition from a monthly to weekly paper.
He went on to become editor of the Navajo Times, an editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and a columnist for The Seattle Times. Trahant also produced a piece for PBS’ Frontline called “The Silence,” about sexual abuse by priests in an Alaskan Native village.
And he taught at a number of universities.
Seven years ago, he was pulled from academia when he was teaching at the University of Florida and got a call — would he like to bring Indian Country Today, which had gone defunct, back to life?
“That was just something I couldn’t say no to,” he said.
Since then, the nonprofit news organization has grown exponentially. It started with a budget of $300,000 and three employees — and now has a $6 million budget and 40 employees.
“And they’re all jobs that any of you could have,” Trahant told students.
He encouraged them to attend Arizona State University, where Indian Country Today is based, and to become paid interns, or part-time student journalists.
And there are other opportunities awaiting Indigenous youth, too, Trahant said. Deb Haaland, the country’s first Native American cabinet secretary, and Peggy Flanagan, lieutenant governor of Minnesota and member of the White Earth band of Ojibwe, show what the future can hold.
“If we’re going to look at the real dimension of what’s possible, those are the kinds of things where you really make a change,” Trahant said.
Allen Mayo, Sho-Ban High’s administrator, said many people never leave the reservation, and talks like Trahant’s can get students thinking beyond Fort Hall.
“It’s good to have a different perspective on what’s out there.”