Born at Idaho’s Fort Hall Indian Reservation in the 1950s, author and journalist Mark Trahant has left an impression as a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock tribes.
As a reporter, television correspondent, speaker and teacher, Trahant works to provide opportunities for those whose voices are not often heard. For his work on behalf of Native Americans, Trahant has been honored by The National Native American Hall of Fame. He will be recognized on Saturday, October 14, 2023, at the First Americans Museum (FAM) in Oklahoma City.
James Parker Shield, founder and CEO of the National Native American Hall of Fame, shares, “Mark Trahant has been chronicling Indian news and history for a long time. His journalism and unique perspective are well respected.”
Also, in October, Trahant will be honored with the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Western Literature Association at their conference held at Fort Hall.
Trahant attended school in California, where his mom lived, but spent summers with his dad and grandparents in Fort Hall. After high school in Pasadena, he moved home and had a summer job producing a video (back in the days of heavy equipment) about the Fort Hall Festival.
“Then I got a job with a radio station. I had a weekly tribal affairs program and was the play-by-play announcer for basketball games,” says Trahant. Then, at age 19, he started working at the Sho-Ban News as the editor. He’s also worked at newspapers in Arizona, Navajo Nation, Seattle and Moscow, Idaho.
Now an editor of Indian Country, Trahant finds that digital and social media can be powerful tools to broaden perspectives. As a reporter for PBS’ Frontline series, he shattered the silence surrounding sexual abuse by priests in an Alaska Native village in the Frontline piece, “The Silence.”
“The people I met in that story are so amazing,” he says. And that story still haunts him.
Trahant was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 1988 for a series of articles that profiled corruption and mismanagement in Federal Indian programs and helped generate a Senate investigation. Trahant also served as chairman and chief executive officer at the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism and has held an endowed chair at the University of North Dakota and the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Trahant wanted to be a writer as long as he can remember.
“When I was a kid, I produced a crayon newspaper and distributed them to family. I wish I could remember the stories. When I was still a teenager, I sold an essay to Idaho Heritage magazine and was paid 2 cents a word—I thought that was so cool and couldn’t wait to pitch more stories. One thing I loved about Southern Idaho is that we had so many sources of news. One of my mentors, Perry Swisher, would write critiques, and I learned a lot from that.
“My favorite memories as a child were just over the hill from Sun Valley, in the Salmon River headwaters,” says Trahant; he used to camp and fish for Chinook salmon at Yankee Fork with his grandparents. “One fabulous project I worked on was a tribute to the river for the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. (The Whole Salmon).”
Trahant’s book The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars was published in 2010. It tells the story of how Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) and Forrest Gerrard changed the landscape of Indian Affairs, reversing a policy of termination and assimilation to begin the era of self-governance and self-determination for tribes.
“The book covered an area of history that no one else was writing about,” Trahant says. “When I think about my career, I am overwhelmed by how much luck I have had.”
To aspiring writers, Trahant advises, “Write fast. There is nothing wrong with an imperfect first draft. The craft comes when you take those ideas and turn them into prose. I rewrite everything, even on deadline, and I still write a rough draft fast. I will sit down and produce a couple of thousand words and then go to town with rewrites.”
Trahant, who has written more than a thousand stories and three books, concludes, “I write about complicated subjects, so my goal as a writer is always making it understandable. The best advice I read from Strunk & White …, ‘The more complex the subject, the simpler the sentences.’ My goal is to tell a good story and help people understand complex issues or histories.”