A group of Native American teens walked from their Nova Southeastern University dormitory
to a Dairy Queen in Davie this week. They saw an owl perched on a fence, and it sparked conversation about the
variety of beliefs among the tribes they represented.
"We believe that all owls are a death omen,'' said Alex Sagataw, 17, of the Potawatomi tribe.
For others, the owl was just an owl. "It's just a bird,'' said Louis Montclair, 17, of the Sioux tribe. "Now,
if it was a white owl, it would mean death.''
The conversation was a telling display of the students' experience. Ten of the teens, representing tribes from
the Seminole of South Florida to the Yaqui of Arizona, came together in Fort Lauderdale to write Rising Voices,
a newspaper by and for native youth.
It was all part of Project Phoenix, a weeklong journalism workshop for Native American teens sponsored by the Native
American Journalists Association.
Named in honor of The Cherokee Phoenix, the nation's first documented native newspaper, the annual
project brought the teens together to learn about writing, photography and themselves.
Their project culminated Thursday with the start of the NAJA convention in Fort Lauderdale. "This is more
than just about journalism. It's about native youth connecting with other native youth,'' said Mark Anthony Rolo,
education director for NAJA and a member of the Midwestern Ojibwe tribe. "There's a big cultural component
to it and that's the way we intended it to be.''
Louis Montclair, from the Fort Peck reservation in northeastern Montana, appreciated the differences in the owl
conversation at Dairy Queen.
"I didn't know that there were so many different beliefs in different tribes,'' he said.
For 15-year-old Sela Flores of Arizona's Yaqui tribe, the workshop was a chance to meet and connect with people
who understand her. Flores, who is half white and half Yaqui, moved from Arizona to Vermont, where she sometimes
regrets that she's the only Native American in her school.
"There are little things that are so different between the cultures,'' Sela said. ``I can't always talk to
my friends about stuff like that.''
As half-Yaqui, Sela didn't know how well she would be accepted by the full-blooded youth in the workshop. But she
found a comfortable place as a reporter for Rising Voices. ``It's easier to talk to other natives about these things,''
Students from the Navajo, Cherokee and Chippewa tribes also attended the workshop.
Rising Voices is being printed by The Herald and will be available at the NAJA convention and online in two weeks
Copyright 1999 the Miami Herald.
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