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Cal State-Long Beach newspaper The Union Weekly has apologized for the above story. (Credit: the Union Weekly)

California State University – Long Beach student newspaper The Union Weekly has apologized for its insensitive March 14 story about a Native American campus event, OC Weekly reported.

But, one of the university’s groups is still calling for the newspaper’s editor to be removed and has turned in a petition with more than a thousand signatures to that effort.

The newspaper ran a story by Noah Kelly called “Pow Wow Wow Yippie Yo Yippy Yay” and made several comments deemed insensitive.  (The article can be read here.)

In response, both the school’s American Indian Student Council and the Native American Journalist Association slammed the article.

As described by the school’s journalism school-run newspaper The Daily 49er, the article included comments that “food vendors seemed to ‘unceremoniously’ add ‘Indian’ to any of the food they were selling; the vendors were ‘hocking their wares to anyone walking by’ and it seemed to be a ‘large, Native American-themed flea market.'”

The festival was hosted by the American Indian Studies Program and American Indian Student Council, according to The Daily 49er.  The council labeled the article “biased” and sent a letter to the school’s administration calling for it and the newspaper to “condemn the ignorance and racism shown in the article.”

The letter went on to call the article “derogatory, racist and ignorant.”

Kelly apologized both in the newspaper’s print edition and in front of the council:

“What originally was meant as an unflattering review of the event itself has been construed by many as an assault on an entire culture. This was never my intention, and I meant no malice toward Native Americans. What occurred was nothing less than a lapse in fact-finding, cultural awareness and sensitivity on my part.”

He went on to “clarify and amend my statements, so that a dialogue can be opened” and comment on the errors with some of his comments.

The newspaper’s editor-in-chief Kevin O’Brien and managing editor Andy Kneis also apologized, noting that The Union Weekly isn’t the school’s “official source of news.”  The Daily 49er newspaper, “which is associated with the Journalism department,” is.

They wrote “it is clear that the article in question contains language that triggers strong emotional response with those familiar with Native American culture.  It was a lack of knowledge of these triggers that produced an article that many found fault with.”

See the full printed apologies here.

The Native American Journalists Association joined in on the criticism and sent a March 17 letter to the editor of The Union Weekly, calling its headline “a horrible choice” and the story “very disrespectful.”  NAJA asked for an apology and called for diversity education.

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“This lack of understanding about Native Americans is why there is a need to have diversity courses.   The Native American Journalists Associations is here for journalists if and when they need help covering stories.”

The Daily 49er noted that The Union Weekly’s policies call on its staff to “avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status,” a tenet of the SPJ’s code of ethics.

Petition to Remove Editor Weeks Before School Year Ends

In an April 21 report, the Long Beach Press-Telegram noted that the American Indian Student Council had collected more than a thousand signatures on a petition for Kelly to be removed as editor.

The signatures so far are “twice the number needed” according to the council’s president.  According to the Press-Telegram, the dean of students has to check signatures “before action can be taken.”

The Union Weekly “receives an annual $35,000 in funding through student fees. As editor, O’Brien is paid a stipend of about $220 per issue,” the Press-Telegram noted.

“We don’t believe student fees should go to support a weekly that prints these types of views,” council president Anderson is quoted as saying. “(O’Brien) is supposed to be making sure writers are following a journalistic code of conduct. He’s not imposing those rules.”

While O’Brien’s editor term ends “next month,” Anderson reportedly said “the vote, however, is more about making a point.”

In an opinion article for The Daily 49er, Matt Grippi argued that everyone should move on from the controversy because it’s “been blown completely out of proportion.”

Noting that the newspaper “publicly disowned the PowWow article”, Grippi commented that newspaper “won’t make the mistake again, especially after all of the media attention that they have received.”  Instead of calling for the editor to lose his post, Grippi advocated sending letters to The Union Weekly.

StinkyJournalism is writing to NAJA and The Union Weekly for comment and will update with any response.

UPDATE: 04/29/2011 7:12 PM EST : Rhonda LeValdo, NAJA president, responded to StinkyJournalism’s e-mail inquiry.  She wrote that the editors of the Union Weekly haven’t contacted NAJA.  She wrote:

“The only contact we have had is through the American Indian Student Club that is on the campus and hosted the powwow. They thanked us for the letter, and informed us the apologies issued.  Other than that, we have not heard anything from the school.”

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