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Alumni Spotlight: Justine Medina

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University of Denver

Devoted to the Betterment of Indigenous Communities

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Alumni  •
Justine Medina

I recently sat down for an interview with one of the Korbel School's alums, Justine Medina, to learn more about her grad school experience and professional endeavors after leaving Colorado. Justine graduated with a master's in International Administration at the Korbel School in 2017. She is a citizen of the Navajo Nation, Winnebago, Menominee from Tongva and Acjachemen Territory (Long Beach, CA) and is currently the program manager for the Indigenous Journalists Association. She has spent her career working towards bettering Indigenous communities and uses her degree to excel in various supervisory roles related to Indigenous policy. Here is more of my interview with Justine:

What roles did you find yourself pursuing after graduating from the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies?

"After I graduated, I had different avenues I wanted to go through, especially as a Indigenous student. I felt like there were many options for me to choose. The path that I took right away was going back into higher education as a recruiter for Native American students at UCLA and UCI. I did this because of my own background, seeing the importance of having more Indigenous students pursuing higher education because, as you know, there are not too many Native students at Korbel, or within higher education itself. I wanted to help bridge that gap. After those roles in higher education, I became a community organizer for the California Native Vote Project. It was there that I focused on getting out the vote and promoting civic engagement for Native American communities throughout California, one of our biggest campaigns was "Indigenous Education Now," which pressured LA-USD to provide more funding for their Native American students. Los Angeles itself is one of the largest Native urban populations. This was occurring during peak pandemic time, so there was a lot of priority on questioning how to ensure that our community is vaccinated and safe. I feel like the Native American community was hit hard during this time. Shortly after, I found myself leaving the California Native Vote Project (CNVP) and joining the Indigenous Journalists Association, which is amazing. I feel like all of my experiences have aligned with this organization. Getting into this role is about changing the narrative. There are things written about us in the news that are sometimes by non-Native people, so the Indigenous Journalists Association (IJA) is there to create a community for Indigenous journalists and encourage other Indigenous writers to go ahead and pursue these careers. It's important that we have self-representation in the media. We also serve as a watchdog by holding mainstream media accountable and call them out on their mistakes. Particularly as the Program Manager, I facilitate a lot of our newsroom training, going to different media channels and providing the historical contexts of Indigenous coverage. Part of how this aligns with my graduate degree is that we are now going to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in April, to host a training called "Share Your Story", we provide the tools to grassroots community members on how to speak to journalists and media outlets."

What inspired you to pursue the roles that you are currently in?

"I feel like this role actually found me. My background is not in journalism but in community organizing. I see myself belonging in this role first and foremost because I love my community. I love being Navajo, Ho-Chunk, and Menominee. When I was at the University of Denver, I really grew into my identity and owned it. I had moved from my comfort zone of Los Angeles and come to Denver, where I had no idea where to find the Native people here or who they were. I eventually stumbled upon the Native communities here and grounded my identity with them. They lifted me up. So, when I found the Indigenous Journalists Association, I knew it's where I wanted to be because Native people are not always portrayed in the right way in the media, often mainstream news outlets get things wrong. It is important for us to tell our own stories. I think that's why I have found myself in this career path."

Are there any memories from your time at Korbel that have shaped your professional development?

"I think there is so much I took not just from Korbel but from DU itself. I also went to Chiapas with Dr. Gamlemba which was an amazing experience to go out and meet with the Indigenous communities in Chiapas. A lot of the skills that I learned are not necessarily hard skills but soft skills like organizing. Before DU, I had never really organized, but while I was at Korbel is when Standing Rock was happening. One of the schools at DU invited one of the funders that was putting money towards the Standing Rock pipeline, and from that The Native Student Alliance had put on the biggest protest that DU had ever seen. Me and one undergraduate student were at the forefront of this protest. We shut that pipeline conference down, so it would not happen at DU. This made me recognize how important our voice is. And the community was rallying behind us."

As a diverse professional, what advice would you give current students or recent graduates trying to navigate these professional environments?

"As an Indigenous woman navigating these spaces, I still question myself, with my abilities and my skills. Even when I was at DU itself, I felt like Indigenous voices in my classes were lacking space. A lot of the conversations I've had with professors took place after class; I was too nervous to raise my hand and say, "This is an Indigenous perspective." As I grew into myself at DU, I realized that the lack of Indigenous representation and voice was important to me. It was important for me to be there. I knew that my papers and my conversations were always going to be from an Indigenous perspective. It's really hard to be a part of an institution that was not meant for you. This was one of my hardest struggles at DU that, it was founded through institutional white supremacy. Being Native there, I needed to recognize that I am a survivor of colonialism, my family is a survivor of colonialism, and what I do and say is important. I try to tell myself that every day. What I am working towards is for my community."