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A story only becomes a story once it's told.

On the Wind River Reservation, two Wyoming communities are going to great lengths to tell their stories. The Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes are making sure their elders' voices are preserved, their native languages are spoken and their cultures are taught in schools.

Off the reservation, however, these stories often go untold. Otherwise, they get oversimplified by an out-of-state journalist who scoops up pieces of the story between flights in and out of Wyoming.

This summer, the Star-Tribune made a major commitment to changing that.

We hired a reporter, Chris Aadland, who is based in Riverton and whose sole job is to write about the Wind River Reservation. Chris is the state's only daily newspaper reporter whose entire job is to tell the tribes' stories.

We were able to bring Chris on board because of Report for America, a nonprofit committed to giving local newsrooms the ability to tell the stories of communities that are often ignored. They helped us find Chris — a writer of Native American heritage with a passion for covering these communities — and are helping pay for the cost of staffing him.

Report for America is not our only partner in this project, however. We also need help from you — the readers who care about Wyoming.

That's why we've officially launched a crowdfunding effort to support this project.

It doesn't take much to help. Anything you can chip in unlocks a matching donation of the same amount from Report for America. You can make a one-time tax-deductible contribution here or set up a monthly contribution here.

This is a different kind of undertaking for us, so we assume you have some questions.

Luckily, we've got answers:

What is Report for America?

Report for America is an effort by the nonprofit GroundTruth Project to strengthen local reporting in newsrooms across the country. In 2019, the organization placed 61 corps members in 50 local news organizations across America — including the Buffalo Bulletin and Wyoming Public Radio.

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Who is Chris Aadland?

Chris Aadland

Aadland

Chris began reporting for the Star-Tribune in June, living in Riverton and reporting on the Wind River Reservation. He is a Minnesota native who previously worked for two years at the Wisconsin State Journal, writing about public safety, city government and breaking news. Chris sought a newsroom where he could provide nuanced and thorough reporting of a Native American community. His father is an enrolled member of the Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, and he began learning the Ojibwe language in college.

What kind of work is Chris doing?

Chris' goal is to be thoughtful and thorough in his coverage of the Wind River Reservation. Tribal coverage from the outside is too often negative, typically focusing on poverty, crime or other problems. That's not the full story, however. Solutions are just as much a part of the story, as are the human beings on the reservation who can't be reduced to a statistic.

So far, Chris has written about the tribes' efforts to preserve their culture by re-releasing bison into the wild and helping educators across the state implement tribe-related curriculum. He's written about the fights to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women and keep tribal languages alive.

This is just the start of Chris' work, but we believe these sorts of stories are important to accurately reflecting the communities on the reservation.

Why did the Star-Tribune take on this project?

We felt like this was an opportunity we couldn't pass up. The Star-Tribune's mission is to cover the entire Equality State, and the Wind River Reservation is a big part of Wyoming, both in terms of size and culture.

The stories of Indian Country tend to be told by journalists who would parachute in from big cities, spend a few days reporting and then craft overly simplistic narratives that give many readers an inaccurate sense of tribal life. By staffing a full-time reporter in Riverton whose sole focus is writing about the reservation, we are putting a Wyoming community back in control of its own story and helping other Wyomingites better understand the lives of their neighbors.

Why should I contribute?

If you live on the reservation, the work the Star-Tribune does will directly benefit you. When you have a reporter from the statewide newspaper keeping an eye on your community, you have a way to hold people in power accountable and make your voice heard.

And this work benefits readers across the state too — even if you don't live in Fremont County. People say that Wyoming is just one small town with really long roads. Well, that makes the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes your neighbors. By better covering those communities, we're able to give you the full picture of Wyoming life.

How does the funding work?

Report for America provides half of Chris' salary for one year. The organization helps with the initial pairing of newsrooms and reporters — and requires the reporters to lead a service project in their communities — but does not have any input in our editorial decisions. The Star-Tribune covers the other half with contributions from donors, grants and the newspaper itself.

How long will Chris be on staff?

Chris began in June and will work for the Star-Tribune for one year under his initial contract. After that year, he has the option to continue working for another year at the newspaper, which would receive half as much funding from Report for America.

How can I help?

You can make an online, tax-deductible donation in either one-time or monthly amounts. Or, make out a check to "The GroundTruth Project" with "Casper" in the memo line and mail it to the Star-Tribune c/o Managing Editor Brandon Foster, P.O. Box 80 Casper, WY 82602. These donations will be matched dollar for dollar by Report for America and go entirely toward our Wind River Reservation project.

You can also reach out to Chris at chris.aadland@trib.com with story ideas or suggestions. Anything you can contribute goes a long way toward helping the Star-Tribune tell stories that would otherwise go untold.

This article originally ran on trib.com.

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