Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member Jonathan LeClair won two Native American Journalists Association awards for his work as a multimedia content producer at the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. The Mann family descendant received two television category awards — second place in best feature story for Why We Ride and third place in general excellence for Code Talkers.
“It was a great honor by such a prestigious and unique organization; and it makes me proud not only as a Tribal member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation but as an associate of the Choctaw Nation to continue to share those bits of culture and history and tell those stories,” LeClair said.
Why We Ride documents the Choctaw Bike Team as they follow the Trail of Tears from Tupelo, Mississippi, to Durant, Oklahoma — more than 600 miles over one week. The group took off between 4 and 5 a.m. every morning, covering between 50 and 100 miles a day. LeClair enjoys a challenge, a fast pace and has a keen ability to keep up with consistent changes.
“It was an experience of retracing their path and seeing them revisit their families’ journeys, and everything was really inspiring; one of the quotes in the video is, ‘It’s only one thing to hear stories. It’s another thing to go out there and walk the same trail, to see the same trees, to breathe the same air,’” he said.
Code Talkers highlights the history of the Choctaw code talkers who served as special communications units during World War I. They used the Choctaw language to send and receive battlefield messages that the opposing forces never deciphered. LeClair used his animation and graphic design skills from previous jobs to highlight photos and other documentation of WWI to tell the code talkers’ story.
“With every project I take on, it’s an opportunity to do something better. Anybody can just cut, edit, make a video,” he said. “You got to do something to make it special, and that is challenging yourself in order to grow. And that was definitely the case with these two videos.”
LeClair began working for the Choctaw Nation in December 2016. While producing media and interviewing others, he learns about the tribe’s culture as well as witnesses its strengths and growth.
“It feels good to be in such a unique place that values faith, family and culture,” LeClair said. “I don’t think you can get that at any corporate-type environment.”
His work at the Choctaw Nation matches his interests; short-form storytelling captures his love of quick turnarounds and making a polished product from a mostly unstructured environment. It also reminds LeClair of his grandfather.
“He would always have fish tales. … He was never a stranger. He knew everybody in his small town. And he always had a good story to share with me and my family,” LeClair said. “And that’s what kind of inspired me to kind of go out and make my own stories.”
LeClair learned about multimedia production and the rest of his skills with on-the-job training and no formal education. After nearly eight years in the industry, he knows he made the correct career choice. Receiving his first national award makes his family proud.
“From my very humble beginnings and a lot of hard work, I feel proud to be working for a tribal government and giving back to my own heritage in some way by the stories that I share,” LeClair said. “And to be recognized by NAJA just confirms that I’m doing the right thing. I’m in the right place. And I’m with the right people.”