lithograph of Hopeton earthworks
Ohio's First Humanists

Modern Voices: Sarah Liese

Putting a Spotlight on Media Distortions and Stereotyping

Sarah Liese is a Navajo and Chippewa Cree who joined the Ohio University School of Journalism as a master’s student in 2020. Under the mentorship of Dr. Victoria LaPoe (Cherokee), Liese has worked to lift up Indigenous stories and shine a light on media distortions and stereotyping of Indigenous people. For example, in 2020, Liese created a banner about Missing, Murdered, and Indigenous Women and Girls for an exhibit at Ohio University’s Women’s Center, to raise awareness about this grave and underreported problem. In2021, Liese led a research team (under LaPoe’s supervision) analyzing five years of New York Times reporting for the Native American Journalist Association (NAJA). They found a preponderance of media distortion and clichéd representations of Indigenous people among the 300 articles analyzed.

In 2022, Liese published an article in Indian Country Today that highlights the prevalence of inaccurate and disrespectful representations of Indigenous people in the state of Ohio. She reports that Ohio has the highest number of Native-themed mascots in K-12 schools in the nation. Liese notes that some positive steps are being taken to remedy this problem: “Following the Cleveland Indians’ decision in 2020 to change the name to the Cleveland Guardians — fueled by pressure from Indigenous activists and organizations for decades — 10 K12 schools in Ohio stopped using their Native-themed mascots.” Further, discussions are under way to transform the dormant Tecumseh Motel in Oldtown, Ohio — which features an outdated caricature of the Shawnee leader on its sign — into a state park that would include an interpretation center dedicated to preserving the history of the Shawnee people.

In2021, Liese was one of three students nationwide to be selected by the Sundance Institute as a Full Circle Fellow to participate in their Directors and Screenwriters Labs and Native Lab.
This program provides opportunities for mentorship from other Indigenous filmmakers and networking with professionals in the industry.

A Two Spirit Individual

Sara Liese identifies as a Two Spirit (2S) Individual, who embodies both masculine and feminine spirits. She relates that this category is part of an ancient tradition for many tribal nations that was only stigmatized with the advent of colonization. For her thesis, she is creating a documentary with interviews of 2S individuals from different nations, ages, and backgrounds. The project aims, like all of her work, to create more positive media representations of Indigenous people and to amplify diverse Indigenous voices.


Photos by Joseph Scheller

Sarah Liese, portrait outdoors