Tim Giago: Three courageous Indian women

The Lakota Times was the only independently owned Indian weekly newspaper in America in 1981. Now there are several. Ironically, the three most read, most influential of these independent newspapers are owned and published by Indian women.

Elizabeth Gray started the Oklahoma Indian Times in 1995. Several years later, as the paper expanded beyond Oklahoma, she changed its name to Native American Times. She said, “I started the newspaper in a storage facility in Afton, Oklahoma. Next door to our office was a fish bait room and the smell of fish filled our little office.”

Why did she start the newspaper? “It all starts with vision. What goal or mark you focus on is how you will create the path to accomplishment. If it is handed to you then it is someone else’s creation. It has to start with you. In this business you have to be hardheaded and not listen to the visions of failures of others. Indian tribes need newspapers so they can have a balance in their governmental structure,” Liz said.

“I believe it is my job while on this earth to be a vessel of truth while supporting the community of people through my newspaper as a communication source. It really isn’t my newspaper; it is the people’s because without truth, we have nothing,” she said.

Native American Times can be found online at nativetimes.com. The online edition compliments the hardcopy newspaper that is published weekly.

Amanda Takes War Bonnet, an Oglala Lakota, had a comfortable job as Communications Coordinator at Little Wound School in Kyle on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Prior to that she had worked for me at the Lakota Times and at Indian Country Today. She started as a part-time janitor while attending Oglala Lakota College. She eventually worked in every department within the newspaper. Her insight, knowledge of the Lakota culture, and her ambition soon landed her the job of managing editor. She was with me for 14 years.

She gave up that “comfy” job in 2004 and started a weekly newspaper she named after the original Lakota Times. Not long after the paper started she got a threatening letter from the lawyers of the Oneida Nation in New York State, a tribe that had purchased Indian Country Today in 1998. The letter advised her that if she did not change the name of her newspaper they would sue her. It seems the Oneida believed they had prior rights to the name Lakota Times by virtue of the purchase agreement.

She felt she could win the case if she pursued it, but with little money to fight it, she went ahead and changed the name of the newspaper to Lakota Country Times. The Oneida haven’t challenged that name as yet.

Amanda believes in maintaining the ties to her culture and traditions while still reporting the news that is important to the Lakota people. “Our communities are hurting from alcoholism, a lack of spirituality and a very poor economy and so many other social ills and so giving the people things to read that will help in their lives is very important,” Takes War Bonnet said.

Her website is lakotacountrytimes.com and it also compliments her hardcopy, weekly newspaper.

Avis Little Eagle is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She came to work for me at the Lakota Times fresh out of college in 1990. She started out as a news reporter and eventually became my managing editor. One day I assigned her the task of doing a series on fake medicine men and women. She took the story to heart and spent many nights and weekends working on what turned out to be a ten-part series.

During the run of the series Avis and the newspaper itself received threats of hell and damnation, death threats and threats of evil spells from some of the fake medicine men and women the series exposed. Little Eagle sat down one Wednesday to write the final part of the series. She worked on it all morning and then took a lunch break. While she was out of the office her computer suddenly started on fire. We immediately put out the fire, salvaged her work, and transferred it to an identical computer never telling her about this disaster. She completed the series and it became one of the major accomplishments in Indian journalism.

Little Eagle started the Teton Times in McLaughlin, SD in 2002. Avis was one of the fiercest defenders of freedom of the press and she was determined to see that the people of the Standing Rock Reservation have a newspaper that would bring them sources of knowledge that would give them the variety of opinions needed to make sound political decisions.

Avis could have been speaking for Liz and Amanda when she said,” The mainstream media does not understand our culture and traditions and can never report adequately the things that we can better report about our own condition and beliefs.” Little Eagle ran for public office and in 2005 she became the first woman ever elected to serve as vice president or as it is now known, vice chairwoman, of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

These three strong Indian women have made a difference in Indian country. Their newspapers, unlike newspapers owned by the tribal governments, have an open-mindedness that allows dissenters to publish letters and articles critical of tribal government and even letters critical of their own newspapers and of themselves and whether they like you or don’t or whether they agree with your opinions or not, they never deny you the right to express yourselves on the pages of their newspapers. This you will never find in newspapers owned by the tribal governments or in many cases, in the mainstream media.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991 and founder of The Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers. He founded and was the first president of the Native American Journalists Association. He became the first Native American ever inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame on November 10, 2007. He can be reached at najournalist@msn.com.

More Tim Giago:
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Tim Giago in S.D. Newspaper Hall of Fame (11/14)
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Tim Giago: Rep. Watson attacks Cherokee Nation (11/5)
Tim Giago: Church abuse must not go unpunished (10/29)
Tim Giago: Remembering Vernon Bellecourt (10/22)
Tim Giago: American Indians are not mascots (10/15)
Tim Giago: Stop trying to rename 'Indians' (10/8)
Tim Giago: The origins of Native American Day (10/1)
Tim Giago: Growing up in Kyle, Pine Ridge Reservation (9/24)
Tim Giago: Healing the wounds that haunt Pine Ridge (9/17)
Tim Giago: Closing a dark chapter at Pine Ridge (9/10)
Tim Giago: AIM responsible for Anna Mae's death (9/4)
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Tim Giago: Tribes should include all their citizens (8/20)
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Tim Giago: Cherokee Nation votes out Freedmen (3/12)
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Tim Giago: A view from South Dakota, the 'red' state (2/26)
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Tim Giago: Greed is the new God in Indian Country (2/12)
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Tim Giago: How many others will die over Iraq? (1/22)
Tim Giago: Apache journalist opens doors in media (1/15)
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