In my formative years as a newspaper reporter, Chuck “Wobbie” Trimble was - and still is - a hero to me.
When I read many years ago that Trimble had assumed the role of Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians I was flabbergasted and proud. Wow, I thought, here is this Lakota man I grew up with and played all the games of childhood with that has risen to one of the most powerful positions in Indian country.
In the early 1970s my friend Cleveland Neiss was looking for someone to speak at the introduction of the American Indian Business Association that had just been formed in Rapid City, SD. I was very pleased that he chose Trimble. I worked for Cleve at the time. When Trimble walked into our office and shook my hand I was very happy to see him. I was even more impressed when a Lakota man who happened to be in the office at the time held out his hand and said, “Hi Wobbie, oops, I mean Chuck.” Trimble said, “It’s OK if you call me Wobbie.”
I was also proud of Chuck when he, Rose Robinson, Suzanne Harjo and Richard LaCourse started the American Indian Press Association in 1974. They struggled mightily to keep it afloat, but it is my belief that in those early days of Indian journalism, the powers-that-be were not ready to accept or recognize Native Americans as essential to the media. If there was a misjudgment they made, it was in trying to secure funding through federal agencies. But in the long run, Trimble and his friends were just about 10 years ahead of their time with the AIPA.
But it was because of his efforts that 10 years later I helped to found the Native American Press Association (which we later changed to Native American Journalists Association) and when we held our second organizational meeting on the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, I invited Trimble to be there and to give us the sendoff and the inspiration to make this new organization a success. He was there to wish us well and to encourage us to move forward.
When you go back 30 years in the brief history of Indian journalism it is important to remember that Trimble, LaCourse, Robinson and Harjo were the groundbreakers. They paved the way for those of us that followed in the path they had helped to clear for us. Not only that but it was through their efforts and yes, mistakes, that inspired many of us to learn from all of the good they had done and to try our best to avoid the pitfalls.
The Native American Journalists Association will be celebrating its 25th Anniversary next year and if it had not been for the early example of visionaries like Trimble we would not have had the guidelines and the advisors to help us through the tough spots.
Through the years perhaps I have made mistakes that contributed to a parting of the ways with Trimble, but I have always believed that friends try to work through their mistakes and to seek out solutions. So if I have inadvertently done something to offend a man who I always thought of as my lifelong friend, I extend my hand in the Lakota way to apologize.
I just want Charles “Wobbie” Trimble to know that I still admire and respect him for the guidance and friendship he extended to me over these many years.
How can two friends, when little boys, saw themselves kicked out of the Alex Johnson Hotel in Rapid City by the doorman who shouted at us as he missed us with a violent kick, “Get the hell out of here you dirty little Indians.”
Well, both of us survived that little bit of racial prejudice and went on to make every effort to fight for the rights of the Indian people and, on some levels, succeeded. Noted American Indian journalists are too few and far between not to stick together. Perhaps we may disagree on certain things, but that should never end a lifelong friendship.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association and the founder and publisher of Indian Country Today, the Lakota Times, and the Dakota/Lakota Journal. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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