With the recent indianz.com exchanges
between Tim Giago and me, my friend Sam Deloria called “the last of the Indian wars,” things seem to be heating up. Well, not really; I am merely making observations on what I think are liberties that Tim Giago is taking with journalistic ethics and truth, and he doesn’t take kindly to criticism.
In my last column I commented on the never-ending war between Tim and what remains of AIM. I noted that this ongoing trade of barbs between the combatants might be called WKIII, following WKII, which was AIM’s standoff against the combined forces of US Marshals, FBI and Goon squads during the occupation of the Wounded Knee area in 1973.
Giago retorted with a comeback that he has used often since fourth grade, "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me." And I considered retaliating by putting my thumb up to my nose and retorting in kind, "Nyahh, nyahh, nyahh." But that would be unseemly, especially between two aging Oglala has-beens. Perhaps all this new never-ending battle we can call “Oglala Geezer I,” and hope there'll never be a OGII or OGIII in the future. We've already had enough of WKII and WKIII.
Commenting to me on the ongoing food fight between me and Giago, Shirley Sneve, Executive Director of Native American Public Telecommunications in Lincoln, Nebraska, could only come out with, “Oh, you Oglalas,” as if she needn’t say another word. She’s a talented and comely Sicangu, but her Rosebud attitude of kindred superiority rankles me sometimes. I think she may have also added that we were giving new meaning and credulity to the name “Fighting Sioux,” which is a redundancy as it is.
But I have more to say on the subject of Tim’s needless justification on getting back into the newspaper business in these perilous economic times. He spinned his risky business venture into an almost martyrly crusade. Somebody, he says, needs to be a watchdog on those tyrannical “tribal governments that have for years run roughshod over their citizens.” It is true that such might be the case in some tribal governments, but most are doing their best, and not doing too badly by just surviving. So that is the tenor of today’s cartoon.
I feel that I should continue my criticism of Tim’s writing on this subject. But I decided to try the different medium of cartooning and soften the edge of my commentary.
The work of an editorial or political cartoonist is not merely to illustrate his editor’s or publisher’s biases, bigotry, or enemy-du-jour. Rather he should be a commentator in his own right, as important and often more effective than any columnist with the written word. Marty Two Bulls, the Thomas Nast of Indian journalism, saved himself early on from the fate of an editorial illustrator; he broke away and advanced himself to become the preeminent Indian editorial cartoonist of all time, and to rank right up there with the best in the mass media.
An editorial cartoonist must have the mind and soul of a Heyoka, or Iktomi, or coyote, or raven or any of those wonderful critters that Indian cultures have used throughout the centuries to puncture egos and bigotry with humor. And he must have the courage of Crazy Horse to stand up to the bullies he has vanquished with humor and ridicule.
I am no Marty Two Bulls, as you can see in the cartoon that accompanies this column. But neither am I a rank amateur (rank, maybe, but not amateur). Years ago, in the late 1960s, I was editor of the Denver Indian Times, which was published by the city’s urban Indian organization, the White Buffalo Council. In addition to everything else, I did editorial cartoons, as well as a regular comic strip called “Luke Warm Water.” Luke was the star of the strip, and had such other characters as Joe Rednek, the local white farmer, Helen High Water, the young Native feminist and political activist, and Russ Means Well, a spoiled young lad. I recently found some copies of those cartoons and I will put them on line for your enjoyment in my new website when it comes on line next week.
But I beg your kindness in judging my cartoon here. You must understand that I haven’t drawn one for over 35 years. And my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, and my hands aren’t as steady.
And I hope that it is taken in the spirit in which it is presented. I do not mean to fan the flames of internecine warfare, and I hope that Tim Giago and his fans will understand that I mean only to send a message, a critique, if you will. And all great writers should take criticism and improve their work to their last breath.
As for my new website, it will include an archive of all the columns I have done in the past and new ones about current events and issues. These will be downloadable and Indian newspapers are invited to reprint them at no cost. Perhaps this could be my contribution to help them weather the economic storms. There will also be a blog for ongoing discussion and verbal warfare.
The name of the site will be “Iktomis Web,” taking its name and theme from that Lakota trickster Iktomi. As I explain in the home page: “In Lakota mythology Iktomi is a trickster and a culture hero. His name in Lakota language translates “ground spider,” and he has a large round belly and long spindly legs and arms. He lays out intricate schemes but most of them end up backfiring, giving valuable lessons and much laughter to all, especially himself.”
Iktomi is my hero, and I shall try to live up to his great reputation in my new website.
Charles E. Trimble is Oglala Lakota, born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-78. He is retired and lives in Omaha. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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