When Native Sun News first began to publish in April we did an editorial that talked about our role as a watchdog for tribes and the general public.
Some Indian newspapers and cartoonists thought this was funny and a cartoon
and articles soon appeared that lambasted us for making this assertion. This cartoon even appeared on Indianz.com, a website that was apparently unaware of the many investigative stories that appeared in newspapers I owned.
We laughed along with others, but we did not let it deter us from the job of investigating and reporting the news that our readers expect.
For Indianz.com and others who never knew the history of the original Lakota Times and Indian Country Today, when I owned them, let me give you some background.
When Blackpipe Bank in Martin, S.D. and The First National Bank in Gordon, Neb. gave out loans to members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, these banks often charged higher interest rates. When members of the tribe applied for loans, they came under a blanket familiar to minorities in other parts of the nation. It is called “redlining.” This means the banks have a secret map that tells them where they should expect the riskiest loans and they “redline” this section of a city or area on an Indian reservation. If a person from the redlined zone comes in for a loan they are automatically faced with this discriminatory mark and their loans are usually rejected.
Those Lakota who did qualify for a loan were charged a much higher interest rate than the non-Indians in Gordon and the surrounding community. Staff writer Jerry Reynolds of my Lakota Times was assigned to investigate this out and out discriminatory practice. Over a period of several weeks Reynolds uncovered the illegal practices by the two banks.
The Lakota Times did a front page article exposing this unlawful practice. The U. S. Attorney for the district that covered this region charged the banks with fraud and fined them. This illegal practice ceased. The banks were fined as much as $200,000.
A clothing manufacturer in Texas convinced the Bureau of Indian Affairs to fund the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota to purchase his company for $19 million. The BIA, in its infinite wisdom, was ready to let the tribes and the seller sign on the dotted line. At the time this was happening, clothing manufacturing plants were closing right and left. They could not compete with the cheaper clothing from China and elsewhere.
Joan Morrison, a staff writer at the Lakota Times, and I, teamed up to investigate. We found out that the man selling the company had invited a delegation from both reservations to Texas where he wined and dined them. His name was Harvey Greenwald and while doing the background on him Morrison and I discovered that Mr. Greenwald was involved in a real estate scam in Florida. He was standing on the courthouse steps in Miami when a man walked up and shot him in the chest.
Luckily he was wearing a bullet proof vest and he survived. With the help of the BIA, he was about to pull another scam except this time it would be a scam on the Indians. When I showed up in Aberdeen to listen in on a meeting held by the Oglala and Ft. Berthold delegates as they met with the BIA on the loan, I was thrown out of the meeting.
The story was published on page one of the Lakota Times and the BIA immediately pulled the funding for the proposed scam. The BIA was willing to put up $19 million of taxpayer dollars without ever checking on the background of the scam artist. The Lakota Times killed this scam with its investigative reporters. Where was the non-Indian press?
The 10-part investigative series by Avis Little Eagle on False Medicine Men and Women shook up the fake Indians that are out there. The series brought threats against Avis and Indian Country Today, but she fearlessly continued until the series was finished and along the way exposed many men and women trying to profit from the spirituality of the Indian people.
Investigative stories by Indian Country Today and the Lakota Times (when I was the editor of both) have put tribal officials behind bars and exposed corruption in tribal governments. After firebombs and bullets damaged our news office most of us at the newspaper lived in fear of our lives, but we never stopped reporting the news or investigating corruption and crimes when we saw it.
Native Sun News is only six months old but it has already exposed the Custer Doll that McDonald’s was handing out with it Happy Meals and the Wine Drinking Indian head that was sold in stores across the Nation including one in Rapid City. We are currently investigating alleged corruption in one tribal government.
When we said we were coming back as a watchdog over tribes and private businesses, we weren’t just whistling Dixie. So why should Native Sun News be criticized for doing the job most other Indian newspapers are afraid to do?
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the
founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the
1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with
the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of
Fame in 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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