Vi Waln: Truth, integrity and Lakota spirit is paper's mission

When you write newspaper articles or editorials which people from all over the world might read you have to remember how much responsibility you carry. Three years ago I had no idea that I would be writing weekly columns for all of you to read. It has been quite a learning process for me. I truly believe all writers must have personal and professional integrity as far as their work is concerned.

Some days it just amazes me how people from all over the world read what I write. Not only am I an ambassador for the Lakota Country Times, I am also an unofficial ambassador for Lakota people as well as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. I take my role seriously. All tribal writers should remember they are ambassadors for their people.

I live on the rez. Addressing sensitive topics is very difficult. There is always someone out there who will find fault with my thinking. And it is especially easy to find fault when it happens to be you or a family member named in a story or editorial. Still, when people are not satisfied with my writing most of them will not say anything directly to me. They might give me a twisted glance in public when they see me, but most will not confront me personally.

On the other hand, some readers will email me immediately if they have issues with my opinions. Sometimes I even get hate mail. Still, I appreciate those messages. They help me to critique my work.

Other readers will definitely say something to me personally. This past week I had the opportunity to speak in person with a Lakota woman who disagreed with one of my editorials. Visiting with her as we sat in the waiting room of the Rosebud Hospital helped me to understand her views more clearly.

I never had the desire to be a journalist or a columnist, I just kind of wound up in this field because I am a writer. I did earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. If you look really hard at my official transcript you could say I have a minor in English. I never took one class in journalism, which is a fact some writers believe is a problem. I have no regrets. I am simply a writer with many readers across the globe.

As a writer I view the internet as an amazing thing. It is a way for my work to be instantly exposed throughout the world. It is pretty awesome when I think about it. There are people from all over the globe who can read the words I write. I believe it would be unethical for me to abuse this responsibility.

I was never into sensationalism. I resist writing things which are not documented by facts. I can honestly say I have never used speculation in any of my stories or columns. I rarely use unnamed sources. I don’t believe it is right to print something for people to read when it isn’t true. Also, the policy of this newspaper is we do not print your letter unless you sign your name to it.

The rez loves drama. Newspapers articles, letters or editorials can create issues where there may be none to begin with. We have impressionable young people who might believe everything they read in the newspapers as the ultimate truth. We have a responsibility to them to present only the facts. How will our young people learn to walk with integrity and responsibility when we continue to show them it is okay to print distortions?

Still, writers have to pay bills too. I suppose it is easier to sell newspapers when they are filled with drama but it’s not a very ethical way to make a living. Nowadays you can go into stores on my rez and see all the weekly newspapers for sale. People buy those newspapers and then complain about what is printed in them. I rarely buy local newspapers. I will pick them up and look at them if I happen to see them lying around somewhere but I hardly spend money on them. I won’t waste my dollar to read gossip.

As writers we all enjoy our right to express ourselves in our work. There are many ethical Native writers out there whom I support wholeheartedly. I have even donated money to some of them so they could continue their work. They are the writers who understand the responsibility they carry when they sit down at their keyboard or pick up their pen. I appreciate the thought provoking articles many of them share with the world. They are true ambassadors of their tribes.

“Truth, Integrity & Lakota Spirit” is the mission statement of the Lakota Country Times. It is also the philosophy I have worked hard to incorporate into my own walk of life. The only way our Lakota descendants will learn is by watching us. We are tomorrow’s ancestors. Is your spoken and written word something you would want your children to carry on?

It is a personal choice to lower ourselves to the level of someone who is untruthful or lacks integrity, ethics or scruples. I would rather present the truth for you to read than fill your head with speculation or gossip. There is no point in printing lies. Again, it creates issues where there might have not been any before. Do not believe everything you read folks because some publishers will print anything to sell you a newspaper.

Thank you all so very much for reading this column. Some days the job I do is a very tough one. But I would rather leave a legacy of truth, integrity and Lakota spirit for my descendants than one of lies, speculation and deceit. We must be good ancestors. We pave the way for our unborn generations. We have the power to change their world. We have to take care of it.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at vi@lakotacountrytimes.com.

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