Tim Giago was honored at the Native American Journalists Association convention for his lifetime of service to journalism and his support for NAJA. He received the NAJA-Medill Milestone Achievement Award on September 8, 2017. Photo: Native American Journalists Association

Tim Giago: Media in Indian Country still finds strength in the face of bad news

Notes from Indian Country

The Indian media still finds strength in unity
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

The last couple of weeks have been way beyond hectic.

Jackie and I flew out to Anaheim, California, for the 34th anniversary of the Native American Journalists Association. The bad news hit us a few days before we climbed aboard that plane: Indian Country Today Media Network had shuttered its windows. I always thought that Indian Country Today Media Network was sort of a presumptuous name. As a stand-alone the name Indian Country Today was always adequate.

It is ironic that I founded NAJA 34 years ago and it is still going strong, and I founded Indian Country Today 36 years ago and it has now closed its doors. Could it be that NAJA is run by Native American journalists and ICTMN was not?

At the same time NAJA was having its convention, Hurricane Irma was pounding the state of Florida causing a slight disruption in the flight schedules of some of the attendees. I called my friend, professor of Journalism Bill Dulaney, who resides in Jacksonville, Florida, to see if the storm has hit his home. He said everything was just fine and he was back at home after a short stay with family members on higher ground. Dulaney fought a long battle with cancer and is now in remission. He is 88 years old.

This is also ironic because Dulaney was instrumental in helping me get NAJA started. As a professor of journalism Dulaney subscribed to many newspapers to use as teaching tools in his department. Somehow in 1983 he came across a copy of the Lakota Times and immediately subscribed to it. He called me on occasion to discuss some of the stories in the paper and often to ask for copies of some of the photos of elderly Lakota which he thought were beautiful

During one conversation we talked about freedom of the press in Indian Country. We wondered if we could start and organization that would count members of the Native American media as a combined group of journalists. We scouted for funds to search out all of the Indian newspapers still existing at the time. Keep in mind that the only Indian media back then was in newspapers and bulletins. There was no Internet and few if any Indian owned radio or television stations.

We got a grant from the Gannett Foundation to hold an organizational meeting of Indian reporters and editors at Penn State University where Dulaney taught. My Managing Editor, Adrian Louis and I sent letters and made phone calls to every Indian media outlet we could find and asked them to meet with us at Penn State to talk about forming an organization of Indian newspapers.

The old saying, “build it and they will come” was never truer because on the day we scheduled for our first meeting Indian journalists from all over America began to appear on the Penn State Campus. Some of them like Minnie Two Shoes from Fort Peck, Montana, were driving Rez cars held together by bailing wire, but she made it. Penn State allowed us to stay in their dormitories.

The next year we met on the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma and elected our first board of directors and named our group the Native American Press Association. I was elected as the first president, Loren Tapahe, Editor of the Navajo Times was elected as the first vice president, Mary Polanco, editor of the Jicarilla Chieftain in Dulce, New Mexico, was elected as the first Secretary and Anita Austin, editor of the Native American Rights Fund Newsletter was our first treasurer. The year was 1984.

We formed this organization which we later renamed the Native American Journalists Association, in order promote freedom of the press in Indian Country and to build a consensus of Indian journalists to speak out against the many injustices against Native Americans. NAJA has continued to do that job.

I founded Indian Country Today also to promote freedom of the press starting with the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where we were based. Sadly, after I sold ICT to the Oneida Nation, that freedom went out of the window. They refused to print columns or even letters to the editor that were critical of the tribe or the newspaper. After fighting for 18 years to establish freedom of the press in Indian Country I was in for a huge disappointment.

The Oneida controlled the content of the newspaper and began to hire editors and writers that were not familiar with Indian Country as most of my former readers knew it. Its print circulation fell dramatically and it eventually switched to an entirely online newspaper. There are thousands of Native Americans living on remote Indian reservations without access to the Internet or even if they did have access because of the extreme poverty, many could hardly afford to buy a computer least of all subscribe to Internet services. Another batch of their readers went out of the window.

But because the Oneida had deep pockets they were able to keep the paper afloat for another 18 years after I sold it to them. They apparently ran out of time and patience and shut it down. Over the years they had some good writers that were holdovers from the old Indian Country Today, but they terminated excellent writers like Brenda Norrell and Delphine Red Shirt because they dared to question their editorial position at times.

I sent the Oneida an email asking them to let me have the name back and I will breathe new life into it, but they have not responded. So I guess we’ll just sit back and watch newspapers like Native Sun News Today continue to grow and prosper and to serve Indian Country with the heartbeat of the Lakota.

Contact Tim Giago at nativesunnews.today. Giago was awarded the Native American Journalists Association / Medill Milestone Award at the NAJA convention in September 207 for his decade’s long service to Native American journalism

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