Tim Giago (Oglala Sioux) 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: There are always two sides to every story -- even in Indian Country

Notes from Indian Country

There will always be two sides to every story
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

This is a short note for those folks who went bananas when they read my column last week about the American Indian Movement. First of all read it again because you obviously did not get the point.

Second most of those ill-informed who suggested I learn the history of AIM have no idea that I, and many other Indian reporters, were there at the beginning. I worked for the largest Indian newspaper in the country in the 1970s under the tutelage of a Cahuilla Indian man named Rupert Costo. His newspaper was called Wassaja (pronounced wah-sah-hah) named for the great Apache journalist Carlos Montezuma, whose Indian name was Wassaja.

There were a lot of Indian news reporters out there back then trying our level best to bring the news to the folks living on the Indian reservations. There was one distinction between us and the people we reported on; they made the news and we only covered it. We weren’t trying to be famous. I can give you a list of Indian journalists most of you never heard of and yet they were out there every day doing their jobs reporting the news.

When I wrote about Anna Mae Pictou Aquash and was slammed by some of you for displaying my ignorance know one thing, I had a Lakota newspaper reporter sitting in the courtroom taking notes and then writing the story at the trial of those accused of killing her. My reporter wrote some of her articles directly from the court transcripts. I have the transcripts.

Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s I had the privilege of covering many of the stories most of you have only read about. Some of my harshest critics were still kicking turds out of their cradles while I and other Indian reporters were doing our jobs. If I wrote a story about Dick Wilson and his administration on the Pine Ridge Reservation I was called a “goon.” A couple of weeks later if I wrote a story covering the American Indian Movement I was called an AIMer. It was a no-win situation. Apparently it still is.

But as my friend Gary Garrison said in my defense, I had a window to history.

I never covered a trial of an Indian man or woman expecting complete justice because I was working in South Dakota where justice for Native Americans was lacking, but I wrote about it as an unbiased reporter not as a judge or jury.

That is one of the reasons I founded the Native American Journalists Association. I considered the fact that we were a very small minority in the field of news reporting and with this organization we would have strength in numbers, the better to cover the important issues so vital to tribal sovereignty. When Donald Trump was trying to kill Indian gaming in front of Congress it was the Indian journalists who covered the story from an Indian perspective.

But like every Indian journalist I worked alongside of as an editor or reporter, I know that none of us ever sought fame. We were there to cover the news and the newsmakers. But what we all tried to do was to report the news as truth. We had an old saying in the newsroom, “If we didn’t get cussed at today we weren’t doing our jobs.”

So for those of you who screamed at me to learn the history of AIM remember that I, and many other news reporters, were there at the beginning. I was at rallies covering AIM where my camera was ripped from my hands and I was punched by the police. But I was there to get a news story not to participate in the protest.

I had friends that were AIM and I had friends that were called GOONS, but since I lived and worked on the Pine Ridge Reservation, I had to maintain a sense of diplomacy. My father gave Chief Fools Crow his first horse when they were boys and since our allotted land adjoined his, they used to ride through hills and valleys at Three-Mile-Creek together. Fools Crow once said to me as I interviewed him for a news story, “Tim, you could have been my son, but your dad beat me out.” He was referring to the fact that he had an eye for my mother.

I stand by the article I wrote last week because as a newsman, I still have all of the documentation. And lastly, there are always two sides to every story and as a lifetime journalist, I have always tried to look at both sides and I advise those who would tear down what I write to please do likewise.

Tim Giago was inducted into the Native American Journalists Hall of Fame and into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame. He was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation.