Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritters discusses racist mascots at a symposium in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 2018. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Opinion

Tim Giago: Indian newspapers and Indian journalists are alive and well




Notes from Indian Country

The day freedom of the press died
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

It seems that the newspaper I founded on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1981 has been kicked from pillar to post since I sold it to the Oneida Nation in 1998.

The first thing the Oneida did was to turn Indian Country Today into a tribal newspaper. By that I mean the editor at the time, and they had several, decided not to print letters to the editor because letters might include criticism of the Oneida Nation and its leader Ray Halbritter. The next thing was to deny any independent columnist from writing anything critical of the Tribe or Ray. That was the day freedom of the press died.

Indian Country Today’s readership plummeted by two thirds in the first year. Staples like the Grouchy Gourmet and Little Notes, two columns that brought a little humor to the paper, were dropped. Grouchy Gourmet was a column that talked about the different eating establishment in and around Indian Country and was particularly critical of any bad service that could be linked to racism. Little Notes was about the employees, how they were doing on the job, the funny things that happened to them during the week, and it helped the readers of Indian Country Today get to know the staff and management of the newspaper. They fired two of my best writers, Brenda Norrell and Delphine Red Shirt because they wrote articles that did not fit into the closed ideologies of the Oneida owners.

The print edition of Indian Country Today was soon scrapped and the paper went to an entirely digital format. Since so many of the newspaper’s readers lived on remote Indian reservations where they did not have easy access to the Internet or could not afford to buy the computers to read the paper digitally, the circulation of a once proud newspaper took another dip.

Indian Country Today was born from the roots of the Lakota Times, and it had a proud tradition of editorial freedom. In standing up for the people’s right to know the paper often published articles critical of tribal governments, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and of the United States Government itself. The newspaper found itself caught between the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the American Indian Movement more than once and this resulted in the newspaper’s windows being shot out on three separate occasions and of the newspaper office being firebombed in 1982. Death threats to myself and my staff were not uncommon.

This is a part of the proud heritage of Indian Country Today that was erased and buried by the Oneida Nation. They never wanted to publicize the fact that Indian Country Today originated in Lakota Country and was brought to life and built into the largest and best Indian newspaper in America by the Lakota editor and his Lakota staff.

After I retired my daughter Michele Hudson and niece Christy Tibbitts decided to start their own newspaper and asked for my advice. Of course they are family and I was glad to give them my best advice. The Oneida immediately filed a lawsuit against me for a non-compete clause and after fighting them for about a year my Rapid City attorney finally just threw up her hands and said, “Tim, we don’t have the money or resources to fight them, they are too rich.” She advise me to let it go. The Oneida still owed me 50 percent of the sales price and so they ended up getting a great newspaper for 50 percent of its worth.

At the Native American Journalists Association Convention in Anaheim, California this past September everyone was discussing the demise of Indian Country Today. I stood in the room filled with Indian journalists crying over losing their lost opportunities and told them the story I mentioned in the above paragraph. Not one Indian journalist asked me a question or wrote one sentence about it.

Indian Country Today is now owned by the National Congress of American Indians. They have signed Mark Trahant on to be the new editor. If an article is sent to Trahant that is highly critical of the Oneida Nation or another NCAI member will he publish it? Trahant started a weekly newspaper he called Navajo Nation Today with expectations of competing against the Navajo Times. It didn’t work out and the paper went belly up in less than one year.


Some of the funds donated to NCAI comes from different Indian nations. They used to get some federal dollars and I don’t know whether they still do. It takes massive amounts of money to run a newspaper. Where is that money going to come from? Will NCAI be competing against independent Indian newspapers for their advertising dollars? Trahant expects to form a board independent of NCAI and he hopes to fund the newspaper with freelance funding and audience donations. Good luck with that!

Trahant said this is the third iteration of Indian Country Today and will not include a print edition. The first Indian Country Today under independent Indian ownership was a tremendous success and the second one not so much. Lord only knows what will happen with the third iteration.

Native Sun News Today, the largest weekly newspaper in South Dakota, is Lakota owned. It is now in the process of making a national expansion and will be adding an arts and entertainment magazine to its mix in three weeks. The magazine called Eyapaha Today (in the old Lakota ways the Eyapaha was the village crier) will feature the great Indian artists and craftspeople of the day. Go to nativesunnews.today to view the newspaper.

Indian newspapers and Indian journalists are alive and well with or without Indian Country Today.

Contact Tim Giago, founder of Indian Country Today, at editor@nativesunnews.today.

Related Stories:
Indian Country Today revived with a veteran Native journalist at helm (February 28, 2018)
Mark Trahant: Exploring the 'business' of news in Indian Country these days (October 16, 2017)
Oneida Nation donates assets of Indian Country Today Media Network to tribal organization (October 4, 2017)
Tim Giago: Media in Indian Country still finds strength in the face of bad news (September 25, 2017)
Former Indian Country editor blames demise on non-Indian gaming operations (September 20, 2017)
Doug George-Kanentiio: Indian Country Today failed because it was a business (September 11, 2017)
Mark Trahant: Indian Country is strong when media in Indian Country is strong (September 11, 2017)
Mary Annette Pember: Embracing a new role after death of Indian news source (September 7, 2017)
Oneida Nation announces indefinite 'hiatus' for Indian Country Media Network (September 5, 2017)