The Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo: Kyle Rush

Tim Giago: Media organizations honor Teddy Roosevelt despite his racist views

Notes from Indian Country
There is hypocrisy in the motto of this year’s SDNA, NDNA convention
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

The South and North Dakota Newspaper Associations join forces every couple of years and hold a joint convention. One year it is held in North Dakota and the next time in South Dakota.

This May it will be held in Medora, North Dakota, because President Teddy Roosevelt had a ranch near there. Some clever folks on the planning committee decided to get cute and so the theme of this particular convention is “When the West was One.” A musical show is planned and is “Billed as 'The Greatest Show in the West,' the musical review is an ode to patriotism and Theodore Roosevelt, who before being elected president lived and ranched in the Badlands near Medora.”

I had to scratch my head and wonder if the convention planners ever knew about Roosevelt’s feelings about Native Americans, the most populous minority in North and South Dakota.

If not here is one of his quotes about Indians, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

I’m sure there are members of both organizations saying, “Oh, that’s the way it was back then.” To this I say baloney. Racial prejudice is racial prejudice no matter when it occurred.

Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Photo: chascar

Teddy Roosevelt took thousands of acres of land from different Indian nations without consulting their leaders and turned them into national parks. Much of this stolen land was rich in game that had been hunted for centuries by the tribes from which the land was taken.

At the last joint convention held in North Dakota a panel was seated to talk about the clashes between Native Americans and the law during the protests against the Keystone XL Pipeline. As attendees we found it hard to believe that not one Native American was seated on that panel. The excuse given to us for this blatant oversight was, “We looked but we couldn’t find any Native Americans.” Our newspaper has been a member of the South Dakota Newspaper Association for more than 30 years. Did we suddenly become invisible?

Both newspaper associations should have been at the forefront of promoting racial equality over the 100 years they have existed, but instead they took a different tact and buried their heads in the sand when it came to race relations. I know because for years I have been asking to speak at one of their conventions on the issue of race relations in South Dakota. It is apparently a topic that is too touchy for our less than open minded Newspaper Associations.

I sent the Teddy Roosevelt quote and a note about the feelings most Native Americans have for Teddy Roosevelt to David Bordewyk, the director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, last year after the association brought a Roosevelt impersonator to the floor as a guest presenter. My concerns apparently went over his head because if he had anything to do with organizing this year’s convention he sure didn’t take my concerns seriously.

Let me remind Karen Speidel, head of the North Dakota Newspaper Association and David Bordewyk, head of the South Dakota Newspaper Association that Native Americans do exist is North and South Dakota. As I said above, I have been a member of the SDNA for more than 30 years and have never been asked to consider a seat on their board.

Native Americans have their sovereign nations and we are also citizens of South Dakota and of the United States. I always felt that our very presence as attendees to the annual Newspaper Conventions would let the membership know that we do exist.

We (Native Americans) lost one of our greatest champions when Professor Dick Lee of South Dakota State University School of Journalism passed away. Dick even made it a point to attend the conventions of the Native American Journalists Association in order to learn.

Allen Neuharth made a courageous effort to include Native Americans into his media empire. When I was looking for funds to start the Native American Journalists Association Neuharth was there with money from the Gannett Foundation to give us a financial start and a boost.

Both newspaper associations have had numerous opportunities to hear the other side of the story but instead have refused to take off their blinders. They must have known that “When the West was One” is not only a terrible slogan, it is not true. Since the white man first set foot in the country they would name Dakota Territory, after the Dakota a race of people, the Indians and the encroaching settlers have been at war.

Thousands died on both sides and that hardly indicates that the West was one. South Dakota was a state when nearly 300 Lakota men, women and children were mercilessly slaughtered at Wounded Knee. How soon we forget.

For the first time in 30 years neither I nor my staff will attend the combined conventions of SDNA and NDNA. We would not be true to ourselves or our traditions if we failed to recognize the hypocrisy in the location and the motto of this convention.

Contact Tim Giago at

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