erintapahe
Erin Tapahe (Navajo) performs a hoop dance t the Native American Journalists Association’s 2019 National Native Media Conference. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
Notes from Indian Country
Honoring the professors and Native journalists who paved the way
Monday, September 21, 2020

It seems that this past year has been a terrible one filled with the loss of some great American journalists and journalism professors, Native and Non-Native.

First off we lost Professor Bill Dulaney of Penn State University who worked side-by-side with Loren Tapahe, Navajo Times and I to create the Native American Journalists Association. He used all of his connections with the Gannett Foundation to secure the funds to get NAJA off of the ground.

Next we lost Professor Dick Lee of the South Dakota State University School of Journalism. Dick called one day and asked if we could sit down and discuss the role Native American journalists play in our society. He traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation to visit me at my newspaper and he then joined the Native American Journalists Association to learn more and attended every one of our annual conventions sharing his years of journalism experience with our young Native journalists.

To have Dulaney and Lee at our annual meetings was truly a gift. Both said they learned more from us (Natives) than we did from them. I suppose it did work both ways because like so many white Americans, Dulaney and Lee knew very little about Native Americans and we were just cutting our teeth in the field of journalism so the tradeoff was mutual.

Adrian Louis was a Paiute from Nevada. He ended up in South Dakota because he was a fan of my then newspaper the Lakota Times and he called me one day asking if I had room for another reporter. I did and I hired him on the spot. He joined my newspaper and along the way worked his way up to managing editor. Louis had a dry, unique sense of humor. He wrote a column one time about watching white sheets hanging on a clothesline and described the way they took on different forms as they waved in the early spring wind. The column said nothing and yet it said everything. Louis went on to teach journalism at a college in Minnesota and that is where he passed away.

Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Jerry Reynolds was not a Native. He was living in Gordon, Nebraska where he picked up a copy of my newspaper. He drove to my office with his resume’ in hand. He was raised around many Natives in Gordon and so he had an inkling about the culture. He took that inkling and turned it into one of the great journalists covering Indian issues in the 1980s. His well-researched series on border town banks redlining Native Americans not only won a journalism award for the paper, but brought the U. S. Justice Department down hard on some of the banks by levying heavy fines on them for their bad treatment of Native Americans. One bank was fined $200,000 for redlining.

Tom Beaver started out as a print journalist and then moved into the field of television journalism as the electronic media gained strength in the 1970s and 80s. He worked for years at WCCO in Minneapolis and finally retired to live in Albuquerque. I had lunch with him in Albuquerque shortly before he passed.

Each of these journalists brought something special to the growth of Native American journalism. They opened doors for many of the young Native journalists about to set foot into this business of reporting the news. And each of these new journalists brought diversity to different newsrooms across America.

And there was one great Lakota woman who helped to educate America to the lives and experiences of Native Americans by pioneering a television show in the 1970s in Bismarck, N. D. Her name was Harriet Skye. She passed away last year as did Millie Giago, an Oklahoma Indian woman who pioneered some of the Native American television shows in Oklahoma City.

Dr. Harriett Skye
American Indian College Fund on Flickr: Dr. Harriett Skye

Skye started hosting “Indian Country Today” in 1973. For more than a decade, she filmed some 250 episodes, most of which were recorded on 2-inch, reel-to-reel videotape. Producers used the same tape for each show, so only a few of the final episodes survived to be archived at the North Dakota State Historical Society.

After appearing on her show in 1974 I returned to Rapid City and started a weekly show on KEVN-TV called The First Americans. It took the encouragement and support of Skye to accomplish this feat unheard of at the time for Rapid City. Like Skye’s television show, mine were also on 2-inch, reel-to-reel videotape and aside from the one or two I put on video tape, none of the other shows survived.

I’ve lost track of many of the early Native journalists who paved the way for those of us who followed. We recently lost Chuck Trimble, a Lakota journalist and former classmate of mine at the Holy Rosary Indian Mission at Pine Ridge. Trimble founded the first Native journalist association back in the early 1970s.

And so I doff my hat and bid a fond farewell to the journalism professors and journalists whose teachings and writings inspired all of us and made us much better persons for our chosen profession.


Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com

Note: Content © Tim Giago