Frustrated by her inability to effectively fight back when the publisher of the Lakota Times newspaper would attack her in print, Oglala Sioux Tribe councilwoman Shirley Plume decided to start her own news periodical. She harkened the adage: If you want your truth to be told, buy your own newspaper.
This was back in 1990, before the Internet. Her new single-page journal would be called Lakota TIM* (TIM being the acronym for Truth in Media), and would be authored by Lakota persons under the nom de plume of “Iktomi.” Like its legendary namesake, Iktomi used satire with humor and self-deprecation in their rollicking crusade.
Mrs. Plume and another person (unknown to me to this day) would write the basic story and mail it to me, and I would edit and add some humor and a masculine touch to further disguise the authors’ identities. Then I would return it to them for reproducing and mailing.
Likening itself to the Samizdat underground in the Soviet regime, Lakota TIM* was published and distributed covertly. Driving both the authors and publication underground was fear of the vindictive power of the Times publisher who would relentlessly attack them, and realization that they wouldn’t have the power of money to respond in kind.
Lakota TIM* had a limited press run which was mailed to only several members of the then Native American Press Association (NAPA); but it usually got a much wider circulation via fax from there on. Sending it to his peers, it was hoped, would put pressure on Giago himself to be more fair and truthful.
Looking back on it now, it was a sensible approach to retaliation, for no nasty charges were made against Lakota Times or its publisher, only ridicule.
New issues of Lakota TIM* would draw apoplectic, sputtering rage from the Lakota Times editorial page, replete with cartoons attacking “gutless guttersnipes and other lowlife” who didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to take on publisher Tim Giago in a manly fashion on Main Street at high noon.
But Shirley did just that – as best she knew how. She died several years ago, and this article from Lakota TIM* is re-issued in her memory.
Adios Iktomi. Viva Iktomi!
February 1990 issue: Iktomi to be honored by NAPA….Maybe!
Word came to us here at Lakota TIM* that I, Iktomi, am going to be honored at the Native American Press Association (NAPA) conference this spring.
Our secretary got a call from someone from the NAPA office who said that they are initiating a national Iktomi Award to be named after me because of the growing popularity of Lakota TIM*. At first there was much skepticism about the call because our secretary said that there was a lot of giggling and loud music on the other end of the line, and the caller sounded a bit in the bag himself. But we figured maybe the guy was calling during a NAPA staff meeting. After all, staff meetings at Lakota TIM* are sometimes raucous too, especially when someone in the office has traded off commodities and we have enough cash for a couple six packs.
At any rate, the news caused great excitement in the office, and we hocked the old Remington upright typewriter and had a celebration.
But I got to thinking it over, and I now have doubts about accepting that prestigious honor. A person never knows what embarrassment such an award might cause his loved ones after he is dead and gone. Like a few weeks ago I read in the other newspaper hereabouts that Tim Giago, in a huff of righteous indignation, announced he is going to return a national journalism award to the folks back east who had given it to him. It seems that the award was named for a certain H.L. Mencken, whose recently published diary revealed him to be a racist, sexist and otherwise bigoted grouch. Apparently, that hit pretty close to home in describing Giago himself, so he decided he would give back the award (at least the plaque -- the cash that came with it is now in the form of baubles, bangles, beads and fur on the person of the current Mrs. Giago, and we're told that she warned him not to get any ideas of sending them back if he knew what was good for him). Anyway, Giago figured that he could get double mileage out of the award -- first for receiving it, then for noblesse oblige in giving it back.*
Well that got me to thinking: What if this NAPA award makes me famous and someone decides to do a biography? It would take only one beer-round of interviews in a saloon across the reservation border to rake up enough muck on old Iktomi to make D.C. Mayor Marion Barry look like a Mormon bishop by comparison. My God, I thought, what would NAPA do with all the certificates in dime store frames that are returned by those idealistic young journalists when they learn what a miscreant it was whose name is on their cherished award?
And if the biographer decided to get anecdotes from old veterans of Crow Fair and other such doings, those young Iktomi awardees might even be moved to return the fake Pendleton blankets or whatever NAPA might give them with the cheap certificates.
No way am I going to let that happen! But now my dilemma is how to decline the honor yet still have my one brief shining moment in the limelight. How does a person turn down the greatest honor of his life? Especially if it's the only honor to come his way since third grade!
Perhaps I should just decline the honor for reasons of humility. If the truth be known, my humility would be fully justified, because I really don't deserve credit for the humor that readers find in my columns. It's in the usual subject of my commentary that the humor lies. There's nothing much goes on out here on the rez between tribal elections, so I just read Giago's column and comment on those odious encyclicals. There's enough pomposity and absurdity there to keep old Iktomi busy for years to come.
Then the idea hit me: I will pull a Giago trick! I will go to the NAPA conference and graciously accept the honor of having an award given in my name. I will give a memorable speech about the grave responsibilities of the Indian Press. The white media from far and wide will cover the event of a new name joining the ranks of the great Prizes: Pulitzer, Nobel, Mencken, Iktomi!
Then, next day I'll make my move. I'll call a press conference and announce that I have thought it over and decided against allowing my name on the NAPA award after all. With as much righteousness I can muster, I will inform the press what a bunch of scoundrels the NAPA people must be to hang such a stigma as an award named after Iktomi on progeny of their own profession.
What lice! What vermin! Defenders of the people, Hah!
The white media will eat it up, and I will get national publicity all over again. But the best part is that I will beat the future Giago types to the punch. They'll never have the chance of getting all huffed up and indignant and giving an Iktomi award back. Iktomi's great name will be protected from besmirchment at the hands of hypocrites.
*(PS: It has been pointed out to me recently that in his bio blurbs these days Giago is again listing the Mencken Award, so he’s getting a three-fer out of the honor: First getting the award; then giving it back in protest; and then dragging it out again when he presumes that everybody has forgotten about his noblesse oblige. Talk about having your frybread and eating it too! Tim Giago, you old rascal, you!)
Charles “Chuck” Trimble was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association – fore runner of the Native American Journalists Association -- in 1969, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-1978. He is retired and lives in Omaha, Nebraska. He can be contacted at email@example.com and his website is www.iktomisweb.com.
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