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Tim Giago: Freedom of the press has a chance

Posted by request of Tim Giago, Nanwica Kciji. � 2006 Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc.

Accuracy and integrity are two words that should be the mainstays in the media. In the relatively new world of the media in Indian country these two words are most noted for their absence.

Amanda Takes War Bonnet hopes to change that. She worked in nearly every job position that could be found at my newspapers, the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today (they are actually the same newspaper as the Lakota Times became Indian Country Today in 1992) before elevating herself to the editor of both papers. She toiled at her task for 14 years often recalling the story of how she started out as the newspaper�s janitor while attending Oglala Lakota College, moving up to typesetter, staff writer, copy editor and finally landing the job as editor.

Two years ago Bat and Patty Pourier, two Chadron, Nebraska business people, contacted Amanda about starting a weekly paper on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Amanda was pretty secure in her job as head of the communications department at Little Wound School at Kyle, but she gave up this fairly cushy job to take on the challenge.

The first thing Amanda wanted to do was to bring back integrity and accuracy to Indian newspapers. She felt that since the sale of Indian Country Today to the Oneida Nation of New York in 1998, most Indian newspapers were now used as instruments to spread gossip and hate. She was disconcerted that many Indian newspapers would not print letters to the editor critical of the editor or staff. She felt that if an editor had a forum to express his or her opinion, they had the obligation to print dissenting opinions.

With these worthy objectives as her goal, she started The Lakota Country Times two years ago. The Lakota Country Times is growing in stature as an independent minded paper that is representative on the Pine Ridge Reservation as the voice of the Lakota people. Amanda has gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that dissenting voices are not ignored. She has truly brought freedom of the press back to the reservation.

As with any small business, her largest task is securing the advertising income to keep her newspaper afloat. The two departments she did not work in at the old Lakota Times were advertising and accounting. This has been a handicap, but she has continued to learn and having passed the two-year mark, her confidence is growing along with her newspaper.

And speaking of integrity in the media, I want to commend Denny McAuliffe of RezNet for setting the record straight on the founding of the Native American Journalists Association. The website of NAJA reads that �a group of Native American Journalists met at Pennsylvania State to assess the state of Native media� but it does not say how they got there. Native journalists did not suddenly materialize at Penn State coincidentally. They came there because I had written letters to all of them about the meeting. And thanks to the help of Penn State Professor of Journalism, Bill Dulaney, I was able to raise enough money through the Gannett Foundation so that the meeting could take place.

McAuliffe was prompted to write a correction on how NAJA was formed for RezNet because of an erroneous press release sent out by the University of South Dakota that named one Charles Trimble as the founder of NAJA. McAuliffe was angered at this deliberate misrepresentation so he wrote an article for RezNet presenting the facts. I advise any one seeking the true facts to go to RezNet today.

Charles Trimble did start an organization called the American Indian Press Association but it folded 10 years before NAJA because it could not secure the funds to survive.

I spoke with Chad Smith, the Chief of the Cherokee Nation, last week about freedom of the press in Indian country because his administration has granted editorial freedom to the editor of the Cherokee tribal newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix, and he hopes to set a precedent for other tribal leaders to follow suit.

Smith is concerned about Indian journalists with little background in journalism that uses the media to advance their own politics. He also believes that freedom of the press is often stifled by the businesses that advertise because they can prevent editors from writing critical articles that would impact the profits of their businesses.

As long as there are editors like Amanda Takes War Bonnet, freedom of the press does have a fighting chance in Indian country.

(McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago�s weekly column. He can be reached at P.O. Box 9244, Rapid City, SD 57709 or at Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. Clear Light Books of Santa Fe, NM ( published his latest book, �Children Left Behind�) $ad1

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