Tim Giago: Media errors in 'State of Native Nations'

Founded by Professor Stephen Cornell and Professor Joseph P. Kalt at Harvard University in 1987, The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development has taken a wide range of its research, with comments from prominent members of the Indian community, and published a book titled, “The State of the Native Nations.”

About the book, Gregory Cajete, Associate Professor and Director of the Native American Studies Program at the University of New Mexico writes on the back cover, “The State of the Native Nations fills a void that currently exists for easily accessible, self-contained reflective research related to building Native Nations. It will certainly be a sought after course reader within Native programs throughout the U. S. and Canada.”

I always get a little concerned when I read such proclamations. For one, I always approach any book attempting to establish boundaries on Native American activities, then and now, with extreme trepidation. It is a very complex issue and one that remains a dark hole to most Americans.

On many of the topics ranging from tribal government to education, comments by Indian individuals familiar with the basic topics are relevant and cogent and their comments bring the academic analysis of the subject matter to a personal level. In other words, these individual Indian scholars and tribal members bring feelings and heart to the world of hard and often heartless statistics.

When reviewing any book about American Indians, I always go to the topic most familiar to me, and in this book that topic is listed under “Media.” Having spent the last 30 plus years as an active member of the Indian media, I have experienced many of its ups and downs and have been a part of its national growth. This chapter of the book was a disappointment to me. On so many topics in the book the authors were able to find Native Americans writers familiar with such wide-ranging topics from tribal – federal government relations, to culture. And yet when dealing with a topic like the media, a field filled with Native American journalists of every stripe, no Native journalist was called upon to write about a subject I find most vital to the continued economic development in Indian country.

The anonymous person chosen to write the chapter on “Media” knew very little about the subject matter. For example the book declares, “In 1984 a group of Native American journalists at Pennsylvania State University created the Native America Press Association.” Not true. The Native American Press Association, later to become the Native American Journalists Association, was created on the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma in 1984. In reading the book’s assumption, one wonders if there was a group of Native American students at Penn State that created the NAPA. Well, the truth of the matter is that Professor Bill Dulaney, a journalism professor at Penn State, Adrian Louis, my managing editor at the Lakota Times, and I, wrote and received a grant from the Gannett Foundation to finance an “organizational meeting” at Penn State, and we summoned by letter and phone as many Native journalists as we could find and this first meeting would confirm that we did need such and organization and would lead to the Choctaw Nation meeting where NAPA (now NAJA) was formed and named. Once again, Mr. Louis, Professor Dulaney and I raised the funds through the Gannett Foundation to hold the meeting on the Choctaw Nation.

As the editor and publisher of the Lakota Times, I was elected as the first president of the new organization, Anita Austin of the Native American Rights Fund as treasurer, Mary Polanco, editor of the Jicarilla Chieftain as secretary and Loren Tapahe, publisher of the Navajo Times as vice president.

Another error in the “Media” chapter states that my car was firebombed because I published articles that “apparently displeased the tribal members.” No, it was not my car that was firebombed, but it was my newspaper office that was firebombed. And it was firebombed because I wrote an editorial that was critical of the American Indian Movement. At a meeting in Denver in later years it was confirmed to me by a high ranking member of AIM that yes, it was AIM that ordered the bombing of my newspaper office.

But despite these errors of omission and commission The State of the Native Nations is a comprehensive and educational book for any person deeply interested in learning about the ins and outs of Indian country. I highly recommend it especially for the contributions by essayists like Marge Anderson, former Chief Executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, the Honorable Robert Yazzie, Chief Justice Emeritus of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, Sherry Salway Black, former board member of the First Nation Development Institute and Yvette Roubideaux, Assistant Professor, College of Medicine, University of Arizona.

But if Professor Cornell and Kalt write any more books about Indians, especially one that concerns the Native American media, I hope they search out and find a Native American journalist to write that chapter. Maybe then they will get it right because, after all, if there are glaring errors in one chapter, how many exist in others?

Tim Giago is an Oglala Lakota born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. He was the founder and publisher of Indian Country Today newspaper and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. His latest book “Children Left Behind, The Dark Legacy of the Indian Missions,” is now available at: order@clearlightbooks.com. The book just won the Bronze Star from the Independent Publishers Awards. He can be reached at najournalists@rushmore.com.

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