Tim Giago: Paying tribute to Harold Iron Shield

My longtime friend and fellow Native American journalist, Harold Iron Shield, journeyed to the Spirit World on February 7, 2008.

The first time I met Harold he was publishing a newspaper on the Standing Rock Reservation called the Dakota Sun. I was trying to get the Lakota Times up and running on the Pine Ridge Reservation and we talked about the hard issues of starting a newspaper on an Indian reservation.

But we also had another thing in common. We both attended Indian boarding schools and we shared some of the good and not so good experiences we confronted.

I was working with the board members of the Native American Press Association, an organization that would soon change its name to Native American Journalists Association, to stage our first ever convention. We had selected the Kah-Neeta Lodge on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon for the conference and Harold, the dedicated journalist he was, helped advertise the event for us. In its tough formative stages of NAJA, Harold was there to lend us his support.

One day in the late 1980s, Harold told me about the efforts he had made in Minnesota to get a reconciliation effort going between the State of Minnesota and the different Indian tribes in the state. He was a little disappointed in the response by the State, but he fought long and hard to reach his goals.

We talked about his efforts and he told me he thought it would really be hard to do the same thing on reconciliation in South Dakota because there were such negative feelings between the state legislators and the Indian tribes. We sort of left it at that and went our separate ways.

A few years later the 100th anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee was on the horizon and I thought that this would be an ideal time to push for a Year of Reconciliation in South Dakota. We had a new governor named George Mickelson, and although he was a Republican, he appeared to have an open mind about race relations.

In fact, when I interviewed him for an article I was writing for the Lakota Times one of the questions I asked him was, “What is the hardest part of being Governor of South Dakota?” He replied, “I am going to give you the same answer my father, who was governor of this state 40 years ago, gave to me when I asked him the same question. He said that the hardest thing for him as governor of South Dakota was the race relations between Indians and whites.”

That was the key I needed. I wrote an editorial challenging Gov. Mickelson to proclaim a Year of Reconciliation in South Dakota between Indians and whites. In the editorial I explained to the Governor that my friend and fellow journalist Harold Iron Shield had pushed for the same thing in Minnesota with some success. I told him that Harold had been my inspiration to make this same demand for the State of South Dakota.

Well, as many of us know by now, Gov. Mickelson did proclaim a Year of Reconciliation in South Dakota and we really didn’t have the chance to carry it out to its conclusion before Mickelson was killed in a tragic airplane crash. Harold Iron Shield inspired me to push for the reconciliation effort and Indian country lost a great journalist who always put his people first and tried all of his life to make journalism and Indian newspapers the focal point of his life.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. He can be reached at najournalist@msn.com.

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