Mary Pember: Media and tribal leadership issues
"Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., made a big stir in the mainstream media when he announced his support for the Hopi Tribal Council’s recent unanimous decision to ban environmentalist groups from their reservation in Arizona. Leaders from these tribes charge that environmental groups, intent only on their own agendas, are seeking to rob Hopis and Navajos of jobs and income from coal-fired power plants.

For American Indian journalists, however, the real story of this particular event is the revelation of mainstream journalists lack of experience in covering Indian Country.

“Can you imagine journalists simply reporting verbatim a press release from President Obama without doing some sort of background on the information presented in the document?” asks Marley Shebala, Navajo and Zuni reporter for the Navajo Times.

Shebala says that the mainstream press too often resorts to this kind of superficial reporting in handling stories from Indian Country. Journalists forget that tribal politicians, while Navajo or Hopi, or whatever, are still politicians trying to put their motivations, projects and government leadership in the best possible light.

“There is a big difference between elected leadership and traditional leadership in Indian Country; reporters need to know this and dig deeper into the community when reporting on political issues, “ Shebala points out. Journalists would never assume that the mayor of a city or governor of a state speaks for the entire population. Journalists should use that same level of skepticism when covering tribes, she says."

Get the Story:
Mary Annette Pember: Leaders Disguise a Deep Tribal Dispute (The Daily Yonder 10/12)