Notes from Indian CountryIndian Country: Moving into the digital era
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them) The electronic media in Indian country is like an infant that has just learned to walk. Here’s what was happening in Indian Country nearly 50 years ago. Innovators like Gerald One Feather, former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and Tom Katus, a non-Indian who has worked diligently and effectively in the political arena assisting Indian tribes, teamed up to produce a series of television shows on KOTA-TV in Rapid City. The show called “Red-White TV Dialog” was short-lived, but it opened the door for other Indians to follow. Forty three years ago I produced and hosted a weekly television show broadcast on KEVN-TV in Rapid City called “The First Americans.” It was the first such show on a commercial station in South Dakota. At the same time a Hunkpapa lady named Harriet Skye was doing a biweekly show on KFRY-TV in Bismarck, N. D. Her show, “Indian Country Today” was the first of its kind in North Dakota. I am now, along with my wife Jackie, producing a weekly television show called Oyate Today on KEVN. The show is hosted by an Oglala Lakota named Richie Richards. Up in Montana a Nez Perce Indian named Ron Holt was producing a half-hour show for the Montana Television Network called “Indians in Progress.” His primary audience was the Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes. Holt is semi-retired and is deeply involved in the employment program of the Nez Perce.
In Vermillion, home of the University of South Dakota, a young student of Ojibwe/Oneida ancestry named Bruce Baird, was producing a radio show on KOST radio called “The Indian Hour.” Down in Oklahoma Sammy “Tonekei” White, a Kiowa, was hosting and producing a show on Oklahoma City Educational Television called “Tribal Voices from the Land.” In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a young San Filipe/Isleta Pueblo Indian named Francis Montoya was public affairs director of KOAT-TV and serving as host of “The First Americans,” a biweekly, Sunday television show that was first produced and hosted by John Belindo, a Navajo/Kiowa man. In 1953, almost pre-historic times as far as Indians in the mainstream media goes, KGAK in Gallup, New Mexico, a non-Indian radio station, carried about 30 hours per week of Indian programming mostly in Navajo, but some in Zuni to serve the Zuni Pueblo south of Gallup. KYVA in Gallup also broadcast about 15 hours weekly in the Navajo language. Up in Taos, New Mexico, station KKIT carried one hour of news every evening, plus music and announcements in the Tiwa language for the people of the Taos Pueblo. The Navajo North Radio Network started producing radio shows and sending out television tapes and feature programs to subscribing stations in New Mexico and Arizona in 1977. Its “Navajo Nation Report” became a popular news and events source for television and radio. About the same time Frank Blythe, a Santee Sioux, was starting the Native American Public Broadcasting Consortium in 1976. It has since been re-named Native American Public Telecommunications and is now headed by Shirley Kay Sneve, Sicangu, and encompasses Vision Maker Media, geared to television and movies.
Many Native Americans in the media were strongly influenced by Rupert Costo, a Cahuilla Indian from California and Jeanette Henry Costo from the Eastern Band of Cherokee. Their monthly tabloid newspaper called “Wassaja” became the first national Indian newspaper of consequence in the 1970s. Rupert and Jeanette are now both deceased. But their unabashed challenges of the status quo convinced many of us that Indian voices of reason and dissent were badly needed. Although they never entered the realm of the electronic media, their vision and innovation inspired a generation of Indian journalists. The Costos were, in turn, heavily influenced by the man they named their newspaper after, Carlos “Wassaja” Montezuma, a Fort McDowell Apache Indian who started a newspaper in Arizona at the turn of the 20th century. Montezuma was given his Christian name by the white people who adopted him and took him to Chicago where he studied and became a physician. His Indian name, “Wassaja” means Smoke Signals. He returned to Arizona to visit his people and after observing their plight, decided to give up medicine and get into the newspaper business. He did it to challenge the status quo and to take on the Department of the Interior, that stodgy organization he blamed for most of the Indians’ ills. Carlos Montezuma must be considered the father of Indian journalism. He was the first campaigning Indian editor of modern times. He was castigated by the Catholic Church as a heretic and by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as an instigator and provocateur. “Wassaja” rocked the establishment boat long before it was a popular thing to do. He is buried on the Fort McDowell Reservation in Arizona. For those of us who have been in this media all of these years, it seems like a lifetime, but as the media goes, we are just learning to walk. We owe our gratitude to those that came before us and knocked down the doors that stood in our paths. They did it as proud Indians, on their own, and not as tokens beholden to the federal government, tribal government or affirmative action. It appears that everything is now moving toward digital media. How far that will go is yet to be determined. Indian Country Today Media, formerly Indian Country Today, a print newspaper I founded, went digital several years ago after I sold it to the Oneida Nation and closed its doors this year after donating its assets to the National Congress of American Indians. This is an ongoing story that will unfold over the next few years. Stay tuned. Tim Giago (Oglala Sioux) can be contacted at email@example.com. A Harvard Nieman Fellow, he is the founder of the Native American Journalists Association.
Join the Conversation
Related StoriesTim Giago: Indian newspapers and Indian journalists are alive and well (March 6, 2018)