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Tim Giago
Tim Giago, in his prime, perusing an issue of the Lakota Times, the first Indian owned and operated independent newspaper in the country. Photo portrait by Magis Productions, From the book Vision Quest: Men, Women & Sacred Sites of the Sioux Nation
Giago carved out a lasting legacy
Tuesday, August 2, 2022
Native Sun News Today Managing Editor

RAPID CITY, South Dakota — Tim Giago wore many hats in his long, eventful life. He was a son, a brother, an uncle, a grandfather, a sailor, a poet, a businessman, an entrepreneur, a talk show host, a journalist, an editor, an author, and a publisher. He was also a stickler for journalistic professionalism, and he would tell writers never to refer to the subjects of a story by anything but their surnames, but it is fitting to break from that maxim, now that his life story has come full circle.

Tim entered the spirit world on Sunday, July 24, at the age of 88.

Tim will be remembered for starting the first Indian owned and operated independent newspaper, the Lakota Times, in 1981; for starting the Native American Journalists Association in 1983; for winning the coveted H.L. Mencken Award in 1985 for his editorial writing, and for shaking hands with the late Governor George Mickelson in 1989 to seal the deal on the Year of Reconciliation, which led to the very first Native American Day in the nation.

ICT Video: The legacy of Tim Giago

When traditional Lakota introduce themselves they tell you who they are, they tell you where they are from, and they list all their relatives. Tim was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1934, the sixth of seven siblings. His father was Tim Giago and his mother was Lupita née Tapio. Both his parents grew up around the town of Kyle, and their surnames were corruptions of the Hispanic surnames Gallego and Tapia.

In the 1880’s, Pueblo Indio vaqueros were given land and livestock to settle on the reservation, the intent being they would teach the Oglala to ranch and farm. This attempt was largely unsuccessful but the Pueblo soon became an integral part of the Kyle community, and since Spanish missionaries had long ago stripped them of their own Native culture, they quickly transformed into Oglala.

Both of Tim’s parents were trilingual, but they did not pass this on to their children, mostly because of the abiding racism of the day, and as a Spiola, the Lakota word for Hispanic, Tim caught racism from three different directions.

For the first three decades of his life, because his father’s name was also Tim, Tim was known as Sonny. Sonny left the reservation for Rapid City in 1950. He struggled to fit in at Rapid City High School, was unsure of who he was or what to do with his life, and so joined the Navy. The service years would have a huge impact on his life, as he was exposed to the world at large for the first time, and especially the state of California, where he would eventually relocate. For nearly twenty years, Sonny operated donut shops across the west. He became an expert donut maker and his jelly fills had no rival.

During this time Sonny began to have poems published and he wrote articles for papers, and deeply reconnected with his Lakota roots. He relocated to Rapid City and eventually had a successful business, the Glazed Donut. He was now in his prime, no longer a boy, and so he decided it was time for Sonny to become Tim Giago. Tim appeared on a talk show addressing Native issues in Denver, and thought he could do a similar talk show back in Rapid City. This show ran for several years on KEVN-TV but in the end Tim quit the show, stating, “I will not submit to censorship.”

Also at this time, Tim was writing columns for various newspapers. When he asked an editor why he didn’t have Native journalists reporting on Native issues, the editor told him they would be biased. Tim’s response was, you have white reporters reporting on white issues, are they biased? Tim realized the editor did not grasp the irony that he was expressing the very bias he expected from Natives.

Armed with these two revelations, Tim took a bold step. Having no previous experience or understanding of how to operate a newspaper, he started the Lakota Times at Pine Ridge village in 1981.

Although Tim was deeply involved with many issues and causes over the decades, being one of the leading Native voices for the elimination of clownish and cartoonish Native mascots for sports teams, he never considered himself an activist. He was an informed and principled professional when it came to critical social issues.

For this, he ran afoul of many activists, so much so for the next tumultuous decade, his newspaper was fire bombed and a bullet hole put through his windshield.


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