THE BLOG
11/24/2012 11:42 am ET Updated Jan 24, 2013

Sweating a Little Blood in Indian Country

A famous columnist once wrote, "It is easy to write a weekly column. All you have to do is sit in front of your typewriter until you sweat blood."

Of course the typewriter has long since been replaced by the computer, but that concept of writing a weekly column still holds true.

I bring this up for a variety of reasons. First off, this year will mark my 34th year of writing a weekly column. In those 34 years I have written somewhere in the neighborhood of 1, 768 columns. Some were good enough to win prestigious awards, some were mediocre, and others just plain awful, but over the years I persisted.

There are sources one can go to in researching facts and figures for a column, but at other times, especially when writing about the distant past, one has to rely entirely upon a good memory. I don't know if it is just a cliché or a medical fact, but one does lose a certain amount of recall when reaching a certain age.

When one writes a weekly column for as long as I have, it should go without saying that there will be critics of all stripes. But it is a realism that comes with the territory.

One critic took exception to an article I wrote about the massacre at Wounded Knee because I wrote that my grandmother, Sophie, was a student at Holy Rosary Mission, about 15 miles from Wounded Knee, when the massacre occurred. The critic called me, and in a backhanded way, my grandmother, liars. I have a copy of a year book published by the priests at Holy Rosary Mission that points out the irrefutable fact that my grandmother was on the grounds of the mission school on December 29, 1890, the day of the massacre. I also have my grandmother's word.

As the years have passed I find that this particular critic takes exception to everything I write and speaking to other columnists I find that many of them have one critic in particular who never ceases to criticize them at every turn.

If one writes anything that is open for public scrutiny one can expect feedback, sometimes good and sometimes horrible. I always taught the reporters that worked for me at my weekly newspaper not to be afraid of criticism and not to censor letters to the editor that were critical of the newspaper, the reporters or the management.

There were letters that came into my newspaper calling me an SOB and worse. Without hesitation they were published, but there were times we had to clean up the language a bit in order not to offend our readers. Sadly this is not true of many of the Indian owned newspapers and magazines published today. Indian Country Today magazine, which was a newspaper when I sold it to the Oneida Nation of New York State, will not print letters to the editor.

The consensus by newspapers and magazines owned by tribal governments seems to be that tribal governments are above criticism. Some of the criticisms they receive would be valid and others just so much political palaver, but it shouldn't matter because every member of the tribe should have the freedom to criticize. The Oneida Nation and several other tribal governments do not believe this is so. Freedom of the press and of expression is not always available in Indian country.

As long as I continue to write my weekly column I know that there will be those I will offend, there will be those that will nit-pick each word and paragraph, and there will be those with legitimate complaints of errors I may have committed. And there will be those who would criticize every column I write.

Criticism can hurt and threats oftentimes come with the criticism and since I am only human, there will be times when I will err and the criticism is well deserved. There are also racists out there that tear into anything I write and, I am proud to say, there are those who truly appreciate the things I write about and some have even gone so far as to say some of the things I have written over the years has affected and even changed their very lives.

Over these 34 years of writing I have spoken to Native Americans that pursued careers in journalism, movie directing, publishing their own newspapers, and become professors of journalism or write books because of something I wrote that inspired them.

In the long run, this should be the real test of any writer. To bring about change simply through the written word has proven to me that the pen is mightier than the sword. So after 34 years I can say thank you to my fans as well as to my critics. Both have made me a better writer and a better person. And every week, I'm still sweating a little blood.

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 was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2007. He can be reached at: Unitysodak1@knology.net