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Remembering the Great Native American Journalists

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A handful of Native Americans that have spent their lives as newspaper reporters, editors or publishers are wondering where journalism is headed in Indian Country. I can't answer that question, but I would like to give a shout-out to the great Indian journalists I have known.

Mark Trahant of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe of Idaho started with the tribal newspaper at Fort Hall, the Sho-Ban News, and went to several major daily newspapers including the Arizona Republic where he was on a team of reporters that nearly won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on Indian issues, and ended up at the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, a great newspaper that just could not survive the Internet assault and folded several years ago.

Laverne Sheppard, also a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe and former editor of the Sho-Ban News, was another great and gifted Indian journalist. The last editorial she wrote for the Sho-Ban News was a classic that moved me to tears. In it she told of how she felt seated at her newspaper desk for the last time and it was written with passion that only one who has smelled the ink of a freshly printed newspaper can understand.

Lisa Snell is still keeping her nose to the printing press at the Native American Times in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her weekly newspaper is in print and online.

One of the truly great contemporary news reporters was, Jodi Lee Rave, from the Three Affiliated Tribes at Fort Berthold, N. D., who decided to retire from the daily Missoulan in Montana to write a book. Ms. Rave started out as every Native American cub reporter should, at an Indian newspaper in North Dakota called "The Head of the Herd." At the same newspaper was a man named Ron Holt, Nez Perce, who went on to become the first, and I think only, Native American to ever own a commercial television station. His FOX-TV station was located in Billings; Mont. Holt is now retired and raising mischief on his home reservation.

Not to be overlooked as great Indian news reporters and editors are Avis Little Eagle, now a member of the Standing Rock Tribal Council and the current owner and publisher of the Teton Times in McLaughlin, S. D., a weekly newspaper she is thinking about closing after 12 years of publication. Ms. Little Eagle chose the name "Indian Country Today" when I changed the name of my former newspaper the Lakota Times to Indian Country Today.

Amanda Takes War Bonnet, former managing editor of Indian Country Today is doing consultant work for various Indian education organizations and is semi-retired. And up in North Dakota, a wonderful lady that should not be forgotten, Harriet Skye, a Hunkpapa from Standing Rock, is still lending her reportorial skills to students at the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck. She was the first Native American to ever host a weekly television show in North Dakota. At the same Indian college is Shirley Bordeaux, a Sicangu, a former managing editor of the original Lakota Times, and a great news reporter in her own right.

Richard LaCourse, Yakama, now deceased, and Charles Trimble, Oglala Lakota, can probably be called the godfathers of all contemporary Indian reporters. Other names that follow are Rose Robinson, Hopi, (deceased); Suzanne Harjo, Muskogee; Tom Arviso, Navajo, Editor of the Navajo Times,; Minnie Two Shoes,( deceased), formerly with the Wotanin Wowapi newspaper at Fort Peck, Montana; Gemma Lockhart, Sicangu and Shirley Sneve, Sicangu, two Lakota women and former print journalists, who breathed Indian life into South Dakota Public Radio and Television; Adrian Louis, Paiute, teacher, author and former managing editor of the original Lakota Times; Dan Agent, Cherokee; Leta Rector, Cherokee; Mike Burgess, Comanche; Conroy Chino, Acoma Pueblo; Mary Kim Titla, Apache; and Tom Casey, non-Indian, who has gone through heaven and hell to keep KILI-FM Radio at Pine Ridge on the airwaves, but he also founded and edited the Eyapaha, the Oglala Lakota College newspaper more than 30 years ago.

I close with Loren Tapahe, Navajo, who was publisher of the Navajo Times when it became the only Indian newspaper to ever go daily. Tapahe and I traveled to Rochester, N. Y. in 1983, to meet with Gerald Sasse at the Gannett Foundation to raise the money we used to start the Native American Journalists Association. I am sure I may have left out some great ones and if I did, forgive me.

There are probably 200 Indian newspapers in America that are still publishing, papers that have to fight tribal politicians every day, papers that struggle to get funding every year, but papers that are so important to the people of the Indian reservations that they serve. Most people would never know the people I write about, but in the small world of Indian newspapers and journalists, they are legion.

With the advent of the Internet, blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, there is no crystal ball to show where newspapers or news reporters are headed. Many of us Indian journalists still feel that there is a place for our reporting and for our newspapers. The Internet is not as available on Indian reservations as it is to the rest of America so newspapers and Indian radio are still the main sources of spreading the news.

In the end I present an eagle feather to all of the Native reporters, editors and publishers, living and dead that have given me and my colleague's giant shoulders to stand on. And head and shoulders above them all was my mentor and friend Rupert Costo, the Cahuilla Indian from California who was the editor and publisher of Wassaja and the Indian Historian Press in San Francisco in the 1960 and '70s. He set an example by writing fierce, independent editorials that have served as an example to me all of these years. He took the establishment and shook it by its neck without fear. I was proud to work for him and in a small way, follow his example.

Indian newspapers and radio stations are needed now more than ever. The efforts to extinguish treaty rights and Native sovereignty are growing and Native Americans need a forum to respond to these new Indian wars. There is no one else who will do it for us.

© 2014 Native Sun News

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the editor and publisher of Native Sun News. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. His book Children Left Behind was awarded the Bronze Medal by Independent Book Publishers. He was the first Native American ever inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2007. He can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com