THE BLOG
12/09/2010 01:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Invisible People Living in South Dakota

South Dakota Public Radio has a daily show in which it features journalists from the Rapid City Journal and other in-state newspapers. The radio show offers a forum for journalists to discuss local and national issues.

SDPR is apparently under the impression that there are no Native American journalists with the intelligence or reporting skills to grace this program with their presence, as it's guests are always white. But before I reel off a list of highly qualified Native journalists hiding under their upturned noses, I will try to explain to them why a little diversity, especially one that includes the largest ethnic minority in the state, is not only necessary, but should be a requirement.

This year a few hotly contested elections were held on Indian reservation in South Dakota and I think many white and Native South Dakotans would have learned many things heretofore unknown to them if a show talking about the elections, the candidates and the issues on the reservations were left to an open discussion that included Native journalists.

For the most part, non-Native American South Dakotans are sheltered from the political realities of the Indian reservations due to the exclusion of their importance by the state-funded media. How can there ever be unity or reconciliation if the mainstream media is blind to a very large segment of the state's society and, more than that, how can the suspicions and underlying ignorance of white South Dakotans about their neighbors on the Indian reservations be alleviated if not by open communications?

In the days of the Fairness Doctrine, electronics media, television and radio, were forced by law to open their doors for Native Americans. Many of us gladly stepped in to fill the gaping hole that existed prior to this Doctrine. Ronald Reagan, a Republican President, with tons of money contributed to his campaign by mostly white media owners, killed the Doctrine.

Even South Dakota Public Television and Radio had to abide by this Doctrine and Native journalists like Shirley Sneve, Sicangu and Gemma Lockhart, Sicangu, stepped up to the plate and for a very brief time in history, provided the Indian and non-Indian with some of the best news reporting and news stories about and by Native Americans ever to be found on South Dakota television and radio.

Without a law to dictate fairness, Native hosted and produced television and radio shows went the way of the Dodo bird. Today there is no such program in South Dakota although Native Americans comprise the largest minority in the state.

This racial blindness even extends to the television media's self-promotional advertisements. One station advertises itself as KELO-Land, while another calls itself KOTA-Territory. In their self-promotional ads that are aired to show "its people" going about their daily lives, Native Americans find it baffling that there are no Native Americans living and enjoying the fruits of KELO-LAND or KOTA-Territory. Everybody in the self-promotional ads is white! Oh, they get a little diverse at times and include the occasional African-American.

It is disconcerting but plausible that corporate media has no responsibility to its public to show even a semblance of diversity, but the publicly owned television and radio stations do have a responsibility. After all, these stations are funded by federal funds and if not by federal funds by private donations, many of those donations contributed by Native Americans.

During the past gubernatorial and House of Representatives election it would have been wonderful if Native American journalists had been included in the mix when radio discussion on public radio discussed the pros and cons of the competing candidates. Once again, Natives were the invisible outsider.

Avis Little Eagle, Amanda Takes War Bonnett, Ernestine Chasing Hawk, Charles "Chuck" Trimble, Doris Giago, Andrew Iron Shell, and Archie Beauvais are just a few of the veteran Native journalists that could lighten up the conversation on issues near and dear to South Dakotans if they were recognized as existing by South Dakota Public Radio. And standing on the sidelines are eloquent Native public officials like Art Zimiga and Francis Whitebird. SDPR needs to learn its audience.

But that may be asking too much of a public funded radio and television empire that seems to have forgotten that not everybody in the State of South Dakota is white.