South Dakota Public Radio flunks on two counts
Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© Unity South Dakota
It is ironic that when experienced reporters familiar with Indian country are replaced by new reporters or broadcasters with little or no experience in reporting from Indian country, when given the opportunity to enlighten their audience on the true history between historical and fictional events, fail the test.
A classic example of oversight happened last week. A reporter for SDPR talked about the incident at Chamberlain, SD where the school board was deliberating whether to allow an honoring song for the Indian graduates or not. The answer to that question was still in the air when the report was made. Well, as it turns out the school board voted not to allow the honoring song with only one school board member dissenting.
They said it was not in the tradition of the school. First one must consider the fact that the enrollment of Indians at the school is a fairly recent happening and it was overt racism that kept Native Americans from enrolling in the first place. So therefore to say that it is not in the tradition of the school is clearly wrong because the Native students had not been enrolled long enough to become a part of or to develop their own traditions at the school.
This could have been pointed out by the broadcaster at South Dakota Public Radio, but it was not.
The second sin by SDPR happened during that same broadcast. The broadcaster announced that a celebration was happening that Wednesday in Pierre to honor L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz. Now the reporter clearly had an opportunity to inform and educate his listeners, but he did not. Allow us to do it.
In January of 1891, just six days after the horrific massacre of Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee, the editor of the Aberdeen (SD) Pioneer wrote:
"The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past."
The man who wrote that editorial was none other than L. Frank Baum, the man who was about to be celebrated in Pierre. If this is not a call for genocide we don't know what is. To the Lakota, to honor this man would be akin to the Jews celebrating the birthday of Adolf Hitler. Dissenters may groan and moan over this comparison, but a call for genocide is a call for genocide and just because the call is about the Lakota and in the mind of many white South Dakotans, therefore acceptable, this doesn't make it any less a call for genocide against a race of people just as Hitler called for the mass extermination of the Jews.
The media should be used to educate and inform and South Dakota Public Radio needs to educate its reporters and broadcasters that there is also an audience that is made up of thousands of Lakota and to announce a celebration for the man who called for their extermination without bothering to tell the whole story is appalling. It is damaging to the Lakota and damaging to the intelligence of the non-Indians who know the true story.
(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)