Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji - Stands Up For Them)
Al Jazeera, an Arabic news network, is based in Doha, Qatar in the Middle East.
It began with the good intentions of providing a news and television network to cover issues often disregarded by the American national media. It's Al Jazeera America network recently closed its doors because we suppose that most Americans were not interested in the news it was providing. But more than likely it closed because it failed to provide its prospective viewers with sites that were easily accessible.
The network did make an effort to cover Native American news, but soon discovered something Native Americans have known for a hundred or more years: Most Americans just are not interested in news about Native Americans. I found that out when I started writing for the Huffingtonpost.
Al Jazeera's most recent sojourn into covering Indian country was at best pathetic. I am reminded of the white reporters who come out to the Pine Ridge Reservation with an eye on writing the epic Indian story and in the end resort to covering ground that has been plowed a hundred times over. They are the typical reporters who come to Pine Ridge wearing blinders with the intent of only seeing and hearing horrific stories and they are able to find sources that are more than willing to show them only the dark side of things thus complying with the very reason they came out here in the first place.
Whiteclay, Nebraska, the town where the liquor stores sell a billion cans of beer every year to the poor Indians of Pine Ridge is always a prominent part of any outsider news story. One Pine Ridge alcoholism counselor said, "No one put a gun to the heads of those people heading for Whiteclay said 'go buy some beer or I'll shoot you.'" He said they went there of their own free will.
And that is a point my newspapers have been driving for more than 30 years. The problems with alcohol begin on our side of the border, not in Whiteclay. We have written over and over that the Pine Ridge Reservation needs a first class drug and alcohol treatment center. When I was in school at the Holy Rosary Indian Mission (now Red Cloud Indian School) way back when, one month we had an art contest to come up with a drawing to go with the saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." And that is what it will take to even begin to solve the horrendous problems of alcohol and drug abuse on the Pine Ridge Reservation. With the right leadership they are preventable and curable.
We need the federal government to take some of the billions of dollars it spends on foreign-aid and bring some of the money back home to help its own indigenous people. Eighty percent of the problems of abuse of all kinds began with the badly planned experiments practiced and carried out upon the innocent Indian children in the name of assimilation and acculturation.
While Al Jazeera was interviewing people about how bad their lives are they also could have found many more who thought their lives were pretty good. Why didn't they visit Oglala Lakota College and the campuses it provides in all nine districts of the reservation? Why didn't they interview people like the college president Tom Shortbull? Would it have taken away from their intent on doom and gloom?
The author, Patrick Strickland, said that President John Yellowbird Steele did not respond when he tried to reach him. Well guess what Mr. Strickland, Steele has seen a hundred reporters just like you come and go over the six terms he has served as President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and he knows full well the methods of your reporting and the negative turn your story will take after it is published. A good example of very, very bad reporting was that done by Sam Vargo of the Daily Kos. He violated every decent rule of acceptable journalism in an article he wrote about me. He did the entire bundle of tripe without ever speaking to me and by taking the perverted words of a chronic liar named James Swan. This was a classic example of reporting at its worst.
Kevin Wooster, one of South Dakota's most respected journalists, came into my newspaper office many years ago at Pine Ridge and began his conversation with, "Pardon my ignorance but . . . . . . . . . " My response was, "No, I will not pardon your ignorance. If want to come here and do stories on the people of Pine Ridge, you'd better damned well do your research beforehand." Wooster learned a valuable lesson that day and when he lectures a journalism class even to this day, he points out this lesson he learned when he was just a cub reporter.
And this is the same advice I would have given Mr. Strickland if he had come to me. Any good reporter can travel to any city be it Philadelphia, New Orleans or Los Angeles and find the depth of depression, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and the poverty that seems to be systemic in many portions of this country. But in every one of those communities there are also good people doing good things to advance their people and to bring about positive change. They can be found in the elementary and high schools and in the community colleges, and yes, even in the tribal government. One just has to do a little research.
Nick Tilsen is trying to build a model community near Porcupine and has some pretty great ideas about what he would like to see in the future for Pine Ridge. Why were his and the efforts of so many other good people not a part of the horrific story on Pine Ridge?
As a child I lived at Kyle and I lived at Wounded Knee and those were some of the happiest years of my life. When Strickland writes about the lawn of one of the people he interviews , to him it is not just a lawn, it is a "desolate lawn." If that is how one sees the Pine Ridge Reservation that is how one will write about it.
There is an old story about a man traveling to a town where he might want to build a home. He asks a man he meets at the edge of the town, "What kind of town is this?" The man responds, "What kind of town do you come from?" The traveler says, "The town I come from is terrible; it is dirty and filled with drunks and crime." The man responds, "Well, you will find that this is the same kind of town."
It boils down to what it is you want to find in a story you are about to write and when you come to do a story on Pine Ridge with pre-conceived ideas, that is the way you will write the story. The next time you come, also look for the good.
(Contact Tim Giago, Editor Emeritus of Native Sun News Today, at email@example.com)