THE BLOG

Native Americans in Black and White


By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© 2009 Native Sun News

May 3, 2009

There are many ways to describe images. An image can be an idol, fetish, icon, statue, effigy or a graven image, or an image appearing on the television news every night of the year depicting Native Americans as criminals. These images damage the Indian people; they plant an image of savagery, criminality and deviance in the minds of the white viewers.

Young white minds watching the evening news night after night see these images of Native Americans in black and white jail uniforms, shackles binding their hands and legs, slowly shuffling from the jail cell to the court house and form an image of Native Americans that is illusionary in its depiction of Indians as criminals. They see these images every night and it slowly sinks into their malleable minds that all Indians are criminals.

It also creates an image of fear, loathing, and mistrust, an image of a race of people to be shunned or avoided. The Native American then becomes an object not only of fear, but an object to be ridiculed because, after all, why should they have any respect for a criminal?

The local daily newspaper has, more than once, published an article of a Native American achiever and right next to that article, a story about a vicious crime committed by a Native American. One story erases the other. The image of the achiever blends with the image of the criminal loser, and they become one. The story of the criminal supersedes that of the achiever.

Why is it necessary or why is it even important for the nightly news to station its reporters at the jailhouse in order to shoot these horrible images of shackled Indians? Does it add to the luster of the story? If the news director was Native American would he or she find these images an essential part of the story?

Jack Caudill is the news director at KEVN-TV in Rapid City, a subsidiary of FOX News Network. He is a man who worked himself up through the ranks at this station. He is also a man with a wide open mind. And yet, in the face of the overwhelming evidence that showing the images of Native Americans in chains marching to the courthouse is damaging, he is ambivalent, but willing to hear the other side of the argument.

"I try my best to get a shot of the person the news story is about rather than getting a group shot," he said. "And even then, we try to keep those shots to a minimum." Caudill said that television is a visual medium and as such it is an important part of the story to have visual images. "We do the same thing when the alleged criminal is a non-Native, but we try to focus our camera on just that one individual," he said.

The station most notorious for nightly visuals of Native Americans shackled hand and foot is the oldest station in Rapid City, KOTA-TV. KOTA is a subsidiary of Duhamel Broadcasting and in the past has had glimmers of objectivity when it came to its coverage of Native Americans. Helene Duhamel, the nightly news anchor and one of the family owners of the station should know better, but if one watched this station every night for one month these troubling, and I would go so far as to say racist, images would lead off the nightly news nearly 75 percent of the time. African Americans spoke up about this same treatment by television news years ago and did win many concessions.

What about the thousands of Native American children watching these nightly news reports? How do images of Indians bound and shackled affect their self-esteem? With racism on the rise in Rapid City, positive self-esteem is imperative for these children. One Lakota teenager said that she could feel the animosity and hear the snickering behind her back whenever she changed classes at Central High School. Paranoid? I don't think so.

The negative images of Indians as criminals as seen on the nightly news not only reinforces and even lends false support to the racist attitudes of the white students and their parents, it also generates an image of inferiority and a loss of self-esteem among the Native American students.

Are those television images absolutely necessary? And no, I do not want to hear that all news stories, whether about whites or Indians are treated the same. One would have to be an ostrich with one's head buried in the sand to believe such unmitigated nonsense.

Rapid City television owes it to the Native minorities in this city to study this issue and begin to understand the damage they are perpetrating upon the Native people. They should then find a solution. Negative images can and do hurt the innocent and it is high time that Rapid City's television stations understood this.

(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com)