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Indian Country Today turns 40 this year

Notes from Indian Country

Indian Country Today turns 40 this year

By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

Forty years ago a group of Indian journalists met at the summer camp of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma to talk about a new newspaper organization they were about to form. First they elected a board with Loren Tapahe of the Navajo Times as Vice President, Mary Polanco of the Jicarilla Chieftain as Secretary, Anita Austin of the Native American Rights Fund Magazine as Treasurer and Tim Giago, Publisher of the Lakota Times as President.

After the board was formed the next order of business was seeking a name for the new group. Several names were kicked around and then one of the journalists suggested Indigenous Newspaper Association. Adrian Louis, managing editor of the Lakota Times, popped up with, “The day they start calling fry bread “Inidgenous Fry Bread” is the day I will accept indigenous for our organization.”

Now it seems the Native American Journalists Association has gone full circle and will soon be changing its name to Indigenous Journalists Association. Louis is probably rolling over in his grave.

That meeting on the Choctaw Nation was a memorable one. The aforementioned Adrian Louis has since passed away and one of the really great and funny Native journalists attending that meeting was Minnie Two Shoes, and she also has passed away. Penn State Professor of Journalism, Bill Dulaney, who helped me raise the money to get the organization started has also passed away. Randy Howell, another of my managing editors at Indian Country Today has also made his journey to the Spirit World.

I recall our first morning at the camp when Dulaney and Tapahe rose early, put on their jogging shoes and clothes, and went on a long run through the woods of the camp. The rest of us just rolled over in our bunk beds, and went back to sleep.

That was 37 years ago. We chose the name Native American Press Association for our new name because all of our early members worked for newspapers. Other forms of media had not reached the Indian reservations or Indian Country back then. My newspaper, The Lakota Times, was only 3 years old and growing. I would later change the name of the paper to Indian Country Today when it became a national paper. In the late 80s the next board of the Native American Press Association changed the name of the organization to Native American Journalists Association.

I was honored to be named to the Native American Journalists Association’s Hall of Fame a few years ago. The newspaper I founded as the Lakota Times in 1981 and changed to Indian Country Today in 1989 will turn 40 years old this year. ICT is now owned by the National Congress of American Indians, an organization ICT often criticized in the old days.

When I sold ICT to the Oneida Nation the paper lost its objectivity and its most important commodity, freedom of expression. The Oneida stopped any news from being published that would criticize the Oneida Nation. For reasons unknown to me, the Oneida donated the paper to the National Congress of American Indians after only a few years of publishing it. When I sold ICT the name Lakota Times also was a part of the deal. Mark Trahant, the new editor of ICT gave the name “Lakota Times” away to a woman who was starting a newspaper in Martin, S.D.

And so the newspaper I founded 40 years continues under new owners, in new locations, and with new journalistic approaches. The motto I used for the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today was “Standing up for the people’s right to know.” It is the same motto I now use for Native Sun News Today. As an editor, publisher and journalist, freedom of the press and freedom of expression have always been at the top of all my endeavors. Freedom of the press must never die in Indian Country. Many of us fought much too hard to preserve it.

I hope that the new Indigenous Journalists Association puts that motto at the top of their association and keeps it there. If they carry on the standards we held dear at the Native American Press Association and the Native American Journalists Association, they will be just fine.

(Contact Tim Giago at najournalsit1@gmail.com.)

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