Tribes Should Guarantee Freedom Of Press
Grand Forks, North Dakota
Published Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Dorreen Yellow Bird is a reporter and columnist. Her columns appear Wednesdays and Saturdays on the opinion pages of the Herald.
Monday evening, a candidate for tribal chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes in New Town, N.D., said he supported a free press for the reservation. I will take him at his word.
But history tells me two things: First, a free press on reservations is hard to come by. And second, it is “oh, so necessary” as one of those essential checks to keep balance in government.
The history of tribal newspapers can be traced back to 1828 and the Cherokee Phoenix in New Echota, Ga. It struggled with conflicts as do newspapers today.
Today, there are more than 300 tribal newspapers. That number fluctuates as some newspapers cease to exist and new ones take their place. There are many more so-called newsletters or bulletins that provide information about the tribe but rarely report hard news. There are a growing number of magazines, about 33 radio stations and one tribal college television station on the Confederated Salish & Kootenai reservation at Pablo, Mont.
Some tribal newspapers struggle for a breath of air as their tribal government closes its hands around reporters' necks. Is a free press possible on reservations? Perhaps.
Dan Agent, associate editor of the modern Cherokee Phoenix, which is published by the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, says that landmark legislation in the Constitution of the Cherokee Nation protects the press. The Phoenix's advisory boards are part of these protections as are the readers who appreciate what the Phoenix does. The Phoenix has about 28,000 to 30,000 readers.
But the turkey feather in this eagle feather war bonnet is that the Phoenix hasn't been tested.
The Navajo Times has been tested. In 1986, the Navajo Times was one of the largest and possibly the only daily tribal newspaper. The paper endorsed the candidate who lost the election. Some weeks afterward, tribal police came in and employees were told to gather their personal belongings and get out, said Tom Arviso, the paper's current publisher. Two months later, the paper resurfaced as a weekly.
In 1988, Arviso - then the sports writer - was recommended as editor. The new Navajo Times has been publishing for 18 years, but Arviso says it doesn't do political endorsements, just profiles of the Navajo candidates. “We're not here to direct what people think. Let the people decide for themselves,” he said.
Did their tribal constitution carry any weight in the 1987 decision to temporarily close the paper? I asked. The Navajo nation does not have a constitution, Arviso answered. It has the Navajo Tribal Code, and there is First Amendment-style protection written in it. But the best protection for newspapers is good journalism that is fair, balanced and accurate, he said.
One of the ways to ensure a free press is to own and print your own newspaper. That is what Tim Giago, retired published of Indian Country Today and the Lakota Times, told me.
For my own part, I managed a newspaper on the Fort Berthold Indian reservation in New Town almost 16 years ago, and I, too, got crosswise with the tribal chairman. He didn't want council minutes in the newspaper or on the radio. Needless to say, I was history after publishing a paper for nearly nine years.
I listened with wonder when Giago said he earned enough through advertising to keep his paper, which at the time was in Pine Ridge, S.D., publishing. He also solicited from tribal programs and the tribal college.
He eventually moved the business to Rapid City, S.D.
During the time I was at the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Times, I found it almost impossible to make enough from ads to keep the paper afloat without support from the tribe. Another local newspaper got most of the ads, and when the tribal chairman pulled the tribal programs' financial support, it was goodbye Charlie for our paper.
These stories about tribal newspapers are the norm, even in those situations where the tribal constitution guarantees freedom of the press. The federal Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 says, “No Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall make or enforce any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of press . . .” But somehow, there doesn't seem to be a way to enforce the act.
In my opinion, organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians, National Tribal Chairman's Association, National Indian Education Association and other groups should bring leaders or tribal councils together in a conference to find ways to move tribes from a Third World mentality to one of fair and good government. I am referring to freedom of information on reservations.
Fortunately, there are tribes that are doing well and that protect the rights of their people. They could be important in teaching other tribes how to develop a good system.
CLIMATE CRISIS COALITION ORGANIZING NATIONWIDE
From Indigenous Environmental Network - ienearth.org
"Stop Global Warming" Actions on December 3
Climate Crisis, USA Join the World! (http://www.climatecrisis.us/) today announced that it is organizing actions across the United States on and around December 3 to demand that the U.S. government support action that is commensurate with the urgency of the deepening climate crisis
."Scores of Stop Global Warming local actions will be happening during the Nov. 28-Dec. 9 time period when the huge, United Nations Climate Conference in Montreal takes place," said Ted Glick, spokesperson for the group.
"We will be acting in concert with hundreds of thousands of people in at least 28 countries around the world who are making December 3rd an International Day of Action to Stop Global Warming."
The Climate Crisis group is demanding that the U.S. government join the world by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.
Climate Crisis also demands that the federal government withdraw its annual $25 billion in subsidies for coal and oil and create equivalent subsidies for clean, safe, non-nuclear energy alternatives; that it dramatically strengthen energy conservation and fuel efficiency standards; that it plan for a just transition for workers, Indigenous communitiesand others affected by a change to clean energy; and that it actively defend the world's forests and support community-run tree planting campaigns.
States where local actions will be taking place include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington.
In D.C. on December 3, scores of hybrid vehicles organized by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network will circle the White House. In New Orleans the Alliance for Affordable Energy will be holding a Stop Global Warming event in the French Quarter. In Los Angeles on December 2, the Labor/Community Strategy Center will be doing an action calling for an expansion of the city's bus fleet to provide badly-needed publictransportation which will also cut down on car-producing greenhouse gases.
And in New York, also on December 2, a coalition of groups will rally in Foley Square across from the Federal Building calling for the federal government to stop its obstructionist efforts and instead act to address this urgent crisis.
In many localities, following the lead of organizers of a massive march on December 3 in Montreal, participants in the actions will try to hold their breath for 60 seconds. USA Join the World! Coordinator Glick explained that, "Doing so reminds us all how important clean air is to all living things. It reminds us of the urgency of our work. It is a metaphor for what people on some Pacific islands may soon have to do as the oceans rise and their islands disappear and breathing becomes impossible."
Rising Tide North America
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