Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

Mark-Trahant

Mark Trahant / Indian Country Today

Many years ago Richard LaCourse and I would sit around and toss ideas about what the perfect Indigenous newspaper would look like. LaCourse, at the time, was trying to create a new publication in Washington, DC.

Imagination was his currency. What was possible?

LaCourse had a lot of experience answering that question. He had helped build the American Indian Press Association. He had edited or written for several tribal newspapers, including his own, The Yakama Nation Review. He launched a one-person crusade to raise the standards of Native American journalism.

I even remember the first time I heard him do that. It was on Feb. 24, 1977, at a workshop in Spokane. A workshop speaker was telling tribal editors that they worked for tribal councils and should slant the news accordingly. LaCourse stood up. Angry. Shaking his finger. “Are you aware of the 1968 law that guarantees freedom of the press in Indian Country? Indian newspapers should be professional, straight reporting operations, and your assumptions about cheerleaders for a point of view has nothing do do with the field of journalism. Why are you making this presumption?”

I am thinking of Richard LaCourse as we begin Indian Country Today’s third chapter. The goal is to build on the legacy of LaCourse—as well as from the first two chapters of Indian Country Today. The publication was founded by Tim Giago in South Dakota in 1991 and was followed by the ownership of the Oneida Nation of New York.

It’s hard to think of a better word than legacy, actually. The word is from the 14th century Latin legatus, an ambassador, envoy, a deputy sent with a commission. A century later the word had shifted and become associated with property, a gift. Both definitions fit. The gift is all of the work done before. The commission is the tasks ahead.

Indian Country Today is now owned by the National Congress of American Indians—but we will act independently. We are creating a framework to ensure that. But our primary task is the same as LaCourse’s vision: Professional, straight reporting that tells stories about Indigenous people and our nations.

I’d like to thank the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) for engaging in this experiment. It would have been easy to say, “well, no.” Especially when the challenges of independence are factored into that equation.

The NCAI has a long history of working with the Native press (even while our missions are different.) One of the great journalists of her generation, Marie Potts, a Maidu, and editor of California’s Smoke Signals best writing in Washington while on working on a fellowship with NCAI during the late 1960s.

The best way I know how to demonstrate our independence is to produce solid, thoughtful journalism. Every day. So there is a lot of hard work ahead. (And we will need some time to make this so.)

What does this mean for Trahant Reports? For the time being I will cross post on Trahant Reports and Indian Country Today sites. I have a lot of material I am working on for the elections ahead, Indian health, and other policy issues. So more, not less.

And Indian Country Today is back in business and we are ready to serve.

Our goal is to hire a team in Washington, create (and fund) reporting fellowships around the country, and build capacity for freelance contributors. We want to be partners, not competitors, with tribal newspapers, public media, and web publishers.

I have been teaching journalism for the past seven years and I am always telling students that this is a time of great opportunity. The digital world means that we can reach our audiences instantly. We can communicate ideas. We can explain a complicated process. We can expose wrongdoing. Or write a story about pop culture that makes us smile.

We can invent a new kind of news organization, one that trades on the currency of imagination.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports

2 thoughts on “The road ahead for Trahant Reports and Indian Country Today #NativeJournalism

  1. Robert jackson says:

    Quinaultbob – my father is quinault my mother YIN . My aunts and uncles had many conversations with phil. Fish wars, edu, icwa domestic violence etc. Hank wrote a report to congress it is time we update that document.
    A 1977 newsletter of federal recognition strategy by passed congress. The negoiation was with cloud on title for the state of Maine. The NARF newsletter laid out a complicated case in plain english .
    A judge who had a clear moral question and the proper leverage to bring all parties to the table . The same thing happened with the puyallup tribe. A congress and white house who understood seperation of powers. The native press documented the proper legal ethical process for all parties to understand.
    Scoop Jackson, maggie others in congress had been briefed and understood treaty law. Thanks for the reminder Mark ! ICT is back to prepare a post 45 era. It is time we prepare for the next 50 years . DNA, satalite broadband by 2020, artifical inteigence, native bill of rights constitutional conventions post IRA era. Native NAFTA. Self driving trucks busses bans and cars within 5-10 years. Imho robert jackson (qin #640)

  2. mark richard day says:

    How wonderful to hear that. Dick LaCourse was a year ahead of me as a Franciscan seminarian. We went all through studies together. I remember him as a most brilliant student and a really sweet guy. He also was gifted with a great sense of humor. One time when things were going rough, as they often did–he turned to me and said, “Geez, this is enough to drive God to drink.” May he rest in peace. Bless him!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: