From the Editor's Desk: Why we continue Native journalism
Thursday, August 07 2014
Written by Alfred Walking Bull, The Circle Managing Editor,
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whats_new_-_walfred_walking_bull.jpgIn the Lakota culture, there is a position that I've always found fascinating. It's called eyapaha. Traditionally, the eyapaha was effectively the spokesman for every tiospaye (extended family), and encampment in our nation. The eyapaha shared the decisions our councils made and fostered discussion where it was needed with information not everyone may have known. In essence, the eyapaha was analogous to our modern-day journalist.

It's often my wont to tell anyone who asks that I am not an elitist journalist … but I was educated by elitist journalists. When I attended the American Indian Journalism Institute and continued to study journalism at the University of South Dakota, the term “gatekeeper” was still bounced around with pride and zeal. We were being educated on how to find a story, getting others to tell the story and making sure the story was fair to all parties involved. Then came the real world.

Before accepting the responsibility of this position (one I still regard with the highest esteem, mostly because The Circle is older than I am), I was the editor for my tribal newspaper, The Sicangu Eyapaha and began to understand the dynamics of reportage in a tribal setting. Nothing we reported was good enough, fast enough or had enough of what everyone wanted. Cynicism set in as I fell back on my education, wondering if keeping alive a seemingly static journalistic tradition in a changing world while being a Native person on a reservation was too much irony for me.

But was is not.

Since the access of the Internet and social media on reservation communities, the landscape of journalism has shifted monumentally, it's become a microcosm of the world-at-large. Everyone is a source, everyone knows something, everyone has something to say. Which, is not to say they didn't before, it was simply more accessible. With blogs and Facebook, we have managed to democratize information in a political and cultural setting where such information had always been kept quiet through sheer forces of personality.

Then comes the doubt of whether one anonymous source is one too many or whether one adjective or verb borders on editorializing. “We may have personal opinions, but we don't print them,” rings in my head from a former professor. This is where I come into conflict, do I hold to my education in its almost religious devotion to objectivity or are we allowed to follow a story that espouses our passion?

The answer is of course: yes, to both. We are Natives, we are sovereign.

Some times, it leads to inaccuracies, misattributions or an omission of facts. We must also accept that we as journalists are human. As journalists, we can't always control who returns our phone calls with needed information; we can't always be in every meeting. But we can tell the stories that we can tell.

Last month, The Circle featured a cover story about the St. Paul Public Schools Indian Education program. It was written by a non-Native reporter who attended a meeting of parents involved with the program and she did her part to break down a complex issue in 2,000. She was not able to get the entire story and in our discussions, I've told her that as a fellow journalist and human being, I know she tried her best with the sources that were willing to talk.

But out of that incomplete picture, we gleaned a new perspective by a member of the community who was intimately involved with the program and its administration. She shared with us her insights and information, her voice was not silenced. The conversation that was started by that one story continued and we are thankful that it did.

Journalism isn't about writing anything in stone. It's about keeping a fluid narrative of the events happening in the world around us and the lives we lead. It's about telling a story and listening to the stories that come back to us.

Our intrepid reporter Jamie Keith has moved onto greener pastures in Chicago, continuing her education in education with a fellowship. I will miss her approach to telling our stories, wish her the best of success in her career and hope to read more from her in the coming years.

In his 25 years of writing for The Circle, Jim Northrup has told his story to an audience of thousands. We have read his adventures on Fond du Lac, shared his opinion of war, his love of culture and language and cheered him on as he represented his people – whether veterans or Ojibwe – across the globe. We have read his books and we have looked forward to his new compositions. In my short year at The Circle, I have read his opinions and the news from the rez with anticipation. He has etched himself into our memories and for that, we – and I – am grateful.

Wopila tanka eciciyapi yelo.

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