Pioneers of American Indian Journalism
The Turtle Island Project salutes
Four Native American journalists, editors:
Amanda Takes War Bonnet,
and Avis Little Eagle
Tim Giago, above, photo by Elisha Page, special to SFGate.com – San Francisco Chronicle
Salute to the Pioneer Native American Journalist Tim Giago
File this story under “It’s about time.”
Like many in Native American history, it’s taken a long time to publically praise the leadership and courage of Tim Giago – Nanwicca Kciji – America’s foremost Native American journalist.
Recently, Giago was named to the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame – taking a seat next to nearly 100 white reporters.
These white reporters can’t hold a candle to Giago – who has the guts to criticize white and Native American evil when he finds it.
Giago’s tiny newspaper offices were firebombed when he criticized AIM and he is well-known for taking on corrupt tribal leader and policies.
Thank you Mr. Giago for reporting on issues long before they made it into the white press.
You were a one-man internet before the I-superhighway was dreamed much let paved.
The Turtle Island Project – and this news reporter – say “thank you” Mr. Giago for fighting the good fight.
May the ink in your pen never dry, please continue to make us think, laugh and cry.TIP Salute to Mr. Tim Giago: http://www.rednationsociety.com/article.php?article=562
Here are two articles recently written about Mr. Giago:
Followed by an article Mr. Giago recently wrote honoring three female Native American newspaper editors – Elizabeth Gray, Amanda Takes War Bonnet, and Avis Little Eagle – three more examples of the nation’s top Native American journalists
Tim Giago paved the way for Indian media
By Amanda Takes War Bonnet, Lakota Country Times, Co-Owner, Editor
This past weekend, Tim Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame. I wasn’t able to attend because of personal reasons but was so proud that the South Dakota Newspaper Association chose Tim as one of their four inductees for the year. Over time, there has been 100 people recognized in the Hall of Fame from South Dakota and Giago is the first Native American to be selected for the honor. For South Dakota, that is an honor.
Giago has paved the way for Indian media way back when ignorance and racism was thicker than what it is today. He started the Lakota Times back in 1981 and it was renamed to Indian Country Today in the early 1990s and then eventually the Oneida Nation of New York purchased it and took it to a wider national scale. The ink is still not dry in his blood: he published the Lakota Journal until 2004 when he retired and sold it to the Flandreau Sioux Tribe on the east side of the state
In 1982, I was struggling to attend Oglala Lakota College full time, raise two children with my husband and fit a job in there somewhere, I worked part time for Tim and Doris Giago. I worked at their newspaper in Martin in post production, getting the newspaper ready for distribution. Soon, I made it to typist, mailing, then design and after a couple of years Tim tacked on Editor to the back of my name.
He gave me books to study and taught me how to handle that red pen fairly well. He was patient with me, he taught me about editing and writing and what he couldn’t teach me he sent me to places where I could learn.
One day he placed the Associated Press Manual on my desk and said that was like the Bible language to professional journalism.
The contents of that book were used by mainstream newspapers.
It basically makes reading news easy. It took time but I learned it.
One of those first places was Columbia University in New York with funding from the New York Times.
I attended a seminar for news editors for a week and in my spare time, did a tour around New York City.
It was a learning experience for me and what I retained was the knowledge that technology was changing the world and what the news media had to look forward to regarding technology.
Knowing those things helped to shape the foundation of my career. It was also a trip that tempted me to do more traveling through my career to see the ‘culture’ of mainstream America.
Not only is Tim a gifted writer and committed publisher but he was an independent business man.
He published his papers on his own, which meant owning his own press because he wanted to see freedom of the Indian press.
He didn’t fold or give in to pressure when it went against his beliefs. I saw him time after time stand up for his beliefs about the news media, about racism, about freedom of religion, about tribal government, state and local issues.
I especially enjoyed his symbolic way of rolling up his newspaper and thumping the non-Indian press on the forehead with it to bring attention to their ignorant behavior towards Native Americans, especially to members of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, who inducted him to the Hall of Fame.
He believed they had the tools to educate South Dakota about the Lakota people and their respective nations. That is why I am so pleased he is now in their Hall of Fame.
In the 14 years, I worked for Tim, I could write story after story of what went in an Indian newspaper news room but what sticks with me most is a phrase he used to fire at me, which I finally learned in my heart, “A good editor can make a mediocre writer good and a good writer great.”
It was knowing we had the skills and the means of making great Indian writers that developed the ink in my blood. I watched him work with many writers, columnists, graphic artists, cartoonists, sales people and others and knowing that they have moved forward in their lives with the knowledge that they learned and used it somewhere in their lives to make change.
Since then I have worked with writers, columnists, graphic artists, cartoonists, high school students and others and I hope that even the tiniest thing they learn from me will benefit them and their community just as I learned from him.
Tim wanted to see change in Indian country so he used his papers to promote change. Because of his beliefs and his methods there were times he wasn’t very popular in Indian communities but he is a true pioneer for Indian journalism. He did it his way.
When the Lakota Journal was sold to Flandreau in 2004, I jumped on the bandwagon to start Lakota Country Times in 2004 for Pine Ridge and Rosebud to fill that void.
Information is important because information can make change and that is why I made the choice to take the newspaper helm again.
Every time I log onto Indian Country Today to see what is happening on the national front, I feel pride in how it has grown and I remember those late nights of putting the ‘paper to bed’ and remember when it was all about making change.
It was about one man’s desire to profile the plights and joys of Indian county.
Every week, when we put the Lakota Country Times ‘to bed’ I am proud we are providing information that will make someone curious, provide information that makes people think about issues, to make someone smile and feel proud of achievement, to feel inspired or just plain laugh at our cartoons.
Photo of Amanda Takes War Bonnet
Author of above story: Amanda Takes War Bonnet is editor and publisher of Lakota Country Times. She has more than 20 years of experience in publishing and media relations. She comes from a family of 12 with four children and nine grandchildren of her own and more than 100 grandchildren from her siblings. She is a graduate of Oglala Lakota College.Link to story on Mr. Giago: http://www.lakotacountrytimes.com/default.asp?sourceid=&smenu=87&twindow=Default&mad=No&sdetail=&wpage=&skeyword=&sidate=&ccat=&ccatm=&restate=&restatus=&reoption=&retype=&repmin=&repmax=&rebed=&rebath=&subname=&pform=&sc=1605&hn=lakotacountrytimes&he=.com —
South Dakota Indian journalist gave voice to a people long ignored
By Jim Carrier
Dec. 23, 2007
It’s still a rare thing in South Dakota for an Indian face to be honored in bronze, let alone be mounted amongst 98 white countenances in the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame. But this is one visage that multiplied, not only in South Dakota, but across America.
Tim Giago’s mug went up in the Hall in recent weeks – the first American Indian in a state with nine Indian reservations and 59,000 Indians.
Giago, a 73-year-old Oglala Sioux from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, told the assemblage that he was surprised, after all the disparagement he’d heaped on white colleagues for their racist, ignorant and unresponsive coverage of Indians and their issues.
Twenty-eight years ago, Tim was among a handful of struggling Indian writers in the United States.
A few articles and a small book of angry poems about his abusive education at a Catholic mission had been published by Jeannette and Rubert Costo of San Francisco. The Costos, pioneering Indian historians and publishers of the monthly Wassaja, were famous for a Thanksgiving gathering for writers at their Haight-Ashbury home.
A South Dakota editor saw Giago’s byline, invited him to drive off the reservation for coffee and offered him a column for $10 a week. Giago’s one request was that it be printed on Fridays, the edition favored on the “res” for its TV schedule.
“Notes from Indian Country” in the Rapid City Journal was the first native voice in a South Dakota newspaper – this at a time, 1979, when Indian news was the state’s biggest story.
The 1973 Wounded Knee siege between U.S. marshals and the American Indian Movement had been followed by a Pine Ridge civil war.
Two FBI agents and more than 60 Indians were slain in the next three years.
Remarkably, none of the state’s 11 daily newspapers or 145 weeklies covered the mayhem in any depth, relying instead on the Associated Press or printing nothing at all.
A year after the column’s premiere, the editor hired Giago as a full-time reporter, a stint that lasted but a few months, marked by heavy editing to separate fact from opinion, and Giago’s frustration with a front-office attitude that an Indian couldn’t cover Indian issues objectively.
He quit – several times – but not before learning how a newspaper works.
Back on the reservation in an empty hairdresser’s shop, Giago and his wife, Doris, borrowed $4,000 against her cousin Dick Brewer’s 1946 Chevy coupe and bought a used typesetter.
The hair washing sinks became layout tables.
Giago – whose only experience had been at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard when his commander barked, “You type pretty good. You’re going to be editor of the base newspaper” – became editor and publisher.
The Lakota Times, launched July 1, 1981, was the first independently owned Indian newspaper in the United States.
The idea was so radical that Giago couldn’t sell one-year subscriptions. No one thought he’d last a year.
In today’s age of blogooglebabble, it’s hard to imagine an information desert. But that’s what Pine Ridge was, and Giago’s paper was a steady rain every Wednesday.
Meetings, menus, basketball scores, election results – people stood in line and snatched papers from carriers’ hands just to read about – themselves!
For once, there was something about Indians in a newspaper beyond drunks and welfare and violence.
But the first place they looked was the editorial page, where every week Giago squeezed a bit more of his anger into a column, soon syndicated by Knight Ridder.
When he blamed the American Indian Movement for violence on the reservation, the paper was firebombed and shot-gunned.
He exposed redlining by banks and discrimination by stores, columns that brought investigations and fines. He also criticized health care and tribal “economic development” scams.
A 1990 column challenged Gov. George Mickelson to change Columbus Day to Native American Day, and the South Dakota Legislature approved a unique holiday in the United States. He was also the first national voice to take on Indian sports mascots.
For his powerful words, Giago won the H.L. Menken award, the University of Missouri distinguished journalism award and a Neiman fellowship at Harvard.
And by the time he sold the paper to the Oneida Nation in 1998, his paper, renamed Indian Country Today, was printing 24,000 copies, far and away the largest of South Dakota’s weeklies, and grossing $1.9 million in ad sales annually.
Giago, semiretired, still fires his columns with wrongs to be righted. But at the induction in Brookings, S.D., a mellower elder called his proudest achievement the staff he’d nurtured.
Avis Little Eagle, once a secretary, had read one of Giago’s columns about the Sioux claim to the Black Hills, and thought, “I can do that.”
At Giago’s encouragement, she went to college, and he hired her to write obits under the tutelage of Amanda Takes War Bonnet, who had started as a janitor and worked her way to managing editor.
Both women now own weeklies of their own, two of six Indian papers in South Dakota.
Doris Giago, who had learned with her husband how to run a paper, and divorced under the strain, went on to become the first Indian journalism instructor at South Dakota State University, where she has recruited and taught 20 Indian journalists.
There are more than a dozen other Indians who Giago can name off the top of his head – online, on the air, teaching college, publishing papers and magazines – who came out of his shop, or who read his column and, inspired, took up writing and Indian advocacy.
They are a chorus of storytellers who, in my view, affirm affirmative action. Clarence Thomas and his court notwithstanding, I believe in it now as I did 28 years ago, when I offered a column to a South Dakota native.Tim Giago photo by Elisha Page, special to SFGate.com – San Francisco Chronicle Link to story on Mr. Giago http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/12/23/INVHTSVHP.DTL
Three courageous Native women newspapers publishers
By Tim Giago (Nanwicca Kciji)
Dec. 04, 2007
The Lakota Times was the only independently owned Indian weekly newspaper in America in 1981. Now there are several. Ironically, the three most read, most influential of these independent newspapers are owned and published by Indian women.
Elizabeth Gray started the Oklahoma Indian Times in 1995. Several years later, as the paper expanded beyond Oklahoma, she changed its name to Native American Times. She said, “I started the newspaper in a storage facility in Afton, Oklahoma. Next door to our office was a fish bait room and the smell of fish filled our little office.”
Why did she start the newspaper? “It all starts with vision. What goal or mark you focus on is how you will create the path to accomplishment. If it is handed to you then it is someone else’s creation. It has to start with you. In this business you have to be hardheaded and not listen to the visions of failures of others. Indian tribes need newspapers so they can have a balance in their governmental structure,” Liz said.
“I believe it is my job while on this earth to be a vessel of truth while supporting the community of people through my newspaper as a communication source. It really isn’t my newspaper; it is the people’s because without truth, we have nothing,” she said.
Native American Times can be found online at:
The online edition compliments the hardcopy newspaper that is published weekly.
Amanda Takes War Bonnet, an Oglala Lakota, had a comfortable job as Communications Coordinator at Little Wound School in Kyle on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Prior to that she had worked for me at the Lakota Times and at Indian Country Today.
She started as a part-time janitor while attending Oglala Lakota College. She eventually worked in every department within the newspaper. Her insight, knowledge of the Lakota culture, and her ambition soon landed her the job of managing editor. She was with me for 14 years.
She gave up that “comfy” job in 2004 and started a weekly newspaper she named after the original Lakota Times. Not long after the paper started she got a threatening letter from the lawyers of the Oneida Nation in New York State, a tribe that had purchased Indian Country Today in 1998.
The letter advised her that if she did not change the name of her newspaper they would sue her. It seems the Oneida believed they had prior rights to the name Lakota Times by virtue of the purchase agreement.
She felt she could win the case if she pursued it, but with little money to fight it, she went ahead and changed the name of the newspaper to Lakota Country Times. The Oneida haven’t challenged that name as yet.
Amanda believes in maintaining the ties to her culture and traditions while still reporting the news that is important to the Lakota people. “Our communities are hurting from alcoholism, a lack of spirituality and a very poor economy and so many other social ills and so giving the people things to read that will help in their lives is very important,” Takes War Bonnet said.
Her website is:
and it also compliments her hardcopy, weekly newspaper.
Avis Little Eagle is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
She came to work for me at the Lakota Times fresh out of college in 1990. She started out as a news reporter and eventually became my managing editor.
One day I assigned her the task of doing a series on fake medicine men and women. She took the story to heart and spent many nights and weekends working on what turned out to be a ten-part series.
During the run of the series Avis and the newspaper itself received threats of hell and damnation, death threats and threats of evil spells from some of the fake medicine men and women the series exposed.
Little Eagle sat down one Wednesday to write the final part of the series.
She worked on it all morning and then took a lunch break.
While she was out of the office her computer suddenly started on fire.
We immediately put out the fire, salvaged her work, and transferred it to an identical computer never telling her about this disaster.
She completed the series and it became one of the major accomplishments in Indian journalism.
Little Eagle started the Teton Times in McLaughlin, SD in 2002. Avis was one of the fiercest defenders of freedom of the press and she was determined to see that the people of the Standing Rock Reservation have a newspaper that would bring them sources of knowledge that would give them the variety of opinions needed to make sound political decisions.
Avis could have been speaking for Liz and Amanda when she said, “The mainstream media does not understand our culture and traditions and can never report adequately the things that we can better report about our own condition and beliefs.”
Little Eagle ran for public office and in 2005 she became the first woman ever elected to serve as vice president or as it is now known, vice chairwoman, of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
These three strong Indian women have made a difference in Indian country.
Their newspapers, unlike newspapers owned by the tribal governments, have an open-mindedness that allows dissenters to publish letters and articles critical of tribal government and even letters critical of their own newspapers and of themselves and whether they like you or don’t or whether they agree with your opinions or not, they never deny you the right to express yourselves on the pages of their newspapers.
This you will never find in newspapers owned by the tribal governments or in many cases, in the mainstream media.
© 2007 Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc.
(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991 and founder of The Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers. He founded and was the first president of the Native American Journalists Association. He became the first Native American ever inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame on November 10, 2007.)
—Native American Times: http://nativetimes.com
Native American Times
P.O. Box 692050
Native American Times
570 E. 141st St.
—Lakota Country Times: http://www.lakotacountrytimes.com
Lakota Country Times
P.O. Box 386
—Tim Giago story on three female Native American editors/publishers: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tim-giago/three-courageous-native-w_b_75414.html Native Times article on three editors: http://www.nativetimes.com/index.asp?action=displayarticle&article_id=9171 Indigenous Peoples Yahoo group link – article by Mr. Giago about three female Native American editors: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/indigenous_peoples_literature/message/23179