Freedom of the Press in Indian Country

Abstract:

Freedom of the press is an inalienable right most U.S. citizens take for granted. To ensure
the right to express thoughts and opinions, free press and free speech clauses were
cemented into a legal framework becoming the First Amendment to the U.S. constitution.
Press freedoms have helped the United States become one of the most influential
democracies in world history. The media’s allure lies within its power to provide people
with information so they can be free and self-governing. In journalism, the overriding
obligation is to tell the truth, and to present those truths to citizens.

Equally, they long to hear news from engaging and accurate storytellers. This is a basic
human instinct shared the world over from the most technologically advanced nations to
the isolated and impoverished. Some might question whether a free press is an
appropriate cultural match in Indian Country. Yet nothing overrides people’s need to
know information.

Among the Lakota, storytellers were highly respected individuals within tribal societies.
Those that relayed information to the villages were called eyapahes. It is common even
today to see the thriving nature of storytelling among tribes such as the Crow in Montana.
At traditional community gatherings, it is customary for Crow “camp criers” to typically
ride horse back through the camp in the morning. And in the Crow language he
encourages the camp to wake up and greet the morning sun. He also announces the day’s
upcoming events. Like the Lakota, these are highly respected positions, and one must be
given the ceremonial rite to fulfill the camp crier role.

Today the dilemma in Indian Country is that news dissemination has changed. Tribal
news sources often exist not for the people, but as propaganda tools of the tribal council.
For more than a decade, the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) has been
and advocate for securing press freedoms at tribal newspapers. NAJA dedicated 1998, as
the “The Year of Promoting Free Expression in Native America.” It was an effort to bring
greater awareness to press censorship where tribal leaders can hire and fire reporters at
will, where tribal journalists typically don’t have access to tribal government documents,
where tribal councils often review news before it’s published.

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Last updated on 01/26/2022