MCN adopts free press legislation for Mvskoke Media

Posted by Rebecca Landsberry on 12/09/2015

NORMAN, Okla. – The Muscogee (Creek) Nation (MCN) added free press protections for the tribe’s media division, Mvskoke Media, with the passage of a free press act.

The MCN National Council passed NCA 15-218 by a unanimous vote of 14-0 during the Sept. 26 meeting at the tribal headquarters in Okmulgee, Okla. MCN Principal Chief George Tiger signed the legislation into law Oct. 8.

The council cited access to information and a need for an independent media with stronger objective reporting by the tribe’s media department as findings of support for the amendment.

Reps. Thomas Yahola, Pete Beaver, Johnnie Greene, David Nichols, Dode Barnett, Joyce Deere, Frank Coachman, Mark Randolph, Lucian Tiger, David Hill, Robert Hufft, James Jennings and Adam Jones co-sponsored the legislation. 

The department includes a semi-monthly newspaper, weekly radio and television broadcasts and graphic design and printing services. 

Mvskoke Media was previously organized under the tribe’s executive branch.

Sterling Cosper, editor of the tribe’s official newspaper, the Muscogee Nation News, said the passage of the act is a positive first step toward an independent press.

“Officially confirming the fourth estate to the framework of our government is an imperative exercise in tribal sovereignty and self-governance,” he said. “We intend to perpetuate this exercise by immediately utilizing the protective provisions of this bill to fulfill its purpose of bringing fair and balanced accounts of MCN affairs to the citizens.”

Jason Salsman was named interim manager of the department earlier this year. He is also the multimedia producer and host of Native News Today, the only all-Native news format currently airing on network television in the state of Oklahoma.

“The citizens will get timely, pertinent news from credible journalists with excellent sources and documentation to back their work,” Salsman said. “The fact that the fourth largest tribe in America will fund a department to be the watchdog sends a clear, concise message that transparent government is a top priority. My hope is that many others will do the same.” 

The amendment established an independent three-member editorial board, which oversees Mvskoke Media, without influence from the tribal government.

The executive branch, legislative branch and Mvskoke Media are each responsible for nominating one member to the newly established three-person editorial board. Each member will serve a three-year term. 

Travis Snell and Rebecca Landsberry were confirmed as board members by tribal resolution Oct. 31 during the MCN National Council quarterly session.  

As of press time, a third member has not yet been nominated.

Snell is a member of the Cherokee Nation and serves as the associate editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, the oldest Native American newspaper. The Phoenix is one of a handful of tribal media outlets with free press protections currently in place. He is a longtime member of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA). 

NAJA is a nonprofit organization educating and connecting its membership through programs that promote diversity and defend challenges to free press, speech and expression. NAJA currently has more than 500 members across the U.S., and Canada covering Native communities through local, tribal and mainstream media.

Landsberry is a Muscogee (Creek) citizen and former editor of the Muscogee Nation News. She is the current NAJA interim executive director and treasurer for the Native Health News Alliance.

Landsberry says freedom of the press empowers tribes.

“It is essential for these journalists covering stories in Native America to have autonomy and the means to hold those in power accountable to the citizens,” she said. “This historic act will continue to strengthen tribal sovereignty and is a tremendous accomplishment for NAJA members there in Mvskoke Media, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Indian Country.”

Cosper said the next step will be to add a freedom of information act (FOIA).

“We encourage citizens and officials alike to strengthen our role in the checks and balances system by supporting the passage of a FOIA, which will provide attributive documentation for the content of our coverage,” Cosper said.

Cosper said the department aims to ask for citizen input with adding free press language directly into the MCN Constitution, in addition to the new code of law. 

“Through this, citizens would vote to add us as a functioning body of the foundational document for MCN government with their approval being the only means to reverse it,” Cosper said.  

MCN is the fourth largest Native American tribe in the U.S., and includes more than 79,000 citizens across the globe. It is the third tribe in the state of Oklahoma to enact free press protections, following the Osage Nation’s passage of the Independent Press Act in 2008 and the Cherokee Nation’s Independent Press Amendment in 2009.