NAJA Urges Oglala Lakota To Lift Newspaper Ban

Posted by Tristan Ahtone on 04/01/2015
President Yellow Bird Steele,
 
For more than 30 years, the Native American Journalists Association has developed programs to empower Native journalists, promote Native cultures and protect press freedom by encouraging both mainstream and tribal media to attain the highest standards of professionalism, ethics and responsibility. 
 
We know the Rapid City Journal fell short of those standards this winter when it published the headline, "Did Native Students Stand for National Anthem?" As you know, it came after your tribal youth from American Horse School attended a January 24th hockey game in Rapid City only to be taunted with racial slurs and have beer sprayed or poured on them. Whether the newspaper staff understood the impact at the time or not of their phrasing choice, we know that headline was hurtful.
 
On our website, you can find the NAJA statement condemning the headline and demanding an apology. It was released the weekend the headline was published, and emailed directly to the newspaper's executive editor as well as the top news executive of Lee Enterprises, the parent company of the Rapid City Journal. The paper apologized the day after they received our strongly worded statement.
 
We are very sorry to hear that your tribal council was not informed of the apology, and while we certainly understand and share your anger over the headline, we also now urge you to lift the ban on Rapid City Journal sales on your reservation, in our capacity as a journalism organization that also advocates for free press. 
 
It’s not always realized by leadership that a move to ban a newspaper or reporter can pose deep, unintended consequences on tribal citizens in the long term, and this is a point we can elaborate on further in the future if the tribal leadership requests it.
 
Again, there is no question that there have been missteps on the part of the newspaper from publishing the headline and alleged oversight in community with the tribal leadership, but a ban like the current one on the Journal casts a shadow over press freedom, and, we also suggest goes against the Oglala Lakota Tribe’s Bill of Rights, which prohibits “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
 
Access to information is the lifeblood of an informed citizenry, and censoring the public’s ability to access information – regardless of the pain it could inflict or the discomfort it may cause – is deeply troubling. The public’s right to know must never be restricted or sanitized by any government.
 
We hope you see us as an information resource on this front in weeks and months to come, and look forward to your feedback, comments and/or questions.