Native American free press advocate John Shurr dies at 67

Posted by Native American Journalists Association on 03/02/2015

NORMAN, Okla. – John Shurr, journalist and free press advocate, died Sunday after a short battle with an illness at the age of 67.

Shurr, a longtime Native American Journalists Association member, was a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and had a long career as a journalist, most recently as the chairman of the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board. He was born in Muskogee, Okla., and later attended the University of Oklahoma where he began his journalism career as the executive editor of the Oklahoma Daily student newspaper.

Shurr served as the Associated Press’s Columbia, S.C., bureau chief for 23 years. He retired in 2007.

Shurr was well known among his colleagues as an advocate for freedom of information and independent press acts among Native American tribes. He set a precedent for many, especially in South Carolina, for the public’s ‘right to know.’ 

The list of awards, honors and recognitions for his work is lengthy, as is the list of journalists whom he influenced and often mentored.

Bryan Pollard, Executive Editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, worked closely with Shurr over the years while Shurr served on the Editorial Board.

“I think one thing that shouldn’t be overlooked in how Indian Country remembers John is his contribution to transparency in government,” Pollard said. “He was one of the leading voices that gave rise to the Cherokee Nation’s Freedom of Information Act, which was the first of its kind in Indian Country.  As Indian Country struggles with transparency in tribal government, Cherokee Nation’s Freedom of Information Act and John’s contribution to that act are going to continue to be a beacon – an example of what transparency can look like – in a tribal government.

Shurr will be greatly missed, said NAJA board member Christina Good Voice, who worked with Shurr in 2005 during an Associated Press internship.

“The media community – especially the Native media community – lost one of its pioneers of free press and freedom of information,” Good Voice said. “To me, John Shurr was a mentor, a colleague and most importantly, a friend. He’s left large shoes to fill in the journalism world. He served as a mentor to numerous young journalists and I believe we will continue his work and will make him proud.”