In Remembrance of NAJA Founding Member Bonnie Clincher Red Elk

Posted by Mary Hudetz on 06/29/2015

Photo by Marise Headdress

We are deeply saddened at the Native American Journalists Association to learn of the passing of Bonnie Clincher Red Elk, one of our founding members and a true champion for freedom of the press in Indian Country. She was 63 years old. 

A member of the Fort Peck Tribes and a Poplar, Montana, resident, she died Sunday in a nursing home in Wolf Point after never fully recovering from a stroke she suffered eight months ago,
according to NAJA member Rich Peterson, who worked with her at the Fort Peck Journal.

She was the founding editor of the Journal, a small weekly newspaper out of Poplar launched in 2006. Its founding came after the then-tribal chairman forced her from her editing post at the Fort Peck Tribes' government newspaper, the Wotanin Wowapi. At the time of her firing, she had been pressing for answers on spending of tribal money for the elected official's purported personal travel to Florida.

For her tenacity and unwavering commitment to holding her tribal government accountable, she was honored that same year with NAJA's Wassaja Award, which is given in recognition of journalists' and publications' dedication to continuing to report the news in the face of challenge and even threat.

In giving the award, NAJA cited her and her colleague Marian Montclair's "courageous dedication to the citizens of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribal Community and the rights of those citizens to a free and uncensored press."

Other past recipients of the award include Tom Arviso of the Navajo Times and Tim Giago, NAJA's founding president.

In 2008, Clincher Red Elk also received the Montana Free Press Award, an honor bestowed by the University of Montana's schools of law and journalism.

Her bravery set a great example for all of us.

"I did not back away from controversy .... I approached my job strictly from the perspective of a journalist, without animus toward those on whom I reported," she wrote a year prior to receiving the NAJA award for Nieman Reports, a publication of Harvard University.

She is survived by her four children and four grandchildren. Clayton Stevenson Funeral Home in Wolf Point has been entrusted with funeral arrangements. Cards and written condolences may also be sent to the Fort Peck Journal; P.O. Box 351; 312 2nd Ave. West; Poplar, MT 59255.

Her life and career will be remembered in a tribute by NAJA during the National Native Media Conference next week in Arlington, Virginia. Our deepest condolences to all who had the fortune of knowing her and her work, especially her family, friends and colleagues.

-- Mary Hudetz (NAJA President)