Join the fight for free press and information on Turtle Island!
Tribal nations possess the inherent sovereignty to decide how they protect the freedoms of press and information. Although some do, the problem is that too many still do not.
The Native American Journalists Association board of directors has formed a standing Free Press Committee, and has published resources for anyone seeking to create or expand press and information freedoms in their community. This resource page provides examples of tribes that decided to do just that – the Osage Nation, Cherokee Nation, Muscogee Nation and Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.
We need your support and involvement so we can spread the best ideas for how tribes protect freedoms of press and information. For further reading on this issue, check out this article from Editor and Publisher featuring some of the champions of free press listed on this page, as well as other NAJA member advocates.
Shannon Shaw Duty (Osage) is the editor of The Osage News, which has won numerous journalism awards, including the prestigious Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2014 for holding tribal leaders accountable under the Osage Open Records Act. View her Feb. 20, 2022 column in the Tulsa World A free press a priority among tribal nations.
“Our hope for this free press page is to aid our NAJA tribal media outlets that struggle with bringing sunlight to their respective governments,” she said. “We know how hard our jobs are in bringing information to our communities. We hope the Free Press legislation examples provided by the Osage and Cherokee Nations can be utilized to support the free flow of news and information for our NAJA members.”
One of the first tribes in the nation to pass free press and information acts is the Cherokee Nation based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, which publishes the Cherokee Phoenix, the first Native American newspaper originally published in 1828.
Bryan Pollard (Cherokee), was the executive editor of the Phoenix from 2007 to 2016. He learned that daily vigilance is necessary to keep free press and information for the Cherokee people. The Phoenix was the first paper to receive the Elias Boudinot Award.
“Tribal businesses continue to grow financially and tribal governments continue to grow in complexity as a result,” Pollard said. “It is now more important than ever that tribal citizens have the information necessary to understand these changes and how it effects their lives, their families and their communities. An active and unfettered independent press is vital to our cultural wellbeing during this time of rapid economic development.”
Dean Rhodes, Editor of The Grand Ronde Tribe’s Smoke Signals news outlet joined the team in August 2007 and has guided the tribal publication to 111 state and national journalism awards during his tenure. This includes the 2017 Elias Boudinot Award for the tribe’s Independent Tribal Press Ordinance.
“I have worked under a Tribal governmental structure where the newspaper and its supervisor directly reported to a nine-member Tribal Council, and as an independent newspaper – still government funded – that reports to a five-member Editorial Board charged with ensuring a press free from undue influence by Tribal administration and Tribal Council.
“By far, the membership of the Grand Ronde Tribe is getting a more accurate and unvarnished picture of their government in the latter circumstance,” Rhodes said. “Most importantly, as the Tribal values are to always be thinking seven generations ahead, I believe that the first draft of Tribal history that we have been writing since the January 2017 passage of the Independent Tribal Press Ordinance will be more trustworthy when Tribal descendants look back at the pages of Smoke Signals 50 years hence to find out what and why something was occurring in the Grand Ronde Tribe.”
Angel Ellis (Muscogee) is the director of Mvskoke Media and advocated for the tribe to become the first to usher in a citizen ratified constitutionally protected and fully funded tribal free press. The outlet was awarded the Elias Boudinot Award in 2016 and 2020. This was due to the tribal government’s repeal of the 2015 free press law in November 2018, leading the former department leader and current NAJA staffer Sterling Cosper (Muscogee) to resign in protest.
Through advocacy by NAJA, other journalism organizations, coverage and efforts by Ellis and Cosper, the tribe reinstated protections in July 2020, followed closely by the first FOIA, and ratification of the free press constitutional amendment by citizens in September 2021, locking it under their vote.
The Osage, Cherokee, Muscogee and Grand Ronde leaders are part of a growing team of Native American journalists, attorneys, professors, and other interested citizens and professionals who fight to protect free press and information in Indian Country.
“It is our hope that as a community of Native journalists, we can work together to enhance the voice of the tribal press in all our tribal nations,” Pollard said. “The resources on this page should serve as a catalyst to empower those seeking a path toward truthful reporting and government transparency.”
To get involved with promoting free press and information for your tribes, contact NAJA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free press legislation is often amended, which either strengthens of weakens the laws. Please share examples from other tribes so we can archive best practices. Below are examples of current free press acts. View FOIA resources here. View Free Press Elements for Tribal Media here.
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