First Nations Journalism – Our Voice, Our Weapon by lakw’alás (Tom Speer)Tweet
In the 1950s when I was a child, and in the 1960s when I was a teenager, racism against “Indians” was widespread in this country. Many families tried to protect their children from prejudice and discrimination in any way that they could. Sometimes parents hid their First Nations identity from their children. Some parents did not tell their children their identity and ancestry. Some families told their children lies such as “Granny was Spanish”. (That’s how bad our situation was.)
An ever-present challenge was the toxic atmosphere in First Nations communities, resulting from 500 years of Genocide by Europeans and their Euro-American descendants. Generations of massacres, starvation, rape, theft of ancestral Homelands, child-kidnapping, Christian missionary schools, and other Crimes against Humanity had a devastating impact on First Nations people. Through their mothers’ DNA, historical trauma was passed down to First Nations children from generation to generation. We are born with genetic memories of the crimes against our Ancestors.
However, even in those dark times, brave First Nations men and women struggled to publish newspapers and magazines, despite hostility and staggering financial and distribution challenges. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the rise of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and other advocacy groups fueled the growth of First Nations Journalism. Things were slowly beginning to change.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin, publisher of one of the first newspapers in colonial North America, is credited with saying “Freedom of the Press is guaranteed only to those who own one”. Sardonic as it may have been, Dr. Franklin’s words certainly had the ring of truth.
For our First Nations, that was the heart of the problem. Before personal computers and the Internet were invested, publishing a newspaper, printing it, and distributing it by trucks, railroads, and air freight across North America required vast amount of capital (investment funds), which was seldom available to First Nations.
One of the earliest examples of First Nations Journalism was The Nations, which was published by Sarah Sense-Wilson’s uncle. Another example was Akwesasne Notes, published by activists of the Mohawk Nation, one of the Iroquois “Six Nations” of upstate New York and southeast Canada.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Akwesasne Notes was one of the strongest nation-wide voices for First Nations justice and Treaty Rights, providing a forum for activists throughout the United States. Akwesasne Notes supported the First Nations’ occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Washington, D.C., the Occupation of Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco, the Puget Sound Fish Wars, and the Occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota. First Nations journalists at Akwesasne Notes received threats, intimidation, and harassment from federal, state, and local forces. But they did not give up, and continued publication until 1989.
Ironically, 1989 was the beginning of a new era. Two powerful transformations were taking place in the United States: social activism and computer technology. Struggles against racism and discrimination were growing in the Black, Hispanic, Asian, and First Nations communities, and activists were learning from each other and forming alliances. Typewriters and mimeograph machines – communication tools of the earlier era of First Nations Journalism – quickly became obsolete, things of the past.
Forty years later, First Nations Journalism has changed dramatically. With a computer and the Internet, you can share your thoughts as quickly as you can type and “proof-read” (checking for spelling, grammar, and clarity) your assembled thoughts. Like Benjamin Franklin, you can now “own your own printing press”.
Make First Nations Journalism your tool, and your weapon for self-defense. Make Journalism your voice… for yourself, your family, your community, and all First Nations. Journalism, the ability to express and communicate your point-of-view, can be your tool for overcoming shame, for opening your heart to pride, for full expression of your viewpoint, and for sharing your feelings and thoughts with others across our planet.
Stay up-to-date on issues affecting First Nations families and communities. Read the writing of other First Nations journalists. For example, two of my favorite news resources are Last Real Indians and Mazaska Talks, written and published by Matt Remle (Hunkpapa Lakota), a UNEA parent, author, and educator.
Reading the writings of other journalists will help you improve your own writing skills. Other First Nations journalism resources include the following: Indian Country Today, Pechenga.net, Indianz.com, Native Times, and Native News Online.
All these First Nations journalism resources are available for free online today. Take advantage of these resources that were never available to your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Use your words to help create a better future.
Racism and terrible injustices still remain in American society. That is why we need Journalism, to protect our sovereignty, our treaty rights, and our First Nations people. Learn the basics of First Nations Journalism, exercise and strengthen your new skills, and “fight as you write”, for yourself, for your family, and for our community.
“Be a good Relative. Make a difference in our world.”
háʔɬ datatu, gʷəlapu dʔiišəd, dsyayayəʔ
lakw’alás ti ds’dáɁ
säkmänábš čuɬ, tul’Ɂal dxw’dəwɁábš ɁálɁaltid
tul’Ɂal dxw’dəwɁábš ɁálɁaltid
tom speer ti pastəducid ds’dáɁ
Good day, relatives and friends
People-of-the-Inside (“Duwamish”) I-am
from Little-Place-Where-One-Crosses-Over (“Chief Seattle City”)
Sackman-Family (Chief Seattle & Princess Angeline’s direct descendants) we-are
from the Duwamish Ancestral-Homeland
Tom Speer in pastəd (“Boston”] language I-am-named