2017-12-07 / Voices

The Role Of An Independent Media in Lakota Country


As a minority growing up in America I have always been forced to ask myself, what exactly is the best way to speak truth to power? What I have come to understand is that the methods we use to correct our institutions must be tailored to fit the demands of a given situation.

In Lakota Country, the most effective way of holding tribal governments accountable is through the empowerment of locally owned newspapers. This has been proven for the last several generations as some of the more-shady aspects of tribal politics have first been uncovered by journalists who were willing to directly engage authoritarian-like tribal leaders.

Local newspapers have also put themselves in the crosshairs of powerful people by courageously presenting indigenous perspectives on controversial issues. When our tribal leaders have run afoul, we have held them accountable. When our leaders take bold and decisive action, we have always given them the platform

The work we do at Lakota Country Times is still inspired by people like Brenda Norrell, Chuck Trimble, and many others who have put themselves on the line to present accurate portrayals of complex and sometimes dangerous stories.

This past week the Oglala Sioux Tribe unveiled a publication that very much had the feel of a newspaper. Comments about the publication from the tribe’s Public Relations office were quick to note that they are calling it a “newsletter”, intended to get out information that has not been printed by other sources.

On the surface this seems like a good idea, but the only governments I know that have published reporting about themselves, have been the ones who have the most to hide. That is the problem. It is very hard for large and powerful institutions to undermine their own power and authority. Foucault noted that in his writings. The status-quo is quite comfortable for an institution. Is there an incentive for tribal government to present a perfect image of itself? Absolutely. Does this present an incentive to fudge the facts? It absolutely does. Newsletters are for tribal-programs. Tribal-governments should work with the independent media.

For me, it is always important to be clear, I do not believe our elected officials are inherently corrupt, nor do I believe that the creation of this publication was brought about with nefarious intent. What I do believe is that tribal officials must create systems within our government that will foster transparency and accountability. The only way this can be done is by helping our elected officials and program heads to be more accessible to the media. I am giving away some industry secrets, but the functionality of our tribal government is that important.

A more effective method of delivering information about the inner workings of any institution is through unbias third-party journalists who are working for established media outlets.

As the tribe develops its plan for how to become more transparent the policies it enacts cannot be so easily corruptible.

Part of the role of the media working on the reservation is to help to improve the integrity of our institutions. Our newspapers were some of the first to normalize the use of the term “tribal-citizen” as opposed to “tribal-member”. This was done deliberately to push forward the notion that our understanding of nation-hood must include how we see ourselves. This also includes the daily work we do to publish firsthand accounts of tribal council meetings. This simple act shows our people that our institutions are operating and working to improve the lives of the people on a daily basis. The public deserves to know that their tribal-government is functional and active. At LCT we do this daily.

At LCT we have always had an open page policy for our tribal leaders and people. As editor I would like to invite any of our tribal leaders across the state to contribute a column to our LNI Special Edition that will hit newsstands next week. This issue will be included free of charge with the purchase of a LNI program at the civic center. I will include exclusive stories about our athletes, and will include a spread about the ongoing constitutional reform effort on the Oglala Lakota Nation. Please grab a copy.

Public debates about the topics that impact our people are very important. Our opinion pages are never subject to censoring and we welcome submissions from the people.

*Brandon Ecoffey is the editor of LCT and is an award-winning journalist who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

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