Hot Issues in Native Journalism

June 19, 2002

What are the critical issues facing Indian Country? Some are well-known—sovereignty, gaming and economic development, protecting sacred sites and artifacts, mascots—while others are less so. Pechanga.Net asked some of the nation’s top officials, attorneys, lobbyists, and journalists what issues they thought the press isn’t covering enough. Some excerpts from their answers:


  • I don’t think that anybody yet understands the Cobell case. The competing interests are extremely complex, yet it is reported merely as bureaucratic bungling or another massive rip-off of Indians....While each of these has a grain of truth, it’s really not that easy. Native journalists may be the only ones that can understand the triad of Interior vs. Tribes vs. Individual Indians. Ironically, the tribes and BIA are much more on the same page than the tribes and their members.

Next is the phenomenon of us being our own worst enemies. On many reservations, alcoholism, drug use, spousal abuse and child molestation are epidemic, but it’s kept as our dirty little secret. These are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse for us, but it is written about too little.

Finally, they should look harder for real community heroes. There are people doing amazing work in the community who get no recognition. Singling out tribal leaders and politicians is fine, but my experience is that the best tribal leaders also have smart, dedicated people working with them. Speaking for myself, I rarely had a good idea, but I knew one when I heard it, and was ready to steal every good idea that came my way. (Kevin Gover, attorney and former Assistant Secretary of the Dept. of the Interior)

  • Issue #1: How the governance capabilities of Indian tribes have been elevated because of new revenue resources. The new revenue resources have enabled tribal nations to bolster their internal organizational management capabilities and their governance structures.

So much has already been written about the new political clout of Indian tribes. But I’m not sure that is the ultimate goal for tribes. I believe that successful economic development on Indian lands for the benefit of tribal communities is among the more important goals. To do that, tribal government must be able to play an appropriate, fostering role. That requires a strong, stable and forward-looking government that can only come from having a strong governance structure in place.

Issue #2: Not enough is written about tribal sovereignty. That is why that term so often strikes fear especially among non-Indians. There needs to be a piece on tribal sovereignty not from a legal perspective, but from a layman’s perspective so that non-Indians and Indians alike can come to understand it in the right context, more fully—and fear it less. (Jacob Coin, executive director, California Nations Indian Gaming Association)

  • 1) More press on the positive things that gaming money is being used for and the positive results for the non-Indian population also;

2) The presumption that all Indians are rich and are members of gaming tribes has to be curtailed;

3) Respect for our tribal govt. business and our leaders as sovereign nations. Many times our issues are presumed to be everyone’s business and that everybody (non-Ind’s) deserves a "say so". It’s not that we’re trying to be secretive or think we can do whatever we want. It’s that we have a political status as nations and thus our issues deserved to be portrayed in that manner, not like something that the local PTA is doing. Our tribal leaders are also not portrayed as they should be–leaders of a nation. They deserve that status just as the President or members of the U.S. Congress. (Laura Y. Miranda, senior staff attorney, California Indian Legal Services)

  • That we are sovereign Canada. Although unlike Canada, we are still kept to a double standard because so much of tribal daily decisions are made by the federal govt. (i.e., that we still need to beg to get our native lands—that we’ve had to pay a fortune to get back—put into trust, etc.). Give the Great Oak as a perfect example. (Paula Treat, Sacramento lobbyist)

  • The benefits of Indian gaming—how the tribes use revenue for clean water, environmental preservation, education, preservation of heritage/culture/language, health care, drug/alcohol programs, elder care/programs, hot lunches. (Carrie Chassin, campaign consultant, Winner & Associates)

  • The growing assumption that all tribes have casinos and, for those that do have them, that all the members get huge per-capita. (Creig Marcus, tribal administrator)

  • The Indian communities that have not benefited from gaming.

    The efforts of tribes, such as Pechanga, to maintain language and culture despite the continuing hostility from certain vocal segments of the non-Indian community.

    The need for a modern definition, understanding of what it means to be a Native American—in many ways a syncretism of traditional and modern ways. In contrast to a perpetual stereotyping caused by mass media, such as the Western movie. (James Kawahara, Indian law attorney, Holland & Knight)

  • I think you need to tell them that the perception of tribes as gaming moguls is grossly exaggerated, that the education, health, unemployment and living conditions of tribes is a national disgrace and when they ask you why don’t the wealthy tribes (handful of them that there are) help their less fortunate brothers, you can tell them that they, in fact, do even though there’s nothing to require them to do so. Finally, the government could assist tribes in overcoming their problems if they would be helpful, through legislation, government programs, tax incentives, etc., if they would provide incentives to promote and utilize their existing resources, such as renewable and nonrenewable energy resources. Tribes are the biggest untapped source of energy supply in the US. (Jana McKeag, Washington lobbyist, VCAT)

  • How about the upcoming NIGC appointments, Mr.Deer’s replacement? (Damon Sandoval, Morongo Tribal Council)

  • My suggestion for more coverage would be for them to report on how the current state of affairs (focus on the war against terrorism) is impacting/hindering Indian issues on Capital Hill and interview key lobbyists and tribal leaders on how we might shift more focus on the issues for our collective national tribal agenda. (Earl Evans, HUD)

  • I am regularly annoyed by the oversimplification, overgeneralization, and sensationalism with which Indian issues are reported. There appears to be little recognition of the broad spectrum of issues with which tribal governments deal—and they do deal quite well, contrary to what we regularly see in the press—unless those issues happen to involve conflict or extremes. Arguably, this is true of all reporting, but it appears to be especially true on "Indian issues." Very few reporters can be trusted to take the time to get it right—even when there are accurate sources who are willing to go unnamed (and frankly prefer it because it ain’t about them!) and willing to take the time to provide accurate information. Guess that just doesn’t sell papers or fit into most peoples’ world views....As for topics, I think that tribal sovereignty is the most misunderstood and misexplained concept, and the real struggles faced by tribes which are successful—or not so successful—in gaming completely overlooked, i.e., transitioning from dire poverty, under education—at least as to how the main culture lives, a century plus of the government "alternating" [yeah, right!] between attempting to slaughter you to and attempting to convince you it knows best.... (Patricia A. Prochaska, Indian law attorney)

  • Reporters need to do their homework. A good reporter is one that attempts to understand the community or people he/she is interviewing. Rather than come in asking the basic, silly questions. It would be really great if papers would run over a period of time the history of the Indigenous people living within their service community as a public interest. I firmly believe once people are educated they make much better decisions. This would help people then understand stories dealing with issues such as mascots or gaming.

  • Stories should not be so juxtaposed as to merely focus on the issues such as gaming or conflict issues but should inform the general public about other "new stories" happening within our communities. (Joely de la Torre, professor, San Francisco State University)

  • I think the press is doing better, but more coverage of any Indian stories is needed. I’d like to see an Indian "pundit" that the press can go to debate any issue for a different prospective. (John Shagonaby, executive director, Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi)


  • Cheryl Schmit testified at the Little Hoover Commission in support of private, for-profit card casinos effort to change California public policy to allow publicly traded corporate ownership. She says she’s anti-gaming, but she’s supporting the card rooms while attacking the tribes! Why don’t they cover that? Who’s funding her?

Why was John Hensley attending a Wash. D.C. meeting of an Indian hate group? Who paid for that trip?

  • You might also want to ask the press why they put so much credibility into what Cheryl Schmit has to say...she’s a self-appointed critic with questionable funding support.