Why we’re building coverage by, from and for Indigenous audiences

A few words on HCN’s award-winning coverage of Native America.

 

For the past two years, High Country News has been building a tribal affairs desk that centers Native voices for a Native audience. We have published more than 170 stories from journalists, authors and experts across Indian Country, and we are proud of how far we’ve come and optimistic about where we are going.

Jenni Monet is a freelance journalist and a tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo.

The idea of the desk evolved from our coverage of the Standing Rock demonstrations in 2016, as violence, repression and intimidation increased against water protectors by state security forces along the proposed route of the Dakota Access Pipeline. High Country News turned to readers with a request for support. We received more than $13,000 in donations, which funded our coverage, enabling us to commission an Indigenous writer, Jenni Monet. Monet’s reporting helped us realize that as a magazine dedicated to covering the American West, we were woefully lacking Indigenous voices. We subsequently hired Tristan Ahtone, an experienced Kiowa journalist and officer of the Native American Journalists Association, to lead the effort. 

Associate Editor Tristan Ahtone leads High Country News’ tribal affairs desk and is a citizen of the Kiowa Tribe.

We are the only non-Native outlet in the country with such a desk, and just two years on we are receiving national and international recognition, allowing us to continue building out our initiative and committing to keeping the tribal affairs desk as a core component of High Country News coverage.

Just last week, the Columbia Journalism Review highlighted the substantial work that we have produced, though their figures were incomplete. In fact, from June 2017 through March 2019, we published 171 tribal affairs stories. Of those, more than half were written by Indigenous writers, a significant portion of which were by Native women journalists. We have also prioritized the commissioning of photography and illustrations from Indigenous photojournalists and artists.

Last year, our Indigenous writers won four 1st place awards from the Native American Journalists Association, while two of our non-Native writers also won 1st place awards for the organization, including best feature and best coverage of Native America. Our impact on international news outlets continues to grow – from our recent collaboration with the BBC to stories with Buzzfeed, the Intercept, the Investigative Fund, and AJ+. We could not have done this without our readers.

Debra Utacia Krol is an enrolled member of the Xolon (also known as Jolon) Salinan Tribe and an award-winning writer for High Country News.
Photo by Craig Smith

Authentic representations of Indigenous people matter. For nearly a century, Native people were covered, if at all, by stereotypes (as warriors, or through drumming, dancing, or drinking), or by narratives of “difference, disparity, disadvantage, dysfunction and deprivation,” as scholar Maggie Walter writes. As a result, Indigenous people often exist in the collective memory of the United States — informed by films, literature, sports and advertising — in ways that prevent audiences from engaging with authentic, contemporary, Indigenous communities. From “noble warriors” to “wards of the state,” the narrative of defeat and impending extinction of Indigenous people permeates perceptions and shared histories of Native America. 

HCN’s tribal affairs desk endeavors to do better, seeking not to write about Indigenous communities — but to write by, for and from them. Our aim is to avoid inaccurate representations of Indigenous life, and to recognize a rich and complicated network of cultures, subcultures, political points of view, religious persuasions, sexual and gender identities, creation stories, histories and aspirations — to name a few. We recognize that to tell the complete story of the American West, we must do so from multiple viewpoints and histories: From the Siberian Yupik village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, to the Tohono O’odham Nation on the U.S.-Mexico border, our reporters have challenged preconceived notions of the West, and, by extension, Indian Country as a whole.

When we started the tribal affairs desk in the spring of 2017, we began with a public service journalism model in mind: provide fact-based, in-depth reporting on topics essential to Indigenous communities, while engaging tribal citizens in all aspects of public affairs. The work started to win us trust among readers and credibility with sources, and it has attracted a growing number of Native reporters and subscribers — no easy task in communities that have long been misrepresented and burned by reporters. At a time when trust in journalism is at an all-time low, HCN’s concerted, dedicated reporting in Indian Country has proven a boon. 

This is because readers, and funders, have recognized the importance of our work and supported it. From the early, budding days of the desk when we supported a single Native reporter at Standing Rock, through our efforts today, as we dedicate resources to everything from Indigenous film reviews to investigative journalism, we are proud of what we’ve accomplished, and, with our readers’ support, where we are going.

Brian Calvert is the editor-in-chief of High Country News. Submit a letter to the editor

Thumbnail photo by Jolene Nenibah Yazzie. Willie Grayeyes gazes across Paiute Canyon Wash toward his home, which stands on the Navajo Nation miles of sometimes impassable roads from here near Navajo Mountain. Grayeyes spends much of his time on the road, sleeping in his car. Read the story: In southern Utah, Navajo voters rise to be heard

High Country News Classifieds
  • GRANT WRITER (PART-TIME, FREELANCE CONTRACT)
    High Country News seeks an energetic, eloquent and highly organized grant writer to support a growing foundations program. This position works closely with our Executive...
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM MANAGER
    Associate Program Manager ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our State Parks thrive. From redwood groves and desert springs...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • FREE RANGE BISON AVAILABLE
    Hard grass raised bison available in east Montana. You harvest or possible deliver quartered carcass to your butcher or cut/wrapped pickup. Contact Crazy Woman Bison...
  • CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST (NORTH CENTRAL WA)
    Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, and the chance to work with many different kinds of people and accomplish big conservation outcomes? Do you...
  • CARDIGAN WELSH CORGIS
    10 adorable, healthy puppies for sale. 4 males and 6 females. DM and PRA clear. Excellent pedigree from champion lineage. One Red Brindle male. The...
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...
  • DIGITAL ADVOCACY & MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    The Digital Advocacy & Membership Manager will be responsible for creating and delivering compelling, engaging digital content to Guardians members, email activists, and social media...
  • DIGITAL OUTREACH COORDINATOR, ARIZONA
    Job Title: Digital Outreach Coordinator, Arizona Position Location: Phoenix or Tucson, AZ Status: Salaried Job ID Number: 52198 We are looking for you! We are...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator who is passionate about conservation and...
  • INDIAN COUNTRY FELLOWSHIP
    Western Leaders Network is accepting applications for its paid, part-time, 6-month fellowship. Mentorship, training, and engaging tribal leaders in advancing conservation initiatives and climate policy....
  • MULESHOE RANCH PRESERVE MANAGER
    The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve Manager develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans and methods for large-scale geographic areas. The Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area (MRCMA)...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 52 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • ASSISTANT OR ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    Assistant or Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities Whitman College The Environmental Humanities Program at Whitman College seeks candidates for a tenure-track position beginning August 2023...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) in Crested Butte, CO is seeking an enthusiastic Executive Director who is passionate about the public lands, natural waters and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with volunteer management experience to join...