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
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • FEATURES DIRECTOR - HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Features Director to join our editorial...
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • OWN A THRIVING MOUNTAIN GUIDE SERVICE.
    Eastern Sierra guide service for sale to person with vision & expertise to take it onwards. Since 1995 with USFS & NPS permits. Ideal for...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...