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. Greyeyes 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
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a friendly, detail-oriented, and self-motivated Development Coordinator to provide administrative support to the Development department. This position will report to...
  • FIELD ORGANIZER, MONTANA
    Help Northern Plains Resource Council protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the...
  • FOR SALE
    Successful llama trekking business with Yellowstone National Park concession for sale! A fun and enriching business opportunity of a lifetime! Call 406-580-5954
  • ALBUQUERQUE VACATION HOME
    Centrally located. One bed, one bath, lovely outdoor patio, well-stocked kitchen.
  • NEW AGRARIAN PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Quivira (www.quiviracoaltion.org), a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that aims to shift current practices of agriculture and land stewardship to those that produce good food, support meaningful...
  • SPECTACULAR SCENIC MOUNTAIN VIEW HOME BUILDING SITE
    Located on top of Sugarloaf Mtn. 5 mi W of downtown Colorado Springs, CO. $80,000.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    opportunity in Eugene, Oregon! To learn more and to apply, visit our website at www.bufordpark.org.
  • FUNDRAISING & OUTREACH COORDINATOR
    Does the prospect of working to protect one of the Southwest's last remaining flowing rivers get you excited? Join the team at Friends of the...
  • DIGITAL ENGAGEMENT SPECIALIST
    Position Summary Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a dynamic, organized, and creative Digital Engagement Specialist to be an essential part of our growing Communications Team....
  • NORTH IDAHO FIELD REPRESENTATIVE
    Founded by sportsmen and women 1936, the Idaho Wildlife Federation (IWF) is a statewide nonprofit dedicated to conserving and enhancing Idaho's natural resources, wildlife, habitat,...
  • SMALL HISTORICAL FARM FOR SALE - NEW MEXICO
    23-acres, adobe home, shop, barn, gardens, pasture, orchard. https://www.zillow.com/homes/222-Calle-Del-Norte,-Monticello,-Nm_rb/ or call 575-743-0135.
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year round outdoor living. REDUCED to: $1.17 MM 575-536-3109
  • GRANTS MANAGER AND EDITOR
    Are you a strong communicator who excels at building relationships, writing winning grant proposals, and staying organized? You sound like a good fit for our...
  • REPORTER
    The Wallowa County Chieftain, has an opening for a reporter. Experience with and understanding of editorial photography also required. Journalism degree or equivalent, an understanding...
  • 2017 JOHN DEERE LAWN MOWER Z930R
    15 hours on it, 3 years warranty, 22,5 HP, $1600 Sale price. Contact: [email protected]
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • HEAD BREAD/PASTRY BAKER AND ASSISTANT POSITIONS
    Hiring Part/Full time for Summer Season - entry level & experienced positions. Year round employment for optimal candidates. Pay DOE.
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921