Journalism is rooted in Indigenous communities

From codices to calendars, storytelling has been part of Indigenous life since time immemorial.

 

The practice we call “journalism” has deep roots in Indigenous communities. From calendars to quipus, codices to songs, record keeping and storytelling have been part of Indigenous life since time immemorial. One of the most influential and enduring forms of documentation has been the ledger drawing: a genre created in the mid-1800s by Plains artists using grease pencils and ledger books — people like Silver Horn, Mad Bull and Zotom.

Zotom was one of more than two dozen Kiowa prisoners of war imprisoned at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida, in the 1870s at the end of the Red River War. During that conflict, tribes fought to stop the United States’ violent, and illegal, expansion into the Great Plains. Zotom and other prisoners documented their journey to prison and their experiences in ledger drawings — a stunning piece of visual reporting that testifies to the innovative styles of storytelling and documentation of 19th century Indigenous communities. This distinctive style of reporting, which has been criminally undervalued by journalism historians, stems not from a tradition rooted in Western democracy, but rather from the desire to record events in ways that reflect a community’s values, interests and priorities.

With this tradition in mind, we embraced an unusual medium this issue: the graphic novel. The story of the Nizhóní Girls is a contemporary story, one common to Indian Country though overlooked by non-Indigenous reporters. This is the story’s strength: It is the record of a moment and reflects the values and priorities of one group of Native artists at one point in our collective history.

  • Liz McKenzie in her garage before the Nizhóní Girls' September show.

    Tristan Ahtone/High Country News
  • Rebecca Jones, Nizhóní Girls' lead guitar player.

    Tristan Ahtone/High Country News
  • Lisa Lorenzo, the band's drummer, during their opening set for artist Shonen Knife.

    Tristan Ahtone/High Country News
  • Liz McKenzie during the band's sound check.

    Tristan Ahtone/High Country News
  • Artist Shaun Beyale sketches concept drawings during the Nizhóní Girls' show.

    Tristan Ahtone/High Country News
  • Liz McKenzie performs onstage at Launchpad in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    Tristan Ahtone/High Country News
  • The Nizhóní Girls, from left, bassist Liz Mackenzie, guitarist Becki Jones and drummer Lisa Lorenzo, in Glass Beach, near Albuquerque, New Mexico, last month.

    Nate Lemuel/Darklisted Photography

And we decided to tackle this story with the help of an all-Indigenous team. Jason Asenap (Comanche), a regular contributor to HCN (and a personal friend), is also an accomplished screenwriter. While we can’t afford to produce his screenplays (yet), we can find creative and dramatic ways to bring his visions to life — in this case, the graphic novel.

Tristan Ahtone, associate editor
Brooke Warren/High Country News

Shaun Beyale (Navajo), an accomplished artist — and a former classmate of mine at the Institute of American Indian Arts — helped bring this story to life. Beyale’s work typically explores the fantastical elements common to the comic book world. His project Ayla: The Monster Slayer is set in a post-apocalyptic Southwest where humankind is on the brink of extinction. Ayla, a Navajo superhero, must protect her people and restore balance to a land ruled by an evil force. Beyale’s ability to visualize the Nizhóní Girls’ story enabled him to serve, essentially, as “photographer” for this issue’s feature.

From codices to calendars, from ledger drawings to graphic novels, the visual journalism we present in this issue is deeply rooted in Indigenous experiences, traditions, themes and values that explore ideas of friendship, family — and, of course, a little rock n’ roll. We hope this story speaks to you as well.

Tristan Ahtone is associate editor at High Country News, overseeing the tribal affairs desk.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • VIRGINIA SPENCER DAVIS FELLOWSHIP
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, is offering a fellowship for early-career journalists interested in...
  • COLORADO WILD PUBLIC LANDS VIDEO CONTEST
    Please submit your video of 30 seconds or less, taken on public lands, to [email protected] by May 15th for a chance to win in one...
  • WMAN NETWORK COORDINATOR
    WESTERN MINING ACTION NETWORK (WMAN) CONTRACT OPPORTUNITY CLOSING DATE: Feb. 19, 2021 WMAN is seeking a team member to coordinate the various network activities to...
  • FRIENDS OF THE INYO IS HIRING TRAIL AMBASSADORS FOR THE SUMMER OF 2021
    Friends of the Inyo's Trail Ambassadors (TAs) support the Inyo, Sierra, & Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests and other partners by providing positive public service, outreach, interpretation,...
  • LAND & CABIN ON CO/ UT LINE
    18 ac w/small solar ready cabin. Off grid, no well. Great RV location. Surrounded by state wildlife area and nat'l parks.
  • MANAGER PERMACULTURE LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR
    Permaculture / Landscape Company Manager / Site Lead Red Ant Works, Inc. - 20+ year landscape construction and horticultural care company seeks manager and site...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is looking for a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help grow our membership and presence in the Four...
  • ENERGY AND CLIMATE PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    San Juan Citizens Alliance seeks an Energy and Climate Program Associate to focus on public outreach, education and organizing to advance campaigns to mitigate climate...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    This position provides professional real estate services and is responsible for managing and completing real estate projects utilizing a project management database that is designed...
  • WILDFIRE MITIGATION SPECIALIST
    The Wildfire Mitigation Specialist is responsible for delivering wildfire risk mitigation information, recommendations and programmatic resources to wildland urban interface homeowners, community members and partners....
  • DEVELOPMENT POSITIONS
    Thorne Nature Experience is hiring for a Development Director and Senior Individual Giving Manager. Individuals will work collaboratively with Thorne's Executive Director to develop and...
  • SENIOR PROGRAM MANAGER, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION & ENERGY
    The National Parks Conservation Association, a 100-year-old nonprofit advocacy organization and the nation's leading voice for national parks seeks a Senior Program Manager, Landscape Conservation...
  • BACKCOUNTRY AND FRONTCOUNTRY STEWARDSHIP CREW MEMBERS
    The San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) is hiring a crew of ambassadors to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to educate visitors on...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATURAL HISTORY INSTITUTE
    The Executive Director is the chief executive officer of the Natural History Institute (NHI). The Executive Director has broad authority to lead and manage the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    - The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region - The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful,...
  • SENIOR DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATE
    Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a Senior Development Associate to coordinate the organization's individual giving program. The position description is available at http://greateryellowstone.org/careers Please email a...
  • TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISORS
    SEEKING TALENTED TRAIL CREWLEADERS The Pacific Crest Trail Association, headquartered in Sacramento, California ,is dedicated to protecting, preserving and promoting the Pacific Crest National Scenic...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Native plant seeds for the Western US. Trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and regional mixes. Call or email for free price list. 719-942-3935. [email protected] or visit...