Native and Indigenous Scholars and Journalists in the ‘Post-Truth’ Communications Environment

Richard M. Wheelock, PhD, April 6, 2018 ©

Prologue – A tribute to Vine Deloria, Jr.

Since this paper is part of a panel of the AIS section dedicated to the memory and spirit of Vine Deloria, Jr., I will begin with a few observations I attribute to Vine about both journalism and scholarship. First, Vine seemed to have little regard for mass media as he experienced it in his lifetime. For him, the mass media presented an often-ludicrous reflection of US society, one filled with the stereotypic and myopic images of Native people continuously revivified in the news production of reporters and editors generally ill-equipped to cover even the most minor aspects of federal Indian policy. His frequent comments on the resultant ignorance of the American public on even the basic details of the Native experience were part and parcel of his writing and his public speaking. I do not have much to go on about his views on journalism as a profession or as a major strand of modern democracy and self-government in tribal communities. That fact has been a bit of a puzzle to me, since I know he regularly read newspapers and participated in debates in the media, frequently contributing his own articles for publication in print media, including in Native publications. Vine did, however, offer some telling critique of the mass media’s films, especially in its portrayal of Native people. His contributions to documentary films intended to challenge stereotypes of Native people remain an interesting part of his legacy.

I was a student in the University of Arizona’s American Indian Studies Master’s Degree program from 1982-1984, and I recall an article by Vine which was published while I taking classes from him with a cadre of graduate students who had been accepted to the program partly because of their backgrounds in Indian country. While the article did not focus upon journalism, it gave me some insight into approaches I would later apply to dealing with mass media portrayals of Native people and the resulting popular culture’s tropes of “Indians.” It appeared in the Native Nevadan’s December, 1983 issue. It was entitled “Why Me Tonto: The Latest Plague to our Red Brother: Hippie Film-makers.” 1 In it, Vine lampooned the then-rampant desire of film-makers to produce ‘The Film’ about Native people. They hoped to rely heavily upon Vine’s insights, which were so popular then in such writings as his Custer Died for your Sins and God is Red so they could get it right this time. As is obvious in the title of this informal article, his disdain for such projects was palpable in this short, cleverly-written article, which was passed among us students. The article is one of my favorite Vine articles, since it so clearly reveals his personality as a part of the fun as he attained popular stature in the in the 1980’s and it helped us put the popular culture’s fascination with “real Indians” into perspective as we worked to find avenues for our own desires to substantiate and make use of traditional values for our projects as graduate students.

As mentioned earlier, Deloria had already contributed to documentary films, despite his humorous jab at non-Indian documentary filmmakers in the “Why Me Tonto” article. The1979 documentary film entitled “Reel Indians,” 2 was hosted by actor Will Sampson and included an interview with activist Dennis Banks, along with footage of some of the early westerns that revealed a seemingly sinister intent on the part of early movie-makers in portraying the savage Indian stereotype. Those early westerns were supposed to make the American story of westward expansion a heroic saga as a basis for the development for the American character. In that documentary, Deloria made the telling argument that those stereotypes were harmful for Native people, especially children, who were subject to a spurious “second authority” that undermined their very identities by ubiquitous media stereotypes passed into the popular culture via these movies. It is no wonder that Deloria remained critical, even humorously so, in the article! It became a life-long campaign as Deloria continued his efforts counter the de-humanization of Native people so common in his times. He remained a vital spokesman and even a co-litigant against de-humanizing stereotypes in such efforts as opposing the NFL’s Washington professional football team’s mascot, as most people are aware. As many readers know, that struggle to supplant harmful stereotypes extended to his very serious efforts to substantiate traditional Native conceptions of reality and truth against the prevailing notion that Indian traditions are “primitive” and therefore not worthy of serious consideration as sources to be considered in modern intellectual development.

I think many of us who revered Vine’s sense of confidence in this glare of public interest were emboldened in our academic inquiry because of the way Vine wove us all into his endeavors with gusto in his amazing discussions with students during his office hours at the AIS office, then located in Harvill Hall at the U of A. I can honestly say my own meager later publications and those more voluminous publishing careers of other students in our program were shaped by Vine’s good-natured, spot-on repartee. His more serious informal discussions of political, historical and spiritual issues in Indian country were, of course, vitally crucial for many of us. Vine’s classes offered us all opportunities for more focused interactions that broadened our understandings of many aspects of Indian policy, including the very human side of the personalities he was familiar with from his own experiences. His formal scholarship and writing remain inspirational for all of us.

But indigenous journalism, the field I was most interested in when I arrived fresh from my rather brief, but inspiring experience in Oneida as the editor of our tribe’s Kalihwisaks newspaper, was not a major topic that Vine commented upon. I was left to my own devices and some amazing Native people in the communications field as I continued my career-long fascination with the ideal of freedom of the press in Indian country and the hope of helping establish an effective information conduit among tribal members in the struggle of creating effective self-government in tribal communities. Vine provided a good model of self-confidence and an efficient work ethic to marvel at, one few of us former students is likely to match in our own careers.

In the other field of intellectual development and the communication of ideas I deal with in this paper, academic scholarship, Vine arguably had some much more incisive, profound comments, largely because his own intellectual quest was developed within the parameters of the academy from his “outsider,” indigenous perspective. His contributions to the pedagogy of Native education and indigenous studies have helped to forge a spirited development of both community-based tribal education projects and the continuing evolution of higher education in both tribal colleges and among other higher education institutions around the country and even in the more global context. In fact, his 2002 address to scholars at the WSSA annual conference’s plenary luncheon 3 remains both a legitimate critique of today’s academic shortcomings and a challenge to Native scholars in achieving an ever more effective paradigm for indigenous development that maintains the values of our traditions.

As a part of other comments about the dangers of dogmatic processes that distort academic disciplines, the marginalization of Native scholars in academic departments and the subjugation of graduate students, Vine was very concerned about the way students and others made use of the internet in their research. He commented that “…we’re soon to be plagued with a generation of people who are being taught right now in middle school and high school that once you retrieve something from the computer, you’ve got the truth. I want you, as you go forward in your academic career, to watch how students are understanding what do with computers. We may be creating some zombies here…” 4 Vine seems to have been prescient in his charge to the many scholars in attendance at the luncheon that day, since “post-truth” assertions today do require some intensive fact-checking, beyond what so many seem to be gaining from the “echo chamber” that information systems like Facebook and the mining of personal data to guide one’s searches on line have created. That echo chamber effect that couples one’s personal data with a limited range of information and opinions online is one of the major highways of disinformation used by those who intentionally mine personal data for use in disinformation campaigns online. The recent scandal over Cambridge Analytica’s use of personal data its operatives gleaned from Facebook quickly comes to mind. 5 Even searches in Google Scholar have been somewhat discredited, raising concerns about the processes of research many students rely upon in the academy. 6

“Truth,” what it is and how Native peoples regard it, was one of Vine Deloria, Jr.’s major philosophical pursuits. His remarkable books God is Red (1973), Metaphysics of Modern Existence (1979) and Spirit and Reason (short writings spanning his writing career and collected in 1999) are some of his most notable writings that rely upon his understanding of Native perceptions of reality, so frequently dismissed as “primitive” and therefore undeserving of serious consideration by science, theology or other disciplines of western academia. It is important to note that he used the actual term “truth” sparingly though, preferring instead the term “reality.” As Daniel Wildcat noted in the Forward to the 2012 republication of The Metaphysics of Modern Existence, Deloria’ quest “…was not seeking ‘the answer’ to the vexing problems facing modern humankind; rather ‘a search for the structure and meaning of reality.’” And, as Deloria wrote in this book, establishing truth is a process for all of us, one of searching. “The search must once again be one of seeking truth in a supracultural sense, examining the insights of many traditions, gathering what appear to be reasonable and reliable data from all fields of knowledge, and bringing about a systematic understanding of the total picture that emerges from such a quest.” 7 One can only imagine what Deloria would say today about the “post-truth” development in media and politics which seems bent on undermining the very foundations of such a search.

Deloria’s analysis of traditional conceptions about truth and reality remind me that America has long been involved in denial of some of the basic elements of its own experience as it championed a largely fictional story – perhaps historical fiction is a better term – that I have called the American Story in some of my other writings. 8 Thus, the “post-truth” climate of political media today has a longer story of denial of the truth that makes many citizens of the U.S. especially vulnerable to the post-truth’s reliance upon a super-patriotic, unquestioned American identity.

For all his gifts to all of us, I remain in awe of Vine’s courageous and still-inspiring search for truth.

The “Post-Truth” Realm of Political Debate

When the Oxford Dictionaries chose the term “post-truth” as its new “word of the year” in 2016, it was actually acknowledging a concept that has long been recognized as a threat to public discourse and free speech in mass media. The publishers of this internationally recognized dictionary define the term as “an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.” 9 Since the very idea of public discourse relies so directly upon its adherents’ commitment to factual evidence in pursuit of the truth, the idea that individuals involved in public debates should be exempt from that standard because they advocate for a certain policy would seem to disqualify those individuals from serious policy debates. Scholars and journalists seem to share that value of truthfulness in their evidence even when they disagree among themselves in policy debates. Yet the post-truth approach is now common in political debates and news commentary, especially among right-wing politicos. 10 Use of false evidence to support policy endeavors is nothing new, but the normalization of such a questionable practice in the highest levels of government would seem to undermine the very process of democratic policy-making. While truth may be in the eye of the beholder, public policy demands a measured standard of accuracy in order to protect what some call the “public good” from exploitive forces that have always threatened democratic society. The fact that even writing this analysis can now be considered by some as a political position demonstrates the dynamic power the term “post-truth” connotes in confounding the rational debate of public policy. Perhaps now is the time for scholars to review the history of the liberal, left-wing and conservative, right wing viewpoints as the public understands those political stances. For that popular culture review, the readers of this paper area encouraged to read about the basis for liberal and conservative agendas in public policy. 11

The Structures of Post-Truth: The Threat to Journalism in the Mass Media

As this paper is written, an intense attack is being waged upon journalism and journalists, whose responsibility it is to provide accurate, accountable information for the purposes of empowering citizens to participate knowledgeably public policy debates. Concentrated ownership of media organizations by huge international corporate entities, politically-motivated propaganda campaigns and new battles for control of the internet have combined to threaten the very existence of journalism as we have known it. In meeting their responsibility, journalists have always “comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable,” 12 as they hold government and other powerful people and institutions accountable to the public good. Now, even the concept of the “public good” is under attack by those seeking control over the vast economic resources that new media like those the internet can provide. Instead, private, corporate ownership of all mass media combined with the reduction of funding available for public media has skewed the media and journalism itself toward the oligarchical priorities of finance and economics so endemic to giant corporations. 13 The survival of journalism’s stated First Amendment goals of serving the public interest 14 with well researched and accountable information and well supported editorial content is especially endangered. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” that is supposed to be inherent in the economics of private enterprise to serve the public good seems completely absent in advancing that value. Since giant corporations are not democratic institutions, their nearly unregulated control over the processes that are supposed to lead to the informed consent of the governed undermines democracy in this country. Meanwhile, on-going deregulation of nearly all aspects of corporate activity that might protect journalism and the public’s right to know and to participate knowledgeably in politics continues unabated. It is as if one of the dystopian sci-fi nightmares regularly portrayed in entertainment media has come true!

The current situation has been dubbed the “post truth” era of public information by many who recognize the intentional obfuscation of facts about public policy in today’s communications environment. Clearly, the process of rational consideration of reliable information in support of an ethical debate of policy issues has become steadily more endangered at a time when the danger to democratic principles of free press and a citizen’s right to informed participation in governance seems more pronounced than ever in US history. It is clear that the impacts of post-truth dynamics on public participation in policy debates are greatly accelerated by the current rapidly expanding control of all mass media by giant corporate media owners, 15 whose financial priorities are not supportive of democracy.

In their extensively researched publications about the forces behind the decline of journalism and the corporate oligarchic take-over of mass media, Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols 16 provide a startling picture of the dangers to U.S. citizen’s rights to informed participation in not only their own government, but when one also considers the oligarchical control of entertainment media by these same vast corporations, to the very development of U. S. culture. 17 One of their major findings is that the older commercial business model of newspapers and broadcast services are no longer viable in maintaining a vibrant free and independent media to serve the First Amendment rights of the nation’s citizens. In fact, they propose public funding and government oversight of at least a large segment of the mass media to fill the void of available economic resources to assure a Fourth Estate relationship between government and other powerful forces, and the people, whose rights are likely to be threatened by censorship or, in this case, by attacks from those who manipulate information for their own political interests in the post-truth era.

The Attack on Principles of the Free Press

Current policies of the Trump Administration, coupled with the president’s attempts to discredit media coverage that does not favor his program for “Making American Great Again,” have direct implications for the “free marketplace” of ideas, so essential to the need for diverse viewpoints and diverse sources of news that such a marketplace implies. 18 For many years since the First Amendment to the US Constitution was included in 1796 in the Bill of Rights, the “free press” has blamed for creating both a quagmire of confusing viewpoints and revered as a clear advocate for the rights of the People. Taken as an institution for protecting the diverse viewpoints within the body politic so that the People could make decisions and direct their representatives in government, it has viewed for generations as a necessary though often-imperfect beacon for truth and justice. But the attack on those principles, now seen by many as a steady, undermining influence of unregulated corporate commercialism and as an offensive of today’s neo-Conservatives, has reached a critical juncture in the mass media. Liberals, too, are likely to continue to their own efforts to obscure their motives as public debates move toward future elections.

As the numbers of professional journalists plummet amid a new economic order dominated by corporate profit-seeking, the current danger to the media, including the internet journalism and the scholarship it supports, is shocking to many. The recent Federal Communications Commission’s decisions on media ownership that greatly favor large corporate consolidation of media 19 and its current action to end net neutrality 20 with a minimum of public debate and without congressional action or widespread public debate are seen by many as a threat to the public access to the internet and the right of the people to determine how the internet will be developed. In an era where “post-truth” political activity is in its heyday, such a concentration of ownership in the hands of a few massive corporations is likely to severely limit the ability of the public to monitor its own interests via the free press as it has in the past. Powerful commercial and ideological lobbying groups have seemingly usurped the public’s rights without congressional action or meaningful public debate.

Casualties in the Battles to Counter “Fake News” in the Post-Truth Era – the Denver Post Rocky Mountain News examples.

In 2008 alone, some 5,900 reporters, columnists and editors lost their jobs in lay-offs across the U. S. newspaper industry, an 11.3 percent decline in newsroom employment. 21 Those figures came from a survey of just 931 of 1,405 daily newspapers which responded to an American Society of News Editors survey that year, so the actual lay-offs were undoubtedly even higher. McChesney and Nichols also cited Erica Smith, who was a multimedia and print designer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who has maintained a blog called “Paper Cuts,” 22 which has become an almost real-time documentation of the crises in newspaper journalism, showing layoffs and newly “out of print” newspapers across the country. A Facebook page has taken up the “Paper Cuts” documentation since 2012 and followed the personal stories of some of those laid-off through 2013, reporting the human cost of the startling numbers of laid-off news staffers and closings of major newspapers. 23

Where newspapers have survived in print or online or in both media, as with the Denver Post, skeleton crews of journalists and production crews remain to cover the many news beats that were formerly handled with declining staff in recent years. In 2009, the other large daily in Denver, the Rocky Mountain News, ceased publication, laying off some 230 members of the editorial staff. 24 As the last remaining large metropolitan newspaper in Denver, the Post announced on March 23, 2018 severe staff cuts – 30 of the remaining 80 staffers. In a CBS Denver Channel 4 TV broadcast, a laid-off reporter lamented that the new “hedge fund owners” of the Post were making the cuts. Nichols and McChesney reported in 2010 that the paper is overseen by MediaNews Group, but by 2018, another corporate owner, Digitalfirst had taken over and now seems intent on following the mega-corporate strategy of maximizing profit at all costs, then closing newspapers that do not meet their profit margin criteria, 25 pocketing the proceeds of liquidation of assets. According to a Denver Channel 7 “News 360” report aired on March 18, of this year, in 2009, there were two newspapers in Denver with a combined 500 print journalists employed. After the 2018 layoffs at the Denver Post and the 2009 closing of the Rocky Mountain News, there were only 70 newspaper journalists working in Denver. 26 Since print journalists cover far more of the news environment than TV or radio broadcasters, TV channels like Denver Channel 7 partner with print journalists regularly to provide detailed, accurate information. One spokesman for the Denver Newspaper Guild commented on the situation on the Channel 7 broadcast March18 by asking, “...Who will cover the school boards, the city council? Will shady business deals go unreported?” Several spokespersons for the Colorado Press Association featured in the Channel 7 broadcast expressed hopes that the remaining Denver Post staff can counter “fake news” with quality, incisive coverage. One wonders how they can accomplish that goal when, as Denver Channel 7 reports, the Denver Post has laid off three-fourths of its news staff just since 2011.

Nichols and McChesney’s list of newspapers that ceased publication by 2010 included some of the most recognizable newspapers in the West, including The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Tucson Citizen and the Albuquerque Tribune. One need only check the internet to see what newspapers in one’s home area are threatened by the corporate closings across the country in 2018. It is a truly shocking story to realize that newspapers throughout the country are closing as you read this paper. Journalists by the thousands are losing their jobs each year. Those who remain are stretched to cover so many beats that much of the public’s interests are simply not being scrutinized in daily coverage. One wonders how quality journalism can possibly counter the “fake news” that is widely circulated in this, the post-truth era.

Why the Internet does not provide the Answer for Declining Journalistic Coverage: An Analysis by McChesney and Nichols

One might ask, why citizens cannot rely upon internet websites in combination with “citizen journalists” using blogs and other avenues for news reporting to fill the void that newspaper-style journalism leaves as “old media” like print media, rapidly disappear? The existing business model for commercial news has been based only partly on subscription-based revenue and mostly on advertising sales. According to McChesney and Nichols, and the many sources they cite in their studies, newspapers have long included website news in addition to their declining hard-copy print publications. As those print operations fail under the twin pressures of rising production costs and the corporate priorities of often distant owners of newspapers, most news operations are now finding advertisers harder to attract with so many other options available to them on the internet. Further reductions in ad revenues results from businesses who have themselves created websites with “click through” sales technology included, greatly reducing the need for a “middle man” advertising campaign that could provide revenues to newspapers. While online newspapers can still attract advertising, substantially reduced revenues result from competing, easily available, demographically targeted, web operations that have begun to attract the bulk of advertising revenues. 27

The idea of erecting paywalls in newspaper websites to gain revenues formerly paid by newspaper subscribers has also proven to be a false hope for sufficient revenues, at least in the short run. Competition from news operations and blogs that make their content available for free is just one of the major hurdles to those revenues. All news publications would have to erect paywalls to keep users from simply using their search engines to find free information from many other sources, even though those sources might not practice professional journalism. “News aggregators,” for instance, compile information from many sources, seemingly stealing the products produced by hard-working journalists. The resulting news items may not serve the entire range of readers’ news needs from the perspective of journalism standards, but most users find it satisfactory already from their Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge browsers or from Google News or the Huffington Post. 28

Another concern in erecting paywalls is that Blogs which make use of links to sites in their conversations with their users would be seriously compromised by widespread reliance upon paywalls. Since a user might wish to access many sites in one sitting, paywalls soon become expensive and unpopular, as today’s users are discovering. Rob Howard has analyzed the idea of paywall restrictions on news, finding that “The Internet business models reward future traffic rather than the authority and prestige that come from years of honest, serious reporting. They push for more news, trendier news and faster news, and they discourage calm, thoughtful, responsible journalism.” He goes on to write that in the editorial function of newspapers “the paywall has encouraged publications to become more opinionated and more extreme, in the hopes their readers will be more likely to subscribe to a paper that vehemently agrees with them.” 29 So the results, Howard claims, are counterproductive, since users can always just click away from the paywall site rather than invest in numerous paywalls each day.

News production is expensive, as original news research requires on-going costs of salaried, professional journalists, trained in their profession to provide the accurate, accountable information citizens need to exercise their sovereignty knowledgeably. These costs do not go away because of the existence of the internet. Instead, today’s ever-fewer journalists are being forced to survive in an economy that does not reward their hard work with a decent livelihood. It is a vicious crisis that journalists face around the world as concentrated corporate ownership of media, new technologies that displace older newsroom models, and extreme online political information sources proliferate in the post-truth era.

Finally, McChesney and Nichols examine the proposed solution that “citizen journalism” and “crowd sourcing” will eventually replace the current market-based economics of newspapers entirely as those kinds of information options evolve into a form of technology that provides nearly omniscient-levels of information via some form of cybertech linkage to mobile devices. Such new technology will still not provide any revenue for full-time professional journalists, they believe, leaving the basic problem of access to reliable, accurate and accountable information unsolved. Even relying upon non-profit organizations to fund whatever journalistic product emerges, which they find intriguing, is wanting, since the advocacy groups involved could not be counted upon to preserve free press guarantees to journalism. 30

McChesney and Nichols also document some other troubling issues facing news media that are related to concentrated commercial and corporate ownership of the mass media. Hyper-commercialism, advertising and concentrated public relations messaging, is another problem facing the public as it attempts to follow the news. Children, who “respond more favorably to commercials than any other age group,” 31 are targeted by advertisers in attempts gain their loyalty to specific brands, for instance. “Guerilla Marketing” attempts to co-opt identifiable cultural trend-setting groups by actually sending out teams of people likely to be admired by these trend-setters into urban areas to recruit brand-loyal consumers. “The ideal is to have ‘potential buyers’ learn ‘about a brand from their coolest friends.’” 32 One might question the social cost of seeking the news in the mass media dominated commercials and public relations advertising and even in-program messaging. It seems nothing is outside the ethical standards of commercial manipulation of messaging, raising further concern about the news media’s reliance upon private, rather than public ownership of news and other media. When one watches news programming on television, for instance, one is likely to be bombarded by commercial messaging and slanted public relations messages. When one couples that commercialism with advertising on the internet, which targets messages to those most emotionally vulnerable to its messages of fear and success via consumerism, the threat to the news media posed by its almost complete dependence upon advertising revenues becomes clear.

To transfer a vibrant journalism into the internet, McChesney and Nichols write “We cannot overemphasize how important a ubiquitous and open Internet, with guaranteed privacy, is to anyone’s vision of a free press or free speech in the future.” 33 They then endorse net-neutrality in rather absolute terms, as a necessary precondition, and outline some creative methods for public funding of journalism into the future. Once again, very recent actions of the Trump Administration have trumped much of their strategy. On December 14, 2017 the Federal Communications Commission repealed is rules on net neutrality, opening the internet to corporate control. 34 Congressional review of the FCC’s action is sure to reach a peak in the coming months over this issue, but the current administration’s willingness to reduce regulations in ways that favor huge corporate power over the direction of internet development is another very serious threat to the survival of vibrant journalism.

The Future of Journalism: A Bleak Picture

Since broadcast and internet journalism relies heavily upon the hard work of old media-style journalists for its major research of issues and events, especially for local news, the failure to find revenue options for journalists on the internet has trumped (no pun intended) the journalistic economic enterprise there. Against this economic reality, McChesney and Nichols advocate what many find an unlikely, some would say, unrealistic solution: Public funding of journalism. The existing model is the now-threaten Public Broadcasting system. In their extensive examination of this option, they remind us that public funding of news has always been a part of the equation, beginning with the Founding Fathers’ statements and actions, including postal waivers to meet the circulation costs of the print media and laws and regulations that protect journalists. As McChesney and Nichols make their arguments for this, the only viable option they see to commercial, now corporate control of news production, they make the case that only reliable funding, mostly or entirely from the federal budget, will create the conditions that allow a free and independent journalism to thrive.

As commercial journalism evolves toward a public relations-like model funded by corporations, they believe actual free press models of journalism can only be assured under some form of PBS-like model. Unfortunately, the Public Broadcast Service is currently threatened by the proposed President Trump budget, which advocates its complete defunding. 35 The groundwork for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which was created in 1967 by the Carnegie Commission in the original legislation for PBS, has anticipated Trump’s action by proposing another somewhat unlikely solution. Recently, “the Carnegie Commission proposed creating a tax on every new television set purchase that would fund the corporation and keep it out of the annual budgetary process.” 36 While that strategy might not be viable in our current conservative policy environment, it reveals the ingenuity many are bringing to today’s challenges.

Thus, the future of journalism in the U. S. is in serious doubt. Despite McChesney and Nichol’s excellent research and analysis of the threats to the public’s right to exercise its sovereignty in public policy-making, their proposals for the future are quickly becoming moot in the era of post-truth information coupled with concentrated ownership of mass media. For indigenous Native Americans operating in Indian country, who have their own developing journalism institutions, the older model of the First Amendment and the substantial case law that supports it, has a unique set of variables owing to policies of Indian self-determination. As this paper will reveal, Native journalists are in a rather distinct news environment and may yet find creative ways to deal with the post-truth communications environment as they maintain their own concepts of sovereignty and peoplehood.

How ‘Post-Truth’ politics and Massive Corporate Control of Media Affect Native Peoples

As many indigenous authors have noted, intentional fabrication if the truth in public policy aimed at Native peoples is nothing new. Both in official federal Indian policy and in popular culture’s media, Native people and their concerns have long been misrepresented and trivialized as the “American Story” codified a legacy and identity for many Americans. 37 For many Americans, a super-patriot identity has steadily formed around a narrative that glorifies and sanctifies a psychologically satisfying image of a flawless, God-given destiny for Americans. It is an understandably human response to today’s perceived threats to an identity many believe to be their birthright extending from their forebears’ intention in immigration to this country often generations ago. Such a worldview barely acknowledges the presence of other peoples, including the entire experience of Black people and other peoples of color. In the case of “American Indians,” a long history of the development of stereotypical “savages” or “noble redskins” has supported that American story for generations. That evidence 38 reveals a long-term mass denial that underlies the “post-truth” phenomenon. For many of those empowered under the current post-truth policy-making position, a psychological state of mind one scholar refers to as “the rag doll” effect is evident. Like a rag doll, individuals recite a series of themes found in versions of the American Story in their own defense and in their justifications for future policy, thereby obviating the views of others in their own mind and in the minds of those who fall under their influence. 39 It is an exercise in human identity, one which all peoples might be drawn into if they seek the comfort of a self-righteous, morally consistent destiny for themselves and their fellows.

In such a milieu, currently the supposed domain of right-wing apologists, only those that adhere to a right-wing version of the American Story are considered to be legitimate Americans. Thus, policies that recognize those “others” are subordinate to the needs of true Americans, despite the obvious conflicting reasoning involved. Those claiming the identity of “true patriots” in the extreme meaning of this term, remain a minority of American citizens, despite their current apparent empowerment in the post-truth era. Many citizens of the United States – a majority by any measure – do not base their very identity upon this system of denial. For that reason, the opportunity for Native people to participate in the society that surrounds them may sometimes be challenging, yet it survives in the policies enacted years ago.

The Intratribal Sphere of indigenous communications – Indian Country journalism

Because of federal policies and the on-going development of Indian self-determination, tribes’ internal communications systems would seem to be shielded somewhat from the current post-truth environment that dominates the mass media elsewhere. The long list of tribal news media is substantial, indicating the importance Native people see in communications devices that serve their interests. 40 In 2007, the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development reported that there were “more than 600 tribal newspapers, approximately 40 tribal radio stations and a growing number of television programs created by and for Indian communities.” 41 The economics of huge corporate media organizations has not yet heavily penetrated many rural systems yet and the unique conditions of internal sovereignty and the economics of tribal organizations have created a funding process for tribally-controlled media that already relies heavily upon government funding, in this case, tribal government funding, with all the issues that relationship implies for freedom of the press. It is important to consider the limitations in that arrangement in the ability for tribal media to counter fake news and other aspects of the post-truth environment, of course, but for the immediate future, it appears tribal communications have an opportunity to develop some very effective responses.

For the purposes of this paper, it is important to note that the basis of tribal communications policies within federally recognized tribal lands were codified in some tribal constitutions in the 1930’s and later that seem to have been intended to mirror the U. S. Constitution’s provisions of the First Amendment. In 1968, the federal Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA) was enacted unilaterally by Congress to reinforce tribal constitutional provisions where tribes had made them a part of those constitutions and mandated them where they were not already codified for other tribes, with these words

“No Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall make or enforce any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition for a redress of grievances… 42

This short portion of the ICRA, then, seems to assure that tribal publications have the same protections as other media in the U.S. One can check tribal arrangements for specific tribes to assess how well a tribe’s media policies protect its members’ rights to know and to participate in their tribal government. The fact that tribes are not subject to many of the same precedents that have defined freedom of the press in the mass society of the U.S. makes it difficult to make generalizations about the status of free press provisions that might be helpful in dealing with the rising tide of post-truth politics have created a gap in public understanding of the nuances of tribal sovereignty and the long history that has led to the development of tribal self-determination policies in the U.S. since the 1960’s.

When most tribes adopted the constitutional form of governance, then, they often enshrined a formal communications system based upon, but not entirely restricted to, the now-celebrated First Amendment model of the U.S. Each tribal nation has been reserved the power and right to develop its own definitions and limitations, its own case law, on the free press that is mandated in the Indians Civil Rights Act of 1968 and its own tribal constitution and statutes, though those were to be approved by U. S. officials of the Interior Department. Consequently, scholars and journalists have developed the communications system in Indian country within the framework of tribal sovereignty, each publication or broadcast medium has had to pioneer its own relationship with tribal governments and powerful entities in the attempt to provide the accurate, accountable information so necessary for the People of tribal nations to participate meaningfully in their own governance. It has been a rocky road in many communities, but over the years since the Self-Determination policy of the 1970’s, some important accomplishments have been reached in that internal struggle over free press issues by a number of tribal nations. In the emerging post-truth era, which coincides with the decline of the long-standing business model for the free press in the US, Native peoples are in an unusual position to in their own developments in the policy arena they face, dominated as it is by the federal-tribal relationship and the difficult economic conditions many tribes face.

Media intended to serve the needs of today’s Native people are and have been economically stressed for many years. Depressed economic conditions have restricted one of the main sources of revenues for news organs of the mass media operating beyond tribal borders. Market forces, especially corporate economies of scale in media, have not been kind to media designed for smaller communities like tribal ones. Advertising revenue has been an especially scarce source of funds for tribal publications, so tribal government funds have filled the void in many cases. In those cases, tribal publications were until recently considered “in house” publications, expected to operate under the direction of tribal officials. While that relationship with tribal government was sometimes the only option available, many tribes, especially larger ones, have created legal protections for their tribal news staff so that they can assume the sometimes-adversarial relationship with government that seems necessary for the tribe’s citizenry to gain the information so crucial to their rights to control their own democratically authorized government.

The Cherokee Nation’s development of free press provisions is especially instructive. In a time of constitutional emergency in 2000, the nation enacted a law intended to make tribal government more transparent in its actions on behalf of the Cherokee people. In passing the Independent Press Act of 2000, the law restated a commitment to the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 for press freedom and shielded its news editor from influence by tribal officials. Section 4 of the law states

The Cherokee Nation’s Press shall be independent from any undue influence and free of any particular political interest. It is the duty of the press to report without bias the activities of the government and the news of interest to have informed citizens. 43

In 2005, the National Congress of American Indians was passed a resolution affirming the Cherokee Independent Press Act of 2000 as a model for all tribal nations for free press legislation. 44 The NCAI resolution reveals that the sympathy for a free press in tribal affairs remains strong, despite the sometimes-testy relationship tribal leaders have had with their own tribal newspapers. It is a hopeful sign that tribal governments in the 567 federally recognized tribal entities 45 continue their efforts to legally define what freedom of the press means in each community.

Most tribal publications, intended mostly to inform local communities of the actions of tribal government and cultural and social events in the area, including reservations, have been funded by a combination of tribal government funds, some advertising revenues and in a few cases, subscriptions. In most cases, tribal newspapers are owned by the tribal government, sometimes with shield laws that create a barrier between the publication’s editorial and news-gathering priorities and the influence of tribal officials. That fact has created some space for tribal publications to exercise at least some of the aspects of free press policies, though many journalists in Indian country still bemoan the fact that Native journalists have been occasionally been fired, publications have sometimes faced disciplinary funding delays from tribal councils and access to tribal information sources has sometimes been reduced when tribal news staff have offended tribal officials. 46 The struggle for a free press in Indian country by Native journalists themselves continues.

For some tribes, isolated and rural in character, the current dangers to their internal self-government posed by the post-truth era of U.S. politics must seem a distant reality. For all tribes, though, the current presidential administration’s proposed budget is of great concern. As one national publication, the News From Indian Country reported in its March, 2018 edition, that budget has the potential to impose real harm to indigenous communities in the U.S. 47 Major cuts proposed by the Trump administration in the budget for the Bureau of Indian Affairs include 37% reduction in Social Services, a 27% cut for the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act, 18% reduction in Welfare Assistance, 37% cut in Rights Protection Implementation and 35% cut to Job Placement and Training. 48 In their relationship with the federal government, then, the 567 tribal entities need to be well informed about their interests in an era where post-truth may mean an era of neglect of the federal trust responsibility for Native nations is eminent. Nonetheless, if one factors in the struggles tribal people have taken on in the Self-Determination era since the 1970’s the survival of such media as tribal newspapers, Native independent films, tribal radio and internet sites that cover issues affecting Native peoples in policy realms, one can be hopeful that tribes can maintain the levels of the free press that are appropriate for them.

The struggle for the free press ideals many hope for in tribal affairs, then, is an on-going one, fought by individual tribal newspaper editors and reporters daily. Nonetheless, tribal governments have often found other avenues than publicly available newspapers to communicate with their citizens. In the case of the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin, for example, the tribal website includes a “members only” selection that links members to key documents and announcements so members can exercise their sovereignty knowledgeably. In this specific case, then, the Oneidas an open records approach that allows direct access for members, thereby replacing one free press measure with an alternative information conduit. Since this tribe’s government includes a general tribal council of tribal members over 18 years of age which reviews the actions of its business committee, some hope that the evolution of tribal government will provide the needed checks and balances on the daily actions of tribal governance.

To really document the current internal communications conditions in the post truth era across today’s Native indigenous communities, one would have to evaluate individual tribal situations. For now, one can hope that current federal policy developments and budget actions, deeply flawed in the past by inaccurate assumptions that come from generations of mis-portrayal of Native peoples and their concerns, can be countered by such groups as the National Congress of American Indians and other groups and individuals who have influence in federal policy.

The Intertribal and Interethnic Spheres of Native American Indigenous Communications: Some Small, but Significant Developments in the Post Truth Era

The intertribal sphere of communications exists where tribal organizations have found ways to create alliances around their common policy interests, or where individual Native journalists have focused their efforts on coverage of the policy concerns that affect many tribes or even off-reservation Indian people. In these spheres, journalists provide their services to people involved in shared values and policy concerns that affect indigenous peoples of many tribes. The intertribal sphere often overlaps to a great degree with the interethnic sphere of indigenous communications, where Native journalists participate in mass society’s news organizations, like urban newspapers, or as special sections of print and online publications as in the High Country News’ newly created “Indian Affairs” section. 49 News from Indian Country, a publication with national impetus, could also be of great value in challenging “fake news” about Native people and the issues they face. Its strategy of including new media, like online video/TV, has proven especially appealing for internet users. 50

Many, if not most, intertribally targeted Native publications also delve significantly into the interethnic sphere of communications, where the civil rights of indigenous people are part and parcel of the larger rights of all citizens in the mass society. In the interethnic sphere, the arena where Native journalists and scholars aim to communicate across the mass media, Native journalists often hope to contribute to the larger public’s understanding of and sensitivity for indigenous peoples and the issues they face. Of course, Native journalists who work within the mass media intended for national audiences also contribute to the diversity of viewpoints mass media publications can offer their readers.

The communications initiatives of the National Congress of American Indians and a number of other regional and nation-wide organizations operate in both the intertribal and interethnic spheres, developing their own communications networks to gain mandates for their publicly-announced nation-wide policy resolutions. 51 But the struggles for a free press that serves the needs of today’s Native peoples in the U.S. and could be of great value in fending off the impacts of the post-truth media environment can be sampled by the experience of a of case study, which is provided by a very recent example of one Native newspaper which serves the nationwide audience of indigenous people and the many others who have great interest in Native issues today.

Indian Country Today: the on-going struggle of the free press in intertribal news

In the past year, one of the most recognizable of all Native commercial publications, the award-winning Indian Country Today, survived a near-death experience when it was announced it would cease publication in September, 2017. Its publisher, Ray Halbritter, CEO of the Oneida Nation in New York, wrote that it would take a hiatus from publishing to “seek an alternative business model.” 52 Halbritter blamed the internet for making its existing model, based upon advertising revenues and contributions and subscriptions from readers and organizations, unprofitable.

The ICT, as it is sometimes designated, has quite a history, one briefly documented by the publication’s founder, Tim Giago, in a 2011 article that critiqued the paper’s operations long after Giago sold the paper to Halbritter in 1998. In his critique, Giago accused Halbritter, CEO and publisher if the ICT, of censoring letters and articles from the ICT that were critical of Halbritter or of his role as publisher. Giago founded the publication as the Lakota Times in 1981, dedicating it to the principles of the free press in Indian country and eventually sold the publication to the Oneida Nation in New York, where Halbritter is Oneida Nation Representative and Nation Enterprises CEO. Giago still supported the publication in its move in 2011 to become a “magazine,” but voiced his opposition to what he saw as a censored publication. Giago is credited as the founder of the Native American Journalists Association and continues his work in journalism with the Native Sun News. 53 Thus, the story of the ICT’s development into a national publication for Native people demonstrates the on-going controversies that maintaining a free press in Indian country generate.

Despite its hiatus, though, the Indian Country Today is not dead. The National Congress of American Indians announce on February 28, 2018 that it would take over the publication of the ICT, and named well-known Shoshone-Bannock journalist, Mark Trahant as its editor. Trahant, whose impressive credentials in Native journalism were outlined in the NCAI announcement, had worked with Halbritter to make the move happen. His personal dedication to the principles of the free press in Indian country are clearly stated in the announcement:

“Even though ink has been replaced by pixels, the task remains the same – to publish an informative daily account that’s comprehensive and adds context to the stories missing from the mainstream media,” Trahant said. “We have so many stories to tell. Our mission is simple but important: Solid, factual reporting. Great writing. Photography that inspires and records. Provide a real service to readers across Indian Country’s digital landscape.” 54

In that NCAI announcement, the organization’s CEO says that the online publication “plans to share content to tribal newspapers, radio stations and websites at no cost with proper credit attributions.” 55 So a major crisis in the publication of national Native American news appears to have been averted and the ICT seems to have survived in a new form, funded by an intertribal organization’s revenues, at least for now. It seems to have escaped what McChesney and Nichols have documented as a dangerous oligarchical economic environment dominated by corporate media, as described earlier in this article.

NCAI’s continued commitment to the survival of an independent press in Indian country is also demonstrated in its occasional partnership with the Native American Journalists Association. 56 NAJA plays an ever more important role in the post-truth crisis as is documented in this paper. Indigenous scholars and other scholars who support tribal self-determination, trained as they are in Tribal Colleges and Universities and in the many other institutions of higher education across the country, have a vital role to play in reflecting factual, accurate information in this time of crisis as well, as they attempt to convey indigenous viewpoints into the mass society and into the public policy realm. According to their mission statement

NAJA recognizes Native Americans as distinct peoples based on tradition and culture. In this spirit, NAJA educates and unifies its membership through journalism programs that promote diversity and defends challenges to free press, speech and expression. NAJA is committed to increasing the representation of Native journalists in mainstream media. NAJA encourages both mainstream and tribal media to attain the highest standards of professionalism, ethics and responsibility. 57

Their individual and in coordinated efforts with organizations like NCAI have helped establish some important bulwarks against the dangers of a post-truth, fake news attack on Native American tribal continuance.

The UN and the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People – another bulwark against post-truth attacks on indigenous peoples and their rights

Because so many Native American people in the U.S. now live outside reservations and federally-recognized land areas, concerns of off-reservation Indian people as individuals, including their civil rights under state and federal laws and policies are also a large audience for communications in this sphere. The intertribal and interethnic spheres are dynamic communications spheres which have seen a number of notable developments in Native media over the years. In terms of the post-truth communications era that has resulted from a combination of fake news, oligarchical corporate economics and the now-common misinformation campaigns in U.S. politics, these developments should be evaluated, at least partly, for their fidelity to the goals of Native self-determination and inclusion in the politics of the surrounding society, as the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People has stated them. 58

The UNDRIP has set some vital goals and limitations for the recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples based upon a rather long historical development of international human rights standards. They are aspirational minimum standards, which reflect some of the greatest concerns of indigenous peoples around the world. Of course, the United Nations is itself a controversial organization, especially in light of the current right-wing politics that have developed as an international movement as this paper is written. While some might decry a perceived undermining of U. S. sovereignty in the actions of the U.N., the emergence of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has gained widespread support from groups like the National Congress of American Indians and many tribal governments. A number of highly-regarded indigenous scholars and political leaders from the U. S. were instrumental in its development, along with indigenous people and their supporters from around the world.

Some key provisions of the UNDRIP reflect and impact the communications systems of Native American people, both as members of their tribal nations and as individuals within the overall society of the U. S. and in other nation states. Those provisions of UNDRIP are likely to be useful standards as elements of post-truth communications dynamics continue their rapid expansion into U. S. Indian policy. Two of those are of interest for this paper, dealing as it does with “post-truth” and indigenous rights to a free press that expressed their own interests. Article 15.2 includes one important provision against the kind of attack that might occur in the post-truth environment of communications in the near future

2. States shall take effective measures, in consultation and cooperation with the indigenous peoples concerned, to combat prejudice and eliminate discrimination and to promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among indigenous peoples and all other segments of society. 59

While it is not clear how the U.S. might exercise its trust responsibility to protect tribes from attacks from those who oppose their continued survival as sovereign peoples, this provision may help give some support for Native people who come under attack simply because right-wing political agendas may evolve to oppose tribal sovereignty directly.

Another key provision of the UNDRIP is Article 16, which states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in their own languages and to have access to all forms of non-indigenous media without discrimination.” In this provision, tribes are encouraged to maintain their own voices in the media, a key right for all peoples, it would seem. In the post-truth era, even this right seems threatened, given the supposed right of others to use misinformation campaigns to subvert long-standing treaty and legal relationships that tribes in the U.S. rely upon. One can hope that these provisions are so much a heritage of all citizens of the U.S., including Native peoples, that they will never have to be called into a future debate about the rights of tribal nations in the U.S.

Indigenous Scholarship and Journalism in the Post-Truth Era

Indigenous scholars play a vital role in the development of communications and education in the movement of indigenous sovereignty and cultural survival. In concert with indigenous journalists and with those willing to support the efforts of intercultural communications, Native scholars and their fellow cooperating non-Indian scholars provide not only the kinds of data and information crucial for policy developments across the indigenous U.S., but also offer a nuanced viewpoint that is sometimes difficult for other scholars to comprehend. Unfortunately, in the present atmosphere of fake news, the two perspectives have not fared well in confronting the post-truth juggernaut, according to Kalev Leetaru, a highly respected internet developer and a senior fellow at the George Washington University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. 60 He has found that online scholarly journals have become particularly vulnerable to a kind of corruption of their mission as they seek funding from those submitting articles for review. Thus, scholars, who may themselves be phony sources, can buy their way to publication. Poorly substantiated research that is being published online, he says, may well be cited by journalists without proper fact-checking, contributing to the atmosphere of fake news. It is a serious problem that strikes at the very heart of scholarship’s high standards. Scholars, too, have a very threatened position in the information and education process as a result.

As the peer-review editor of the online Indigenous Policy Journal 61 for the past two years, ending April, 2018, the writer of this article has had the good fortune to be involved directly in the processes leading to publication of important articles pertaining to Indigenous policy around the globe. I have been busy receiving submitted articles, scanning them for appropriateness to the IPJ mission, then finding appropriate reviewers from a substantial list of eminent academic and organization scholars. Once articles are reviewed, they are usually returned to authors for revisions, if they are not rejected by reviewers. Then, the final versions of these articles are published online twice a year, Winter and Summer. In addition to the peer reviewed scholarly articles that pass through this process, an impressive number of research notes, other articles, announcements and news is published as well, giving the IPJ a dual purpose of publishing cutting-edge research and providing timely, vital information.

The IPJ fills an important niche in the scholarly journals, many of which have an even longer history of publication. Journals like the Wicasa Sa, the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, the American Indian Quarterly, the Journal of American Indian Education and a number of others have provided a focused platform for the study of indigenous history, culture and political issues. The Indigenous Policy Journal, with the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a stated guiding document, maintains a focus upon policy development. That means that policies formulated for indigenous peoples by the other governments that surround them and their own governing bodies are the journal’s domain. In the two years this author has been peer-review editor of the journal, articles have been submitted online from around the world, featuring policy issues facing indigenous peoples from North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Nepal. Authors writing about the Sami peoples of Scandinavia and indigenous peoples of India have inquired about how to submit their work. The opportunity for global discussions based upon these scholarly articles is an exciting development in indigenous communications. As I complete my two-year commitment as the peer-review editor, I hope to continue my association with the publication as a former editor, contributing to the success of future editors and, perhaps, submitting articles like this one for publication. I sincerely hope that the IPJ can remain a beacon of truth in the post-truth era!

There are ominous forces at work in the scholarly world that appear to work for the post-truth political and economic agenda. For indigenous and other scholars, for instance, the attack on the funding of public and university libraries and the efforts to skew their mission toward authoritarian, right-wing goals should be of great concern. The current efforts to marginalize state institutions of higher education and reduce the value of the “liberal arts” should awaken us to a new sense of urgency. The diminishing commitment to diversity in areas of race and ethnicity and the very idea of civil discourse about civil and cultural rights of minorities should jar scholars of all disciplines. For Native American and Indigenous Studies programs in higher education everywhere, the proposed federal policies of privatization and commercialization of much of the education system of the U.S. seems ominous indeed. Private funding for higher education from powerful economic interests that skews the mission of the free and open “marketplace” of ideas on campus and the renewed presence on campuses of thinly veiled hate-speech should remind us of the breakdown of public debate principles so vital to the mission of higher education in general. The threats to the right to even seek the truth is not a passing social fad. It is a real and present danger to our shared human need to fulfill our purposes on this planet. With great good luck, rational and respectful principles in intercultural and political discussions can be revitalized, if scholarly organizations use their influence to publicize their support for those values.

Climate Change Denial: A Key Issue in the Post-Truth Era

Perhaps the best illustration of the dangers of the current post-truth communications campaign is the attack on the earth itself. That attack is of immediate concern for many tribal nations which remain in both spiritual and economic relationships with their homelands. Despite clear evidence produced by scholars in the sciences of climatology and life sciences in general and journalism that shows the impacts of on-going pollution and human-caused degradation of the environment, the current efforts to end almost all regulations and even efforts to find solutions to the problems are now under attack by the right-wing climate-change deniers. Amazingly, the post-truth vision of reality is one that simply denies the human reliance upon the planet that sustains life. Only economic values are considered in this strange, anti-life viewpoint.

Some have said that journalism documents events and advocates for the rights of the people, sometimes against the powerful officials and forces of society that endanger the civil rights and needs of the People they serve. Scholarship, in its broadest sense, is often thought of as the effort to provide information and ideas among those most involved in the highest levels of study about all aspects of the human experience, from “hard” sciences to the social sciences to the arts and literature. In both journalism and scholarship, truth is the primary means of finding the proper, ethical relationships that humans must attain, both among themselves and from the indigenous perspective, with the cosmos as well. In the post-truth era of communications, the obvious shared mission today seems overwhelming. Concerted efforts between scholars and journalists, especially in indigenous affairs, is crucial to the survival of the democratic societies much of humanity has staked its survival upon. As the post-truth, fake news campaign of extreme the right-wing continues, most notably in internet communications where rumors and intentionally targeted campaigns have become common, truth-seekers in both fields must rededicate themselves to the sometimes-perilous search for the truth in an emotionally laden, complex communications environment where seemingly irreconcilable differences are the order of the day. Preparing ourselves as truth-seekers for the on-going fray over “truth claims” so that we are not simply annihilated by those most in denial would seem to be among our highest priorities. So – how can we unite in the fight for truth and accuracy, for the widespread acceptance of the great value of diverse opinions and tolerance in an atmosphere that seems so bent upon the values of autocracy? It is a conversation between key professions that ought to begin here and now, journalist and scholar.

Conclusion: What Would Vine Say? The Post-Truth environment and the Duty of Scholars and Journalists to find Wisdom

The experiential background of Native people involved in media is often quite distinct from other Americans. The goals of tribal self-determination and cultural continuance for Native peoples can only be served well by a strong cadre of Native and other scholars who are dedicated to research, writing and publishing in support of those goals. The common ground shared by indigenous journalism and scholarship in indigenous studies seems to mandate a greater awareness of and cooperation between the two professions. Ideally, they both make their work available to each other and to the reading, viewing and internet-using public and, especially, to those most interested in the well-being of indigenous peoples. Vine Deloria, Jr.’s legacy as a scholar sets a very high bar for today’s scholars in indigenous studies and for journalists who hope to assure accurate, corrective information in support of the self-confidence of today’s indigenous peoples and in challenging the widespread misinformation and ignorance about Native people and their rights.

Vine offered many ideas that can be of value in this time of crisis. I find two of them especially powerful and elegant in their simplicity. First, Vine is often quoted as saying, “Every society needs educated people, but the primary responsibility of educated people is to bring wisdom back into the community and make it available to others so that the lives they are leading make sense.” 62 The quote needs little explanation, since the challenge today is to actually approach a sense of wisdom, not just to accumulate data. It seems only actual wisdom can really overcome the post-truth juggernaut that has arisen among us. Can we bring that reliance upon wisdom back to our indigenous communities and to the fractured society that seems bent on autocracy and consuming the planet’s resources without any sense of balance?

The other idea that Vine offered that I have selected for this moment in our human experience is also straight forward but requires scholars to face the complexity of our current crisis with a sense of humility. In Vine’s luncheon address at the WSSA Conference in 2002, mentioned in my prologue for this paper, Vine suggested that teams of scholars might “commit themselves to explore an idea over a period of years. Hopefully, it would be a radical and contemporary idea, something of interest and importance to ordinary people.” He went on to say that several scholars might “commit themselves to come to WSSA over a period of time producing some kind of collaborative effort that could be published on a particular topic.” That strategy might lead not only to expanding one’s scholarly career, but would also be “...taking a step in bringing academia closer to the man in the street by dealing with topics relevant to our social needs.” 63 When scholars can lay aside their individual scholarly goals, let their guards down a bit and really focus in a collaborative project such as Vine suggests, perhaps wisdom can arise from shared efforts that can really meet the immediate challenges we face. In the opinion of this author, dealing assertively with the structures and human causes behind the “post-truth” phenomenon ought to be among our first collaborations. Perhaps some Native journalists could collaborate with Native journalists in such an endeavor! Perhaps solving the interpersonal, human problems surrounding post-truth will allow us to turn to the extremely pressing problem of the improving the human relationship with the earth.



1 Vine Deloria, Jr., “Why Me Tonto? The Latest Plague to Our Red Brother: Hippie Film-makers,” Native Nevadan, December, 1983, p. 40-41.

2 “Reel Indians,” Will Sampson, host. With Dennis Banks, Vine Deloria. KCTS (Television Station: Seattle, WA; United Indians of All Tribes Foundation. Part 5 of a series, “Images of Indians.” VHS Tape (Dist. By Native American Public Broadcast Corp.), 1979.

3Vine Deloria, Jr. “Reforming the Future: Where is the Academy Going?” Plenary Luncheon Address, Western Social Science Association annual conference, 11 April, 2002. Transcript provided by Dr. Nicholas Peroff, who was WSSA president that year.

4 Ibid. p. 8.

5 Kevin Granville, “Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: What you Need to Know as Fallout Widens.” New York Times(online). 3.19.18. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/19/technology/facebook-cambridge-analytica-explained.html. Accessed 3.30.18.

6 Jerry E. Gray, Michelle C. Hamilton, Alexandra Hauser, Margaret M. Janz, Justin P. Peters and Fiona Taggart, “Scholar ish: Google Scholar and its Value to the Sciences,” Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship. Summer, 2012. http://istl.org/12-summer/article1.html. Accessed 3.30.18. The authors were graduate students in the school of Library and Information Science, Indiana University.

7 Vine Deloria, Jr., Metaphysics of Modern Existence, Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2012. (first published by Harper and Row, Pub. Inc., 1979), p. 28.

8 Richard M. Wheelock, “Reconsidering America’s Errand: Wilderness and ‘Indians’ in Cinema,” in Native Apparitions: Critical Perspectives on Hollywood’s Indians. Tucson: U of AZ Press, 2017, pages 29-57; and Richard M. Wheelock, “Native People in American Mythology and Popular Culture,” in American Indians and Popular Culture: Volume 1: Media, Sports, and Politics, Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman, ed. Santa Barbara, CA, Denver, CO and Oxford, Engl.: Praeger, ABC-CLIO, 2012, p. 230-236; and Richard M. Wheelock, “The ‘American Story:’ The Impact of Myth on American Indian Policy” in Destroying Dogma: Vine Deloria, Jr. and His Influence on American Society, Steve Pavlik and Daniel R. Wildcat, eds. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publ., 2006, p. 105-130.

9“Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2016: Post-Truth,” < https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2016.> Accessed March 5, 2018.

10 Joe Conason, Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, 2003. This book is important, since it establishes important themes of the “post-truth” era’s emergence some 15 years ago.

11 Here are the Wikipedia entries for the two political perspectives: “Right-Wing Politics,” Wikipedia, last edited 3.17.18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-wing_politics. Accessed 3.30.18; “Left-Wing Politics,” Wikipedia, last edited 3.17.18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-wing_politics. Accessed 3.30.18.

12 Finley Peter Dunne is usually credited with this well-known quote in 1898 when he had one of the characters in his play “A Bartenders is Born,” a Mr. Dooley, utter the words as part of a long monologue.

13 Robert W. McChesney, The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communications Politics in the 21 st Century. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004, p. 178.

14 “Code of Ethics.” The Society of Professional Journalists, https://www.spj.org/pdf/spj-code-of-ethics.pdf, accessed 3.23.18.

15“Who Owns the Mass Media: Massive Corporations Dominate the U.S. Media Landscape,” 3.3018. Free Press Online, https://www.freepress.net/issues/media-control/media-consolidation/who-owns-media, accessed 3.31.18.

16Please see Robert W. McChesney, The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communications Politics in the 21 st Century. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004, and Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again. New York: Nation Books, 2010.

17 Robert McChesney, 2004, p. 137.

18Use of the metaphor “marketplace of ideas” carries its own baggage, as the idea that some form of “market” is the ideal to strive for. The idea that markets are the best way to serve the public good are increasingly suspect, since capitalist markets today are dominated by the philosophies of a neo-liberal reinterpretation of Adam Smith’s “unseen hand” that supposedly creates efficiencies that serve everyone. The “rising tide raises all boats” metaphor once attributed to John F. Kennedy is another expression of this spurious concept.

19 FCC FACT SHEET: Review of the Commission’s Broadcast Ownership Rules, Joint Sales Agreements, and Shared Services Agreements, and Comment Sought on an Incubator Program Order on Reconsideration, MB Docket Nos. 14-50, 09-182, 07-294, 04-256, and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, MB Docket No. 17-289. 11.20.17. https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-347796A2.pdf. Accessed 3.30.18.

20 Seth Fiegerman, “Trump’s FCC Votes to Repeal Net Neutrality,” CNNTech. 12.14.18. http://money.cnn.com/2017/12/14/technology/fcc-net-neutrality-vote/index.html. Accessed 3.30.18.

21 American Society of News Editors, as stated in McChesney, Nichols, 2010, p. 18.

22Erica Smith, “Paper Cuts,” Blog. http://newspaperlayoffs.com/, accessed 3.23.18. Since 2012, that blog appears to have become inactive and a new Facebook page carried similar information until 2013. Its URL is https://www.facebook.com/newscuts/?hc_ref=ARQqaXAOv8vNqaxT0NL1T_zNA0q6OTuyOfKnOCLdNL-MX8lA6Rf3xZyJHqErvoqvuPQ, accessed 3.23.18.

23 “Paper Cuts.” Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/newscuts. Accessed 3.30.18.

24McChesney, Nichols, 2010, p. 21.

25“The Media Landscape,” Federal Communications Commission document, p. 37. https://transition.fcc.gov/osp/inc-report/INoC-1-Newspapers.pdf. Accessed 3.31.18.

26 “What do Denver Post layoffs mean for journalism in Colorado?” Denver ABC Channel 7 TV. Broadcast, aired 3.16.18. https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/360/what-do-post-layoffs-mean-for-journalism-in-co, accessed 3.23.18.

27 McChesney, Nichols, 2010, p. 67

28 Kimberley Isbell, “What’s the Law Around Aggregating News online? A Harvard Law Report on the risks and Best Practices.” NiemanLab. 9.8.10. http://www.niemanlab.org/2010/09/whats-the-law-around-aggregating-news-online-a-harvard-law-report-on-the-risks-and-the-best-practices/. Accessed, 3.31.18.

29 Rob Howard, “Why Paywalls Don’t Work,” NewCoShift. https://shift.newco.co/why-paywalls-dont-work-7e658576e311. Accessed 3.23.18. Howard’s interesting alternative is available for free at https://hiatus.cc/, accessed 3.23.18. It still does not provide revenues for his work, though!

30McChesney, Nichols, 2010, p. 79.

31 Robert W. McChesney, The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communications Politics in the 21 st Century. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004, p. 162.

32 Gerry Khermouch and Jeff Green, “Buzz Marketing,” Business Week, 30 July 2001. Cited in McChesney, 2004, p 162.

33McChesney, Nichols, 2010, p. 201.

34 Brian Fung, “The FCC’s Vote Repealing its Net Neutrality Rule is Finally Official. Here’s What Happens Now.” Washington Post online, February 22, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2018/02/22/the-fccs-net-neutrality-rules-will-die-on-april-23-heres-what-happens-now/?utm_term=.1ef3be4617e3, accessed 3.24.18.

35Joseph Lichterman, “This is what could happen if Donald Trump’s plan to eliminate funding for public broadcasting is enacted,” NiemanLab, Neiman Foundation at Harvard. March 16, 2017. http://www.niemanlab.org/2017/03/this-is-what-could-happen-if-donald-trumps-plan-to-eliminate-funding-for-public-broadcasting-is-enacted/, accessed 3.24.18.

36 Ibid.

37 Richard M. Wheelock, “The ‘American Story:’ The Impact of Myth on American Indian Policy” in Destroying Dogma: Vine Deloria, Jr. and His Influence on American Society, Steve Pavlik and Daniel R. Wildcat, eds. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publ., 2006

38 For more on the evidence of denial built into the “American Story,” please see the following book chapter by this author: “The American Story: Its Impact on American Indian Policy,” in Destroying Dogma: Vine Deloria, Jr. and His Influence on American Society, Eds. Steve Pavlik and Daniel R. Wildcat (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2006.

39 Pedro Alexis Tabensky, “The Oppressor’s Pathology.” Theoria 57, No. 125. Dec. 2010, p. 77-99.

40 There are a number of listings of Native American periodicals. Though slightly dated, one helpful one is Lia Mitten, “Native Media, Film and Video Organizations, Newspapers, and internet News Sources, Radio and television.” Last updated 9.16.08. http://www.nativeculturelinks.com/media.html. Accessed 3.31.18.

41 The State of Native Nations: Conditions Under the U. S. Policy of Indian Self-Determination. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. New York: Oxford UP, 2007, p. 309.

42 The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 (ICRA), 25 U.S.C.§§ 1301-1304 (ICRA). Available at Tribal Court Clearing House, a project of the Tribal Law and Policy Institute, http://www.tribal-institute.org/lists/icra1968.htm, accessed 3.25.18.

43 “An Act Establishing A Free and Independent Press for the Cherokee Nation.” Cherokee Legislative Act 11-0. 7.17.2000. Available online at http://legislative.cherokee.org/Portals/Legislative/Docs/CherokeeFreePressAct71500da.pdf?ver=2017-06-30-130934-423. Accessed 3.31.18.

44“Affirmation of Cherokee Independent Press Act of 2000 as a Model for Free Press Legislation,” National Congress of American Indians. Resolution Tul-05-105 (November 4, 2005).

45“Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible to Receive Services from the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs.” Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 20 / Tuesday, January 30, 2018 / Notices, p. 4235. Available online at https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-01-30/pdf/2018-01907.pdf. Accessed 3.31.18.

46 “American Indian Journalists Fight for Press Freedoms.” 11.10.03. Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press. https://www.rcfp.org/browse-media-law-resources/news/american-indian-journalists-fight-press-freedoms. Accessed 3.31.18.

47 “Trump Budget Slashes Tribal Programs: Trump Eliminates Johnson O’Malley, Housing Improvement Program, Low Income Energy Assistance.” News from Indian Country. Vol XXXII, No. 3, March, 2018, p. 1, 4.

48 Ibid.

49 “Indian Affairs,” section of the High Country News, https://www.hcn.org/topics/tribal-affairs. Accessed 3.26.18.

50 News from Indian Country, Paul DeMain, publisher and CEO. http://www.indiancountrynews.com/, accessed 3.27.18.

51 “NCAI Resolutions,” National Congress of American Indians. http://www.ncai.org/resources/resolutions-home., accessed 3.31.18.

52 Ray Halbritter, “ Indian Country Today Media Network To Cease Active Operations,” Indian Country Today, 9.7.18, https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/native-news/indian-country-today-media-network-cease-active-operations/. Accessed 3.27.18.

53Tim Giago, “Freedom of the Press Not Exactly Alive in Indian Country,” Huffpost: The Blog. 1.21.2011, updated 5.25.2011. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/tim-giago/freedom-of-the-press-not-_b_812197.html. Accessed 3.27.18.

54Mark Trahant, quoted in “Mark Trahant Named Editor to Lead Indian Country Today.” 28 February 2018. http://www.ncai.org/news/articles/2018/02/28/mark-trahant-named-editor-to-lead-indian-country-today. Accessed 3.27.18.

55 Jacqueline Pata, NCAI Executive Director, Ibid.

56Native American Journalists Association. Website. http://www.naja.com/. Accessed 3.27.18.

57 “About NAJA,” http://www.naja.com/about/. Accessed 3.27.18.

58 The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UN Publication 07-58581, March, 2008. Available online at https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf. Accessed 3.31.18

59 Ibid.

60Kalev Leetaru, “How Academia, Google Scholar and Predatory Publishers Help Feed Academic Fake News” Forbes, 12.16.17. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2016/12/16/how-academia-google-scholar-and-predatory-publishers-help-feed-academic-fake-news/#75175a08768a, accessed 3.27.18.

61 Indigenous Policy Journal. http://www.indigenouspolicy.org/index.php/ipj, Accessed 3.31.18.

62 Vine Deloria, Jr., “Top 24 Quotes by Vine Deloria, Jr.” AZ Quotes, http://www.azquotes.com/author/18590-Vine_Deloria_Jr. Accessed 3.31.18.

63 Vine Deloria, Jr. “Reforming the Future: Where is the Academy Going?” Plenary Luncheon Address, Western Social Science Association annual conference, 11 April, 2002. Transcript, p. 10.

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