Robert Jumper Cherokee One Feather (One Feather picture)
There is an old question about the role of the media in Indian Country? How free should it be? And what’s the best practice?
This is Trahant Reports.
In the 1820s Cherokee Chief John Ross said a press should be as “free as the breeze.” He really didn’t mean that. When he was faced with a Cherokee Phoenix printing stories that he did not like … he supported a change in leadership and appointed a relative as the paper’s editor.
The Cherokee Nation was under incredible pressure to move West. And tribal leaders debated how that difficult conversation should even occur. On top of that the newspapers in Georgia were clearly on the side of removal. And the state of Georgia made it illegal for the Cherokee Nation to hold an election or even to meet. To make sure that the “news” was one-sided the Georgia Guard dumped the lead type from tribe’s newspaper into a deep well.
This was a terrible time. Make no mistake. And a tough moment to support free press.
Then again … one’s point of view about media — pretty much in any democracy — depends on those moments and which side is getting the favorable coverage. (Or not.)
The Eastern Band of Cherokee recently tried to limit coverage of the tribal council sessions to its own newspaper, the Cherokee One Feather. So reporters from non-Indian organizations were forced to cover the proceedings by watching a video feed.
Travis Long is a tribal citizen who works for the Raleigh News and Observer. He told Indian Country Today that he understood the importance of tribal sovereignty, but that a reporter needs to be inside the council chambers instead of watching it on TV. He compared it to being a sportswriter having to cover a game by only watching it on a screen.
Earlier this month the Eastern Band reversed its policy and reopened the meetings to the press.
Robert Jumper, the editor of the tribal newspaper, the Cherokee One Feather, would do more. He called for a new level of transparency, including an improvement in the way the tribe releases public documents. “An informed citizenry is an essential part of representative government,” he said.
This is a new challenge for tribes in the age of data. How do you make sure that information is reliable … and fast.
Tweets and Facebook posts go out instantly, so it’s critical that a government make sure its releases information grounded in facts.
Tribal leaders, like all politicians, bristle when the press is not perfect. Sometimes quotes are not quite right — and perhaps even out of context. But most of the work, the day to day reporting, is a mechanism to let people know what’s going on. And that remains essential.
I am Mark Trahant.