This year’s 2018 Native Broadcast Summit in Phoenix Arizona focused on First Amendment protections as a priority. For the last 40 plus years, tribal broadcasting has spread across rural indigenous communities in America. And since 2004, the organization Native Public Media has helped to further tribes' ability to own and access resources for their own independent media. Over 60 stations are now part of its network, including KYUK.
President and CEO of Native Public Media, Loris Taylor, says that indigenous peoples of the United States have survived several distinct eras historically, from extermination, to assimilation, to acculturation. But now in the era of self-determination, tribes face dangerous times ahead and the protection of press freedom is absolutely essential.
“You just have to look at Standing Rock. I mean, this is a place where peaceful demonstrations were going on, and then you get a multiple state-militarized law enforcement that descends on tribal people,” Taylor said.
The Standing Rock protests resulted in arrests and the use of force against the protesters, including Native and non-native journalists alike. Restrictions to press access are growing, and Taylor says that journalists are beginning to be criminalized across the United States. She called on Native reporters and tribal stations to remain strong, resilient, and proud of who they are.
“We have to insist that our languages are going to be spoken. We are going to teach our culture, we’re not going to morph into anything. I’m proud to be Hopi; I’m proud to be Acoma,” said Taylor. “There is such diversity in this country, and it’s rich in the intellectual capacity that we have as a collective is what makes democracy work. When you’re informed and you’re able to make those critical decisions on your own, and that’s your will, then that really leads to what the Bill of Rights talks about.”
Summit speaker and Director of the Media Communications Department at Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas, Rhonda LeValdo of the Acoma Pueblo, says that what’s key for the next generation of Native journalists to understand is their First Amendment rights as journalists. But LeValdo also stressed that students need to understand the responsibility that goes with that, including transparency. And when covering tribes, journalists need to understand that the tribes have sovereign powers within their jurisdiction.
“They should look at their constitutions and see if they do have a First Amendment right, because not every tribe does,” Taylor said.
LeValdo said she often gives her students a recent example from the Blackfeet Nation of Montana, where a member of their nation located on their reservation started a Facebook group to discuss issues within the tribe, was discovered, identified, and placed in jail as the Blackfeet Nation does not have a First Amendment right protection.