News was News at
American Indian Magazine
by Donroy Kills Right (Oglala Sioux)

 

   

     News has always played a part in “Indian Country”. From the days of smoke signals, painting on tipis, handing stories down, to television, radio, cell phones, and thanks to Al Gore, the internet, whether we like or not we are now connected to the daily goings-on of the world more than ever.

     Today, almost all nations have some kind of newspaper relaying news, announcements, and most importantly, gossip to the masses. Most of the news focuses on national events, and especially in this day and age, the doings and happenings of other Native nations. Today’s Native newspapers also pay attention to things going on in Washington, D.C. and have taken a more political, proactive stance.

     Editorials are filled with the injustices being done in and to Indian Country, perpetrated by those policy wonks that were elected or selected in local municipal government or the nation’s capital. (For my Oglala brothers and sisters, the nation’s capital is Washington, D.C., not Pine Ridge Agency).

     This wasn’t always so. I was given the chance to peruse through The American Indian magazine, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, courtesy of Liveright Productions, New York. The magazine was published from 1926-1931.

     There were 51 issues of this magazine, of which 50 made it to reader’s hands. Because of legal issues, both the 51st issue and the magazine prematurely ceased production. Lee F. Harkins was the magazine’s founding editor; he was of Chickasaw-Choctaw heritage.

     “The chief aim of this magazine is to become a true reservoir of Indian life and history based upon authentic articles from our Indian and white writers” was the mission statement of this periodical. Their code of ethics stressed that the magazine was “non-political, non-sectarian and non-partisan”. The goal of Mr. Harkins was to “know who you were and where you had been in order to know where you are going”.

     And this magazine, surprisingly, achieved just that. With writers both Native and Caucasian, The American Indian reported news that concerned the Five Tribes of Oklahoma, the Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw. They also reported on national news, but because of the era in which this magazine was published, that news was very limited in scope, mostly reprints from other newspapers, yet very well covered.

     The news was the news. No commentary, agendas or wisecracks were spotted among the several articles I read, and they were very, very interesting. Even the editorials contained just the facts; you would be led to believe that Sgt. Joe Friday of Dragnet was among the readership. “Both sides” of the story were covered and told extremely well, and the articles, though probably not intended to do so, let the reader formulate their own opinion on an issue.

     History of the Five Tribes was covered as well, and stories reporting on everything from the Trail of Tears to Property Rights (some things never change) were printed. Little did Mr. Harkins realize that by writing about history in his magazine, he was creating it.

     Interestingly enough, while today’s Native newspaper headlines and magazine covers play to the shock value of a story, most of the covers of The American Indian featured women, in traditional outfits, contemporary clothing and even swimsuits! Sex sells.


     Would a publication like The American Indian survive today? Absolutely. For people who want the news, and history, without the commentary and editorializing that go hand-in-hand with today’s reporting, this magazine would be for them. Though, admittedly, in today’s climate, that would be close to impossible.

     It was truly a pleasure looking back at an important Native publication such as The American Indian. It was certainly one of the precursors of what was to come. The “Moccasin Telegraph” is still alive and well.

(I would like to thank Diane Fraher for providing me with the two volume set The American Indian.)

   


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