Fighting for a Native American free press


There are over 550 federally recognized tribal governments and more than 300 Indian reservations in the United States. Tribal reservations are sovereign nations and are not required to comply with many federal or state laws, including freedom of information and open meetings laws. Legally, tribe members enjoy the same constitutional rights as every American, but there is no independent safeguard on reservations to protect those rights, such as freedom of the press.

Since tribal councils own the vast majority of the approximately 200 Native American newspapers, little leeway is given to any analysis of government activity. Reporters are often prohibited from writing critical stories about tribal leaders, and access to tribal records on most reservations is nonexistent. As a result, reporters who dare to question the tribal government will often find themselves out of a job or their newsrooms shut down.

Native American journalists often complain that government ownership of the tribal press runs counter to their roles as the watchdogs of their communities. They have long sought independence in their reporting on tribal reservations. Some tribes have enacted laws guaranteeing press freedoms, but governing councils have often displayed a willingness to ignore those laws, as well as orders by tribal courts.

Recently the citizens of Oklahoma-based Muscogee Nation, the fourth largest reservation in the U.S, voted 1,914 to 596 to amend their constitution to include press protections and mandate funding for Mvskoke Media, the tribes' newspaper, radio and TV news outlet.

The Muscogee amendment allows Mvskoke Media to operate “free from political interest or undue influence, harassment, censorship, control or restrictions from any department” of the tribe’s government.

In this 108th episode of "E&P Reports," Publisher Mike Blinder explores Native American news publishing and its challenges in providing free and unfettered news to the indigenous American populations it serves. Guests include Rob Collins, project manager with the Oklahoma Media Center and president-elect of Freedom of Information Oklahoma; Angel Ellis, director of Mvskoke Media, the independent tribal media agency of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation; and Sterling Cosper, membership manager of the Native American Journalists Association.


1 comment on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • jodirave

    Press freedom in Native America is an important story. Thank you for telling it here on Editor & Publisher. Just an FYI, Muscogee Nation is not the fourth largest reservation in the U.S. as stated in this article. The fourth-largest reservation is Cheyenne River. Here is the list of top 10 largest reservations in this country.

    Thursday, November 18, 2021 Report this