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Old 01-17-2006, 01:10 AM   #1
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Post Media impact on American Indian public policy

Media impact on American Indian public policy
Posted: January 12, 2006
by: Editors Report / Indian Country Today


Proper and realistic representation in media is crucial for the protection of American Indian peoples' inherent and treaty rights. The way situations and issues are covered - how the media comes to interpret Indian realities - increasingly drives the making of public policy. Issues that can help or wreak havoc on American Indian tribal life are decided not only by reason and precedence, but too often by the clamor of negative public attention.

There is the strongest case to be made that a more empowered and more concentrated effort is necessary by a circle of American Indian opinion-makers, national organizations and tribal nations to organize serious and far-reaching campaigns that generate in the American public, in particular professionals in American media, a more comprehensive understanding of how to report on Indian country.

We are of the mind that for such a campaign to work it must encompass a coalition of Native and non-Native individuals and organizations. It should lead to a lot of discussion and dialogue within Native circles about the fundamentals of the media onslaught and how to assimilate the lessons of successful delivery of Indian ideas and factual patterns to media. Tribe by tribe, regionally and nationally, it should upgrade this understanding and training of media strategic thinking as well as the skills of the craft.

Seeking to expand the emergence of Indian voices and Indian self-representation, a number of important Indian and non-Indian organizations have enthusiastically joined a symposium called for by the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a group with a long history of involvement with Indian causes. The event, to be held March 2 and 3, in Washington, D.C., is titled, ''Who Wants to Hear Our Story? Communications and Contemporary Native Americans.'' It is intended as an educational symposium aimed at engaging a wide circle of Indian opinion-makers to dialogue with journalists, legislators, scholars, religious organizations and others with issues affecting American Indian peoples.

We congratulate the FCNL gesture to facilitate such a gathering. We also salute the emergence of the American Indian Policy and Media Initiative at Buffalo State College, a co-sponsor. We encourage all tribal peoples and their allies and friends to focus on media relations as part and parcel of existence and activity in the contemporary world.

Among the smallest and most distinct groups in the United States, American Indian peoples and organizations must reach out to all possible avenues of education among ethnic and professional bases. There is already some good news. Nationally, a solid core of researchers, writers and columnists are coming to the fore with the capability to empower such a work. An ongoing discussion about American Indian policy and media issues, to help analyze, strategize and coordinate a much fuller and cohesive capability of response and self-expression is completely required in these times.

Tribal leaders and opinion leaders in Indian country often complain about the depiction of their peoples and issues in the media. Often this refers to the lack of depiction: one of the major problems is the invisibility of Indian faces in media. Even to this day there is hardly an identifiable American Indian expert on Indian contemporary issues, culture and history to whom the media turns, much less a good range of Indian experts on various topics and themes. Thus, in a predictable pattern, even at those times when a Native case breaks through the surface, skimpy understanding is available and misperception ensues.

Beyond invisibility, tribal leaders also point to the outright hostility of some of the media, often skillfully driven by groups specifically negative to Indian interests. This has happened for a long time but it is happening today at greater risk to tribal nations. The organized, anti-Indian groups have become a voice and a force to counteract. Largely, these interest groups wrap themselves in the American flag and intone the mantra of ''one nation under God'' to presume that the tribal American Indian nations of this land should not, or can not, any longer exist. These groups, which often outnumber Indian people in their localities, are serious about pressuring politicians through the media. Cases in New York, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Montana, etc., give evidence of their organizing.

The pro-termination arguments of the anti-Indian groups are in line with at least one wing of punditry on the right, have the support of pandering politicians on the left, and get excellent argumentative backup in nationally established columns. Any involvement by any Indian entity in scandalous or questionable cases and incidents can gain control of the national image of Indians generally.

Nationally, to cite just one important case, the dishonesties of Jack Abramoff continue to surface. Just with that particular media-frenzied case, the image of Indians can transform from that of long-standing tribes progressively seeking justice in America, to one of newly-rich victims of Washington corruption or greedy manipulators attempting to buy favors from those with political power. The point here is not that these perceptions are not at least incidentally grounded - for some among the half-dozen seriously duped tribes - but that the way the media are, the perception of these isolated incidents can easily become the common silhouette of all 562 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native peoples, whose own distinct versions of tribal reality will go ignored.

Always distinct and not so small anymore (if we go by the 4.4 million U.S. Census figure), the complex amalgam of Indian country can be dangerously reduced in American public life. If the Abramoff case (among other such situations) goes on long enough, the incidental involvement of some Indians in it can seriously diminish the positive, and more realistic, perception of American Indian life. This is aggravated by the media's ''herd mentality'' and their need to present quick, superficial profiles of complicated issues.

Sometimes Indian people feel alone in noticing the absences, the omissions, the lack of balanced representation, the omission of facts and the hurtful stereotypes. It is good to reaffirm and realign with organizations such as HONOR [Honor Our Neighbors, Origins and Rights], the American Friends Service Committee, FCNL and many others that have advocated for and with tribes for decades over the centuries. Allied groups have become increasingly concerned, as have we, about the unusual combination of invisibility and negative stereotypes that is making things difficult for those who care about improving conditions in Indian country and about describing the strengths and successes of indigenous peoples.

There is much to be said in the proposed discussion. In light of substantial economic growth, triggering huge prosperity for some tribes, moderate support for many others and sizable headaches for yet others, distinctions among American Indian situations must be understood. The explosive financial nature of the gaming path is hardly an option for over two-thirds of Indian tribes, while destitution and poverty are still quite prevalent. Nevertheless, the controversy, hostilities and stereotypes generated against this sector of Indian country affects all of Indian country.

We urge all people interested in the above and other Indian policy and media issues to make contact and/or attend.

To learn more about ''Who Wants to Hear Our Story? Communications and Contemporary Native Americans,'' contact Patricia Powers at [email protected] or visit the FCNL Web site at www.fcnl.org and click on ''Native American'' and then on the ''Communications and Contemporary Native Americans'' symposium link.



Tamra
www.NDNnews.com
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