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Campbell: A Crucial Time For Indian Country To Be Heard

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  • Campbell: A Crucial Time For Indian Country To Be Heard

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    Campbell: A Crucial Time For Indian Country To Be Heard

    (javascript:PrintWindow();) Posted: September 22, 2005 by: _Senator Ben
    Nighthorse Campbell_ ( / United
    States Government / Northern Cheyenne Tribe
    I go to a lot of Indian meetings, where tribal leaders and advisers
    discuss their most important issues, value each others' cultures and present their
    viewpoints. There is a lot of good Indian thinking going on, even in the
    midst of very difficult problems and many challenges and attacks upon tribal
    rights by well-organized and hostile groups.

    One of the most stimulating gatherings I have attended recently was held at
    Buffalo State College, in that famous western New York city that is the
    eastern gateway between Indian country, the United States and our Canadian First
    Nations relatives.

    The founding meeting of the American Indian Policy and Media Initiative
    focused on how to build and communicate an effective defense of historical
    truths, and the legal and self-governance rights of tribal peoples in the United

    States. Hosted by veterans of Native journalism, it brought together a
    refreshing corps of very sharp minds. These included tribal leaders such as Viejas
    Tribal Chairman Anthony Pico, who gave a powerful presentation, and critical
    thinkers among well-established Native journalists such as Indian Country Today
    editors Tim Johnson, Mohawk, and Jose Barreiro, Taino; columnist Suzan Shown
    Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee; Oregonian correspondent Kara Briggs,
    Yakama; and others. The ensuing discussion - full of clear thinking and
    creative energy - gave me reason for hope that our dignified and resilient Native
    peoples in North America will succeed in their quest to survive and prosper.

    Tribal nations in North America face serious dangers to their communities
    and national interests. From where I sit, it clearly seems that the media arena
    is a major area of contention where our cultures, peoples and representative
    institutions must make a vigorous and principled stance. There are good
    signs, not only at Buffalo but also at our media trade group, the Native American
    Journalists Association, which is increasingly challenging stereotypes of
    Indian people.

    Various academic programs, including major ones at Harvard University and
    the University of Arizona, among others, are also conducting research into
    economics, politics, law and other areas. But the promise of AIPMI is its focus
    on a nationally active, real-time engagement to better inform and educate the
    American public. These are the same folks who elevated our national American
    Indian newspaper, Indian Country Today, these past five years. (A book of
    their opinion and perspective essays [2000 - '04], entitled ''America is Indian
    Country,'' due out this fall from Fulcrum Publishers, gives a great
    indication of their depth and range.) They now are in the process of coalescing some
    of the very best and brightest researchers and writers to help the American
    public come to a more informed and accurate understanding of American Indian
    peoples and our issues.

    The decency, resiliency and wise cultural cornerstones of our American
    Indian governments are not visible to most Americans. Stereotypes abound and, even
    more dangerous, a palpable shift in attitudes from positive to negative -
    what Barreiro called ''a shift in public metaphors'' - is clearly media-driven,
    often with media being an unwitting conduit for professional media
    manipulators representing anti-Indian groups. Johnson emphasized the need for tribes
    to get involved in supporting productive think-tanks, such as this one in
    Buffalo, and to get busy with national media strategies that can turn the
    negative tide.

    The main point of the session was that the public perception created by
    media almost always sets the pattern of public policy. Professor Ron Smith, chair
    of the college's Communications Department, presented results from a recent
    AIPMI research study that tracked the media influence upon public attitudes
    in New York state. His study showed a remarkable residue of public sympathy
    for Indian people - which can decline as tribes ignore the importance of
    participation in the media discourse, or improve as the public gains increased
    exposure to accurate information about Indian peoples and their histories.

    There was a great scene about halfway through the epic film ''Gandhi,'' on
    the life and struggles of the hero-philosopher who guided the independence of
    India. In one of his many campaigns, Gandhi (I paraphrase from memory) found
    himself surrounded by powerful enemies and flanked by the British army when
    several young college students break through the battle lines to his camp.
    The great leader asks them, ''And what are you young people studying?'' ''We
    are becoming journalists,'' they reply. Gandhi clasps his hands together:
    ''Thanks God,'' he exclaims. ''Now we have won our struggle.''

    After a quarter century of public service, I can vouch for the reality that
    the squeaky wheel gets the attention and that the key to American Indian
    survival lies in our ability to educate, to win hearts and minds on behalf of our
    fundamental quest for freedom and justice. This certainly holds true in
    Washington, D.C., and for legislators generally. The public arena is our major
    battleground these days. All American Indian leaders and people of good will
    should support our ethical journalists and brilliant communicators.

    Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne, is a former member of the U.S.
    Senate. He currently serves as Senior Policy Advisor to Holland and Knight.
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic

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