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Native American

Ethnic
By the Project For Excellence In Journalism
Native American

The small but enduring universe of Native American media saw growth in radio and digital in 2009, a mixed year in print and changes and developments in television.

According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, as of July 1, 2008, the population of American Indians and Alaska Natives is an estimated 4.9 million, about 1.6% of the total U.S. population.1

Most of that is concentrated in the West, with California claiming the highest total, 738,978 in 2008, followed by Oklahoma (406,492) and Arizona (359,841).  Texas had the largest numeric increase from July 2007 to July 2008, with a growth of 12,828, about 4.3% to about 300,000.

And the strong English-language dominance among this group makes content production and dissemination easy. Just 29% of the Native American population spoke a language other than English at home in 2008, making English the primary language for American Indian media.2

Radio

One of the most important elements of Native American media is radio. As of October 2009, there were 34 local Native American stations on the air, some of which also streamed their radio programming online and shared programming with mainstream public radio stations.3

And, according to Loris Taylor, the executive director of Native Public Media, an organization that seeks to strengthen and expand the voice of Native Americans,  that figure is set to almost double in the coming three years. The FCC, according to Taylor, granted in 2009 an additional 35 local construction permits connecting tribes to the Native radio system. These new stations are in development and would eventually double the total number of stations dedicated to Native Americans.

Radio, Taylor points out, can reach Native Americans who live in less concentrated remote areas with less access to the Internet or specialized print publications.

Even so, advancements in technology have helped extend the reach of several national radio programs and Web streams geared to Native Americans.

Native Voice One (NV1) is a website that aggregates and provides online streaming of numerous Native American radio programs. The programs are produced by a number of organizations. The two most focused on news are National Native News and Native America Calling, both produced by Koahnic Broadcast Corporation.4 Native Public Media serves as an umbrella advisory service for NV1.

National Native News, begun in 1987, is a five-minute news program broadcast on mainstream and tribal radio stations throughout the country every weekday. NV1 streams the program live and also offers it as a daily podcast.5

The other, Native America Calling, is an hour-long call-in public radio program that focuses on issues specific to Native American communities. According to its website, the program is heard on 52 stations in the U.S. and Canada by 500,000 listeners each week.6

Another specialized website is Native American Public Telecommunication, which aggregates programming produced by a number of outlets. It works with Native American producers to “develop, produce and distribute educational telecommunications programs for all media.”7

Other Web-Based Media

In addition to audio streams online, other Native American news Websites extended their operations in 2009.

Among them is Reznet, one of the biggest Native American news sites. Started by the University of Montana School of Journalism in 2002, Reznet’s goal is to “get more Native Americans working in professional journalism” as well as to provide news, information and entertainment to Native American readers on its website.8 Reznet employs 20 college students as contributors to the website.

In 2008, Reznet was a finalist for two online journalism awards — specialty site journalism and online topical reporting — for coverage of political issues in the presidential campaign by the Online News Association.9

Another website, RezKast, is a Native American social networking site that provides users a platform with which to share videos, articles, photos and music on the Internet. It grew out of a desire to use technology to “preserve our tribal language, history, and culture” before broadband reached as far as it does now. From there, the group started building a broadband infrastructure to pave the way for the website.

By October 2009, RezKast claimed more than 1,000 members and provided numerous video channels. The most popular channels after entertainment are culture and Language, and Activism and Politics. RezKast is supported by Many Cultures, 1 Community, the Coeur d’Alene reservation youth activities group.10

A new venture from News From Indian Country is IndianCountryTV.com, which started in July 2008 with a $148 flip video camera and the hope to bring video news to Native Americans on the Internet. The show has grown to become a roundup of news of interest to American Indians and broadcasts online daily. The staff produced 500 programs by October 2009 and has a goal of producing 1,000 more in the next year.11 Indian Country Communications hopes to bring the show to cable television.12

Print

If radio and digital are seeing encouraging expansion, Native American newspapers had a mixed 2009. The two biggest, Indian Country Today and News From Indian Country, evolved into multimedia efforts, but at least two others went out of business.

The most widely read newspaper among Native Americans is Indian Country Today, established in 1981. Owned by Four Directions Media of the Oneida Nation of New York, the weekly newspaper is distributed nationally and available for subscription both in hard copy and online. The company also prints glossy magazines and produces audio programs carried by Native American-owned public radio stations. 13, 14

Another major Native American newspaper is News From Indian Country, published by Indian Country Communications, which calls itself an “independent, Indian-owned, reservation-based” newspaper on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Reservation in northern Wisconsin. It says it is one of the “few tribally oriented publications that is not owned, or politically controlled by a tribal government.”15

In 2010, the newspaper cut down to 14 issues a year from 24 in 2009 and 26 in 2008. The newspaper’s editor, Paul DeMain said the reduction was in response to decreased advertising and subscription revenue. In addition to its monthly newspaper, News From Indian Country prints two special editions a year, including one on the annual pow-wow that sells particularly well, according to DeMain.16 The newspaper publishes both print and online, and includes national news as well as information specific to a Native American audience.17

DeMain said 3,800 copies were circulated to both paid subscribers and stores in 2009. Still, he says this figure is “about half of what [News From Indian Country] mailed out four or five years ago.” In 2009, though, according to DeMain, readership appears to have stabilized.18 Also in 2009 the newspaper launched a digital television station, IndianCountryTV.com. (Read more in Other Web-Based Media)

Some smaller newspapers survived by cutting back on expenses. The Navajo-Hopi Observer of Flagstaff, Ariz., slimmed to 8 pages from 24 in late 2008. By September 2009, the paper had regained some of its advertisers and was back up to 10 or 12 pages. Its managing editor, Wells Makhee, expressed confidence in its future, saying his paper has “a unique niche in our particular region that must make us immune” to the recession.19

Another newspaper was sold in 2009. The five-year-old Lakota Country Times was sold in March to Connie Louise Smith, who said the newspaper’s success is based on keeping the content community-based. “Those who try to stay nationwide [in their coverage] are hurting,” Smith said.20

In 2008, the paper began what many in mainstream media have been shy to try themselves: charging for its content online. So far the move seems at least partly successful. From 2008 to 2009, the paper gained 300 online subscribers paying $35 a year to read its Web content.21

Several other newspapers did not make it through the year.

The Hopi Tutuveni, the primary newspaper covering Hopi lands, closed in December 2009. The Hopi Tribal Council voted to stop publishing the 6,000 circulation paper for budgetary reasons. The paper had been published since the 1970s.22

In September 2009, The Native American Press/Ojibwe News shut down after 21 years, not directly because of the economy but due to the publisher’s poor health. The Minnesota-based weekly newspaper focused on the Ojibwe Native Americans in the northern part of Minnesota.23

In his last issue released in the fall of 2009, the publisher, Bill Lawrence, wrote that he was “no longer physically able to do the tasks — computer searches, investigating, seeking ads — that are necessary to put out an edition.”24

Television

Though a relatively small part of the media landscape, Native American television programs saw growth in 2009.

A new program was launched during the year. Native Heartbeat, a television magazine program that began production in October 2009, covers issues specific to indigenous people throughout the world.25

The show will be provided free to interested broadcasters, and the program hopes to begin airing sometime in 2010. In February 2010, the show’s website reported that the program would become available on PBS, NBC, The CW, the Dish Network and Newport Television.26

The show’s news director, Jim Browder, says he sees television as a derivative of the oral tradition “of the Indian culture” hopes to expand the audience to Asian and European viewers.27

Browder is a veteran of another Native American television venture that remains on the air. It is NorthWest Indian News, which broadcasts on public television, commercial television, public access, satellite and over the Internet reaching more than 60 million households throughout the U.S. and Canada, according to Browder. The programs are produced to be long-standing segments relevant to viewers of all age ranges and backgrounds. To that end, the first program was produced in March 2003 and is still used as educational material in public schools.28


Footnotes

1. U.S. Census Bureau, “Census Bureau Estimates Nearly Half of Children Under Age 5 Are Minorities,” May 14, 2009

2. U.S. Census Bureau, “American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month: November 2009,” October 15, 2009.

3. Loris Taylor, interview with PEJ, October 18, 2009.

4. Native America Calling Website

5. Susan Braine, interview with PEJ, October 22, 2009.

6. Native America Calling Website and Susan Braine, interview with PEJ, October 22, 2009.

7. Native American Public Telecommunication Website

8. E-mail from Steven Chin, director, Reznet, Oct. 22, 2009, and Reznet Website

9. Reznet Website

10. RezKast Website

11. Phone interview with Paul DeMain, editor in chief, News From Indian Country.

12. Lonnie Barber, interview with PEJ, October 2009.

13. Indian Country Today Website

14. Programs include the weekly Indian Country Headline News and Editorial as well as monthly Indian Country Washington Review and In Depth.

15. Indian Country News Website

16. Paul DeMain, interview with PEJ, February 17, 2010.

17. Indian Country News Website

18. Paul DeMain, interview with PEJ, October 22, 2009

19. Sarah Damian, “Native American Newspaper’s Niche Keeps It Afloat,” New America Media, September 25, 2009.

20. Connie Louise Smith, interview with PEJ, October 2009.

21. Connie Louise Smith, interview with PEJ, October 2009.

22. “Hopi Council Budget Shuts Down Newspaper,” Arizona Daily Sun, December 1, 2009.

23. Curt Brown, “Indian Watchdog Newspaper Issues Its Final Bark,” Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, October 1, 2009.

24. Curt Brown, “Indian Watchdog Newspaper Issues Its Final Bark,” Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, October 1, 2009

25. Native Heartbeat Website

26. Native Heartbeat Website

27. Jim Browder, interview with PEJ, October 20, 2009.

28. Jim Browder, interview with PEJ, October 20, 2009.