Civil Rights and Media Coverage

The engagement with national mainstream press was not the only method of trying to connect to audiences. American Indians developed their own media to cover events and add their voice to public discourse. The creation of the American Indian press in the nineteenth century were the first attempts by American Indians to confront the problem of being presented and represented by white-controlled press. The nation's first American Indian newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, which began weekly publication in 1828 out of New Echota, Georgia, connected with wide audiences about Indian issues. Cherokee Chief John Ross explained to the Cherokee General Council in 1831 that "the wide circulation of the Cherokee Phoenix throughout the United States, have had a very salutary & happy effect of enlightening the great mass of the people of the United States upon the Indian Cause." The struggle over political ideas and the power of self-representation has stretched over a century.

Beginning in the 1960s, Red Power activists sought ways to engage American Indian audiences and developed networks to feed news about Indians to the mainstream press. A nationalistic American Indian press offered Native voice to current events. Three major Native newspapers were founded in the 1960s and 1970s that brought tribal and urban news to American Indian audiences. Indian Voices, published in Chicago from 1962 to 1968, Akwesasne Notes, published by the Mohawk Nation since 1968, and Wassaja, published irregularly since 1973, offered a mix of news and editorials on Native issues. In 1970 Yakima journalist Richard La Course, along with Charles Trimble (Oglala Lakota) and Rose Robinson (Hopi), among others, founded and operated the American Indian Press Association (AIPA) until its demise in 1976. At one point AIPA provided more than 150 Indian newspapers and other sources with news.

The transformations in media coverage led to two trends. The first was a more visible presence of Native American issues in public discourse. Matters of public policy as it concerned Native Americans were discussed widely and sympathetically by media sources. Through the public attention that Red Power drew, Congressional leaders engaged Indian affairs, passed several bills and resolutions favorable to Native issues, and eventually embraced tribal self-determination. Second, political awareness among Native Americans focused beyond the confines of a tribe or region and embraced pan-Indian issues. Networks developed among tribal leaders, journalists, and activists who worked together to confront national Indian issues.