“Don’t be afraid to stand up”, the legacy of Tim Giago

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye and Mary Annette Pember

Tim Giago showed no signs of illness as Editor Emeritus in May 2022 at his Native Sun News Today office in Rapid City, South Dakota. Giago died on Sunday morning, almost two weeks after his 88th birthday.

At 87, the longtime journalist was in his element in the bustling newsroom, fielding questions from his reporters, while ICT national correspondent Mary Annette Pember interviewed him on his time as a student at Holy Rosary Indian Residential School (now called Red Cloud School) on the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota.

Irascible and sharp as a nail, he was quick to criticize the current media coverage of Indian boarding schools.

“Journalists need to speak directly with survivors who attended these schools rather than relying on second-hand information,” he told ICT.

Giago described digging a grave for his childhood friend Bozo Richards, who died aged 16 of an ear infection at Holy Rosary.

He also shared memories of how his little sister was raped by a school janitor and dozens of his classmates who died of alcoholism and drug addiction which he says were exacerbated by traumatic experiences at school.

Long before the subject surfaced in national media, Giago was writing about his experiences at the Holy Rosary in a 2006 book, “Children Left Behind: The Dark Legacy of Indian Mission Boarding Schools.”

Giago took a lot of heat on the book from both Catholic leaders and his own people, but typically he stuck to his guns, refusing to water down or backtrack on his reports.

According to Giago, when reporters called the school to verify his past attendance, headteachers claimed he had never been there.

Prior to ICT’s visit with him to Rapid City, however, Pember had just spent time in the Catholic Indian Residential School Archives housed at Marquette University in Milwaukee. She told him that she had found documentation there about her years in the Holy Rosary. He was puzzled.

“Hey, I knew I went despite their claims to the contrary,” he said.

Politely but firmly, he let Pember know that their interview was over, that he had a journal to publish. Before leaving, he signed Pember’s copy of his boarding school book in typical avant-garde language. “The book you are about to write is necessary. Let’s keep educating, thank you, Tim Giago.

Tim Giago died on July 24, 2022 in Rapid City, South Dakota at the age of 88. He was born on July 12, 1934. His Oglala Lakota name was Nanwica Kcjii, which translates to He Stands up for Them or The Defender. Doris Giago, his ex-wife, said he had cancer and diabetes-related complications. His wife Jackie Giago wouldn’t talk.

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“When I worked as a reporter for the Rapid City Journal, I was bothered by the fact that although I was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I rarely had the opportunity to report on the locals. reserve,” Giago, the 1990 Nieman Fellow, wrote in a 2005 article in Nieman Reports. “An editor told me I wouldn’t be able to be objective in my reporting. “All your reporters are white. Are they objective when covering the white community.

Giago said that in the spring of 1981 he knew he had to start a journal in Pine Ridge. The first office was in a former beauty salon. “It seems strange now, but when our paper hit the newsstands,” he wrote, “we became the only independent Indian weekly in America.”

Doris Giago recalls the first day in the Lakota Times newsroom in Pine Ridge.

“Well, none of us knew what we were doing. So we all learned by the seat of our pants,” said Doris Giago, his ex-wife and co-founder when starting the paper in 1981. “We had to start all over again.

Advertising, broadcasting and distribution. They didn’t know anything about it but did their best with what they could.

They had parents, nieces and nephews who were only 10 or 12 years old to collect the press bundles and sell the newspapers in the tribal offices.

The newspaper company was successful in several ways. He went on to win hundreds of reporting awards from regional and indigenous press associations. And Giago said the paper’s investigations “resulted in fines for banks and the stopping of tribal government scams…The Lakota Times has proven that freedom of the press can not only succeed in Indian country, but that she could make a major difference in the way news is covered on American Indian reservations.

Giago was fearless in his fight for indigenous peoples.

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In 1990, Giago issued a challenge to the governor, calling on South Dakota to have a “year of reconciliation.” Governor George S. Mickelson replied, “I couldn’t agree with you more, Tim. We must reconcile these differences. As the state of South Dakota celebrates the start of its second century, we must also remind us that statehood was a very sad time for Native Americans.” As a gesture, the state dropped Columbus Day and changed it to Native American Day, the first state to do so.

The big lesson Amanda Takes War Bonnett learned from Giago: “Don’t be afraid to use your voice. Don’t be afraid to advocate when you see disparities in Indian Country.

“He really wasn’t scared,” laughed Takes War Bonnett, who worked with Giago for nearly 14 years. “He wasn’t afraid to do things. He was not afraid to speak. »

It got her in trouble, she said. “Some people didn’t like him because he spoke against people, against corruption or whatever and he had that kind of voice, but I know he had enemies. You know, some people didn’t like that what he was doing.

Take the early days of the Lakota Times for example.

“One of the things that was going on when we started, we were just coming out of all the problems of 1973 with the Wounded Knee occupation,” Giago told ICT in July 2021. He had a different perspective on that. . “I thought a lot of the things the American Indian Movement was doing was more harmful than helpful.”

He said it even affected his business. His landlord called him at three in the morning. “He said, ‘You better get down here.’ He said, ‘you have no more windows.’ So I came down here at three in the morning and sure enough all the windows were gone. And so I moved the newspaper across the street to a, I thought would be a safer office.

“And in December of that year, I was set on fire. People came by and threw molotav cocktails in front of my building. And luckily a BIA officer was passing by and saw it, and he jumped out and pushed him away from the doors. So those were some of the tough things that came out of the job. One night I got in my pickup truck and someone shot my windshield and m just missed the lead,” Giago said. “So I mean, if that’s what it took to get freedom of the press on the reserve, I guess that’s what it was necessary.”

In 1983 Giago organized more than two dozen Native journalists and formed the Native American Press Association. This later became the Native American Journalists Association. Giago was elected as the first president.

“The impact Tim has had on Indigenous journalism as one of the founders of NAJA is immeasurable. He was a champion of the free press in Indigenous communities throughout his career and faced challenges, threats and political pressure, but always pushed to bring essential news and information to the people. He is irreplaceable,” Rebecca Landsberry, the organization’s executive director, said in an email. “I know that generations of Indigenous journalists will look to his stubborn dedication to the truth for decades to come and be inspired by his tremendous legacy.

Tim Giago, Oglala Lakota, at the Native American Journalists Association conference in Minnesota in September 2019. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian Country Today, archive)
Tim Giago at NAJA 2019. (Photo by Indian Country Today)

Part of Giago’s legacy and his desire to make his voice heard is his talent for creating newspapers.

“Tim Giago was a serial creator – first a television show. Then Lakota Times. Then the Native American Press Association, later Native American journalists. He always pushed for more, seeking an even better way to serve Indians. with news. Lakota Times, it was Indian Country Today. Then Lakota Journal. Then Native Sun News. He never lost his vision of the importance for a community to have a journalistic record of itself.” , said Mark Trahant, editor of ICT.

“Along the way, he attracted dozens of Indigenous people to this journalism mission. He let so many young Indigenous people know how important information can be – and why they had as much right to it as anyone. who.”

Takes War Bonnett is an example of talent detection and promotion.

In 2004, he encouraged her to create a newspaper for Pine Ridge, the Lakota Country Times. Now called The Lakota Times.

Pulitzer Prize finalist and cartoonist Marty Two Bulls Sr. began his career with Giago in 1988. Two Bulls and his wife were both hired – his wife in the commercial department and Two Bulls in the production of assembling advertisements.

“And one day I did an editorial and I brought it to him. I said, ‘see if you can do a cartoon for it’ because he had a good hand in art. So he did a cartoon for the editorial,” Giago told ICT. “And from then on, every week I would give him my editorial and he would do the cartoons for it.”

His ex-wife and friend, Lynn Rapp, said Giago loves the newspaper cartoons. “He felt it was really essential to make fun of the situation but also to make fun of ourselves.”

Maybe it was an extension of his humor. “He had a wonderful sense of humor and could joke about a lot of things,” she said. “He could make you laugh like crazy.”

Besides her humor, Rapp mentioned that she wanted people to know that Giago “was very compassionate to people who were in trouble. He was always kind to those who needed kindness.

This compassion and her strong-willed personality drove her life mission to speak the truth for Indigenous peoples. Because they deserved to know.

Giago paved the way for Indigenous journalism; the best way to commemorate him is to continue the work.

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