They appear each week on the Holy Road obituary page, stories of men and women who lived - and died - in Indian country.
“Today was supposed to be your birthday, you would have turned 23 years old. Dad and I are still hanging tough.”
Obituaries in Indian Country Today are submitted sometimes years after the death, often in poetic verse. They are not the only indicators this newspaper is different. They are among the clearest.
In October, the largest Indian newspaper in the country opened a Northwest bureau in the Spokane Valley. From small offices at 10905 E. Montgomery, an all-Indian staff covers news from Northern California to British Columbia, from Grays Harbor to Missoula.
Stories in the Nov. 11 issue ranged from how the Native vote influenced congressional races, to a New Mexico rally in support of gaming that drew 2,500, to a notice on the Boys’ Club Pilgrim’s Day in Rapid City.
“The paper is a community paper. My community happens to be all Indian reservations in the United States,” said Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota tribal member who is the newspaper’s president and publisher.
Pearl Capoeman-Baller, president of the Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah, Wash., is contacted regularly by reporters from Grays Harbor and Seattle newspapers. But her tribal council threw support behind Indian Country coming to Washington state.
“I think there’s more news going on than people are aware of. There’s just a lot of news the public doesn’t get,” she said.
While tribal newspapers cover local issues, most don’t cover other tribes. Mainstream media tend to cover reservations from a distance, often by telephone.
“They don’t take the time to come out here and talk to us,” said John Martin, a columnist with the Ute Bulletin in Fort Duchesne, Utah.
Into that gap comes independent Indian Country Today. With 125,000 subscribers from Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt to Capoeman-Baller, the paper is an unofficial network for the 550 sovereign tribes of the United States.
“In every issue that comes out, there’s always something. We learn a little bit about other tribes and the problems they’re having, and how they deal with it,” said Martin, who occasionally contributes to the paper.
“It’s a teaching tool for Indians and non-Indians,” said Capoeman-Baller.
The newspaper also is an advertising market tapping tribal industries, legal notices and personal ads.
At the paper’s main headquarters in Rapid City, Giago jokes that four clocks keep Spokane time, Albuquerque time, Rapid City time and Indian time “about nine hours late.”
Since its launch 16 years ago as Lakota Times, the newspaper has grown into sections covering the northern Plains from Rapid City, the Southwest from Albuquerque and now, the Northwest, from the Spokane Valley.
Attempts to establish bureaus near Phoenix and Seattle were abandoned. The newspaper is more reservation than urban-centered, although coverage will include cities.
Among the issues readers can expect to read about: gambling, sovereignty, taxation by tribes, health and safety, the rise of drug and alcohol-free political candidates, and the use of Indian land in transporting and storing nuclear waste.
Doris Giago, an assistant journalism professor at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D., said Indians have only entered journalism in the last several years. Historically, she said, much of Indian culture and history has been oral.
“I think journalism complements that. We’ve been hearing stories all our lives. Journalism is just another way of telling those stories.”
As much as it covers hard news, some observers say Indian Country Today’s real strength is in its other copy. The names on the editorial cartoons, columns and honor roll lists are Indian names. Letters to the editor come from readers from Atlanta to Spokane. The paper is also on-line at http://www.indiancountry.com
Too often, people make the mistake of judging newspapers by what’s on the front page, said Mark Trahant, editor and publisher of the Daily News in Moscow, Idaho, and a Shoshone-Bannock.
“The most important thing in Indian Country Today may be the obit section, the notes from schools, the back-of-the-book notices that just would not get picked up,” he said. “That does more for a community’s self-esteem than almost anything.”
Tim Giago named the obituary page the Holy Road, or Canku Wakan in Lakota, in the Indian tradition of looking at life in terms of roads or paths. Following the Good Red Road, for instance, means living a life of honesty.
“I just thought it would be a wonderful way to honor someone in the family,” Giago said. “I think people look forward to it all over the country. So many have moved to work for the military or the Bureau of Indian Affairs and they lose touch. This lets them know who has passed away.”
Valerie Henderson, managing editor of the Northwest bureau, says when she took the job her Nez Perce father told her to “always keep your people in mind.
“Conduct yourself as if your grandparents were in the room. Be respectful.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo