Advocacy Journalism - justice for Jawnie Hough

A terrible saga for Jawnie Hough
July 27, 2001


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from the

     Native American Press/Ojibwe News


No reservations

by Bill Lawrence, publisher

This letter has been sent to City Pages' "Letters" department

To the editor:

It's been a month now, since Mike Mosdale's article, "No Reservations" was published in the Twin Cities City Pages. I'm not surprised that there hasn't been much response to the article by the defenders of the status quo, because this has often been their reaction to the Native American Press' exposing corruption and other abuses affecting Indian people in Minnesota: a resounding silence.

Stonewalling has been a frequent tactic of the tribal establishment in the past, along with adept manipulation of White guilt. I have heard that there were a number of telephone calls made to City Pages about the "No Reservations" article: vitriolic calls to the editors from members of the tribal establishment and their bought-and-paid-for flunkies (including tribal council officers, tribal attorneys, public relations consultants, and bureaucrats). In my understanding, the genuine and pressing problems which confront Indian people need to be addressed publicly, through honest and open dialogue--not by veiled threats and other attempts at intimidation.

I would like to commend Mike Mosdale for his article. I thought that it was extremely well-written, and that Mr. Mosdale had a good grasp of the underlying issues. He made a point of exploring the philosophy of the Native American Press--and he did a superlative job in seeking out other points of view, writing a balanced and fair article.

However, I was a little disappointed in City Pages. Although Mr. Mosedale spent a lot of time and effort with me and the staff at Press/ON, the City Pages chose not to publish even a single word mentioning two of the most important stories that we have ever covered (the Jawnie Hough and Clara NiiSka stories). Both of these stories involve longstanding civil rights abuses in reservation tribal courts.

Over the years, Press/ON has made an ongoing effort to document the travesties of injustice perpetrated on reservations. The Jawnie Hough case is the most egregrious case I've seen throughout the thirty years I've been writing about tribal courts: a legal nightmare for a mother who faced Minnesota criminal charges based on the Red Lake Court of Indian Offenses' reversal of State-granted custody of her little girl. Red Lake tribal chairman Bobby Whitefeather's forcible removal of Clara NiiSka--right out of the tribal courtroom--is a similarly blatant abuse of power. These are stories that none of the major media have taken an interest in reporting on, nor have they attended to other difficult Indian issues.

City Pages did print limited coverage of Jeff Armstrong's case--a Press/ON reporter arrested and taken to jail by tribal police in order to prevent his reporting on a public meeting at Mille Lacs. If Armstrong had been a reporter for a major news-paper, the story would have made headlines nationwide.

The Native American Press' mission is to provide a voice for the people, as well as to foster, encourage and promote accountability, civil rights, and honest government. I initially established the paper to help tribal members improve conditions on their reservations. At first, we thought that by removing corrupt officials from the tribal councils, we would be able to assist tribal members in addressing the deplorable social conditions on the reservations. But, I've come to the conclusion that the problem is entrenched in the system which exists on the reservations, and until that system is changed, many conditions on the reservations will only continue to get worse.

Left unchallenged, the continued dependency of the tribes on the federal government will continue to grow, despite their gambling wealth. Most Minnesotans do not realize that about 80% of the approximately sixty thousand Indians in the state of Minnesota do not live on the reservations, nor do 90% of us receive any benefit from tribal gambling enterprises.

I invite City Pages to further address Indian issues in the future, and to help improve the abysmal situation on Minnesota Indians' reservations



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