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Publisher Views Indian Newspaper As Part Of Growing Chain

July 23, 1987

BEMIDJI, Minn. (AP) _ When tribal leaders decided the time had come for Red Lake Reservation to have an independent newspaper published by Indians and for Indians, they called a Sioux publisher with a vision.

Tim Giago’s goal of publishing a nationwide chain of 12 weekly Indian newspapers took a step toward reality last month when 6,500 copies of the Red Lake Times rolled off the presses.

This city at the headwaters of the Mississippi River is better known for its larger-than-life statue of the legendary white lumberjack Paul Bunyan and and his blue ox, Babe, than as the home of the Red Lake band of Chippewa Indians.

If Giago’s dream comes true, that will change.

″I’m starting a chain of newspapers to tell our version of history,″ said Giago, 52, who has published the Lakota Times on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Martin, S.D., for the past seven years.

Giago, whose syndicated column appears in 19 newspapers, gained nationwide acclaim in 1985 by winning the H.L. Mencken award for distinguished editorial writing. He said in a telephone interview he is building a printing plant in Flandreau, S.D., for his newspapers.

Both of the papers are for-profit ventures, Giago said, adding that there is only one other for-profit Indian newspaper in the country, the Papago Runner in Sells, Ariz. About 150 other non-profit papers are published by various tribes or the federal government.

The Navajo Times Today, published in Window Rock, Ariz., became the country’s first daily Indian newspaper in mid-1986, but closed in February because of financial losses. The paper resumed publication as a non-profit weekly this spring.

Giago, who founded the Native American Press Association in 1984, said his goal is to educate non-Indians as well as to publish news about people starved for good news about themselves.

″They love to read the things that all people love to read, (such as) about what their kids are doing in school,″ he said.

Giago grew up in Shannon County on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwest South Dakota, a county ranked by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1981 as the poorest in the nation. He left home at 17 to enlist in the Navy, and later graduated from the University of Nevada with a degree in business administration.

He worked as an assistant manager of a department store and held several other jobs before moving to Rapid City to open a doughnut shop, an experience he credits with ″teaching me a whole lot about business that I needed to know.″

In 1975, Giago took a part-time job hosting a Rapid City weekly television show on Indian topics and decided he was interested in the news business. He left the doughnut shop in 1978, spent two years as a public relations employee of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and then became a reporter at the Farmington (N.M.) Daily Times and the Rapid City (S.D.) Journal.

He quit his job at the Rapid City newspaper to launch the Lakota Times in July 1981, starting the paper with a $4,000 bank loan, which he used to make a downpayment on $18,000 worth of equipment and a small office.

″I knew instinctively that there were lots of good stories out there that weren’t being covered,″ he said. ″We were the invisible people to the media at large.″

Giago said he expects stories in the Red Lake Times to catch the attention of other papers in the state, just as Lakota Times stories have in South Dakota newspapers.

He points with pride to a Lakota Times’ account of an Indian convicted and sentenced to prison for stealing a can of food. The Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader picked up the story and published an award-winning series.

″I think it pointed out to a lot of people in South Dakota that there are two systems of justice - one for whites and one for Indians - in South Dakota,″ Giago said.

The Red Lake Times’ first issue contained no such bombshells. The 16-page broadsheet had news about a Kiowa Indian’s presentation to the tribal council on tribal sovereignty, as well as a feature story about a teen-ager whose life was turned around with help from foster Indian parents.

The attractively designed newspaper was filled with advertisements from white-owned businesses, from Bemidji State University promoting its program for Native American students interested in health careers, and from the tribal council.

″It’s started off a lot faster than the Lakota Times ever did,″ said Giago. ″I have no doubt it will be successful. They’re standing in line waiting for it on the reservation.″

The council, which asked Giago to start the newspaper as a publication independent of tribal government, took out two full-page ads urging Indians to subscribe.

″The reception has been terrific,″ said 25-year-old Anita Wek, who took over as the newspaper’s editor after its second issue. ″I’ve never seen people so interested in a paper. They’re bursting with ideas, and stopping by to check things out.″

Although the Red Lake Times is geared toward the American Indian community, Wek said she believes it will attract other readers as well. ″I would like to see it appeal to all residents in the area,″ she said. ″There’s a lot of information in it that has much broader appeal.

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