Experiences in Indian Self-Determination:  Nativizing concepts of Journalism To empower Indigenous Communities


  • Richard Wheelock


After a long career, mostly in academia but also in tribal communities and in American mass society, this author’s current endeavor is to reflect holistically upon the lessons today’s older generations of Indigenous people might share with emerging Native scholars from lifetime experiences with “Indian self-determination.” This paper will focus upon the use of journalistic principles intended to meet communications challenges Native people have faced as Indian Self-Determination has developed into a viable policy. The “nativization” of mass society’s journalistic concepts has had great impact, raising hopes that useful understandings of the very human process of effective communications can be found as Native communities continue the struggle to maintain and strengthen tribal sovereignty into the future.

In this paper, I hope to continue to develop my life-long fascination with the challenges of tribal communications created by the so-called Indian Self-Determination policies that began as I came of age in the 1970’s. In doing so, I realize that tribal identity, sovereignty and self-governance did not really begin at that time, but from the perspective of many of my generation of Native people, the federal policy has resulted in both opportunities and confusing challenges for today’s indigenous people, both as individuals and as self-governing and sovereign peoples. In some ways, the daunting challenges Native Nations face today are deeply rooted in human nature and development, in that the basic relationships between the individual and the tribal community remain a key element contributing to the complexity of tribal sovereignty today. It is no great revelation that communications between the many interested parties under the self-determination policy remain strained over many aspects of tribal sovereignty today. Poor communications remain a major part of the continuing struggles tribal peoples face, not only with the surrounding settler society that has dominated and threatened tribal identity and sovereignty in the past, but among members of tribal communities themselves. It is the purpose of this paper to examine some of ways in which Native people and their tribal governments have attempted to deal with the sometimes vast gulf of ignorance and misunderstanding that seem endemic in tribal self-determination. As a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, I hope my comments will spur some discussion about the overall impacts of Native journalism as I focus upon the communications environment of my own Nation in my analysis.