More Than News: Indigenous Media Empowers Native Voices and Communities

Indigenous people across North America depend on Native media outlets for essential information about their communities and tribal affairs. These newspapers, newsletters, magazines, radio and television broadcasts as well as online publications are often produced in places that otherwise lack a reliable source of timely, accurate and contextual coverage of what impacts their daily lives. Indigenous media, however, does more than distribute news. It serves as a community forum that can help reinforce cultural values and languages. Ultimately, it holds the potential to reaffirm an Indigenous community’s identity.

Founded in Culture

The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) estimates about 400 Indigenous news outlets—including print, digital and broadcast— operate throughout the United States and Canada. Their followers range from a few hundred readers or listeners to millions of online and television viewers.

Loris Taylor is president and CEO of Native Public Media, a nonprofit organization that supports Indigenous broadcasting. A citizen of the Hopi Nation, Taylor says that modern technology enables media to amplify the time-honored Native tradition of bringing people together: “The plaza is a very distinct space within the Hopi community, where ceremonies take place, where the community gathers for anything that is significant.” She says that tribal radio “is a drum within that space that transmits to the current generation and to future generations the value of our history, of our language, of our oral traditions.”

For Native media professionals, deeply ingrained cultural values are often foundational to journalism. Francine Compton, a citizen of Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation, is an executive producer at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) based in Winnipeg, Canada, and a NAJA board member. She says that what she learned growing up in her culture guides her work: “The seven teachings are love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth. That guides me as someone who grew up with my culture, and it guides me in my job. It’s journalism—it’s a passion to find the truth.”

NAJA conducted a survey in 2019 among nearly 500 Indigenous media producers and consumers as part of its Red Press Initiative to gain a better understanding of the values of and challenges to Indigenous media. When asked if their Indigenous media reinforced cultural values, more than half of all those surveyed responded “most of the time,” while nearly 95 percent responded at least “some of the time.”

Some media outlets reinforced their Indigenous culture by publishing or broadcasting in their Native language. Nearly 10 percent of those the Red Press Initiative surveyed responded they did so most of the time and 80 percent responded, at least sometimes.

The first Native newspaper in North America was the weekly Cherokee Phoenix, which the Cherokee Nation first publishe