From The Literary Hub:
Two years ago on Thanksgiving Day, I reported from North Dakota along the muddy banks of Canté Peta Creek on the borderlands of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The Indigenous-led movement to try and stop the Dakota Access Pipeline had drawn a massive crowd.
The demonstrations happening that day had little to do with observing Thanksgiving, a highly problematic holiday for many Native Americans. This aspect, however, was seemingly lost on my editor, a middle-aged white man residing a few states away.
Today, the link to that story is evidence of what happens, journalistically speaking, when editorial decisions are determined by those less familiar with Indigenous-minded points of view.
“Thanksgiving at Standing Rock, Activists Dig In,” reads a segment of the URL linked to that article. The coded language in the address bar is all that remains of my editor’s original headline, one that I requested be changed immediately after the piece went live.
“Natives and Thanksgiving?” I wrote to him.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to explain why Thanksgiving for many Native Americans is historically contentious, or for that matter, why his branding of my article with this holiday was entirely irrelevant to the scope of my reporting (the afternoon protests during the monthslong campaign went on just like it did any other day). Yet as an independent journalist, the exchange was deeply reflective of the kind of delicate diplomacy that is as much a part of my craft as the actual journalism itself—caretaking of my client relations alongside caretaking of the authentic Indigenous narrative.
It’s a sensitive balance.
In a pursuit to expand the Indigenous narrative to wider audiences, I have seen what I consider to be relevant and worthy Indigenous perspective routinely gutted from the articles I write. Rarely do these omissions see the light of day by readers.
. . . .
In October, I began self-publishing an “Indigenous version” or an author’s edition to accompany my commissioned works. It followed one of the more lengthy and arduous edit sessions I’ve endured with a team of non-Indigenous editors. The process, for me, felt more strenuous than the actual field reporting—and the results were underwhelming. Certain lexicon and ideology central to Indigenous preferences were tonally off, I told my client. The photo layout also felt wayward.
The story was about a tent city made up of mostly Native Americans in downtown Minneapolis. It resulted in a 2,500-word feature article, almost double from what was earlier assigned. I was grateful for the extra space that my client allowed and for their brand-name distribution.
The truth is, though, I was also embarrassed to see my byline associated with what went online, particularly with regard to the spelling of the acronym for the American Indian Movement, or AIM. In the published article, it is lower-cased as “Aim.” I quickly emailed my editor to try and change this.
“I respect style guides but Indian Country (my own people) will judge me greatly as if I don’t know anything about this legendary org,” I wrote.
. . . .
Most fascinating to me, in all this editorial banter, was the omission of a line describing the Indigenous people living at the tent city as a demographic “literally homeless on their own homelands.” That this phrase was cut across three rigorous rounds of edit sessions typifies my struggle: I am often met with subtle condescension by decision-makers who seem to see Indigenous perspectives as advocacy-laced or, perhaps in their view, unreasonable.
. . . .
To understand what it means to colonize the Indigenous narrative, one can easily turn to the colonizer itself for further review. The Economist recently published an article about the rise of Native American politicians in the United States which has since been described by some critics as nothing short of insulting, and it is.
Littered throughout the piece is the use of out-of-touch language, points of view, and cringe-worthy art which describe tribal community, at once, as a “picture of wretchedness” while also stirring lingering stereotypes linked to the environment, casinos and what’s known as the Cherokee Grandma Syndrome (a phenomenon of people who claim Cherokee ancestry). At one point, the unidentified author writes how Oklahoma’s first Native American governor-elect, Kevin Stitt, a Cherokee, “does not look Indian at all.”
The article, which features an illustration of the US Capitol topped with a feathered headdress, is maybe the worst display of modern journalism about Indigenous Peoples I’ve seen. But it’s fitting in describing the lazy, discriminatory and damaging writing that comes from the deep roots of colonization in our newsrooms.
Link to the rest at The Literary Hub
PG says the experiences of the author of the OP are the reasons that some traditionally-published authors go indie.
He is also reminded of three quotes:
I do one Xanth novel a year, because at the moment that is all that publishers will accept; they don’t want any other type of fiction from me, so Xanth pays my way.
~ Piers Anthony
Performers have the right to say what they want to, and anyone paying money has the right to accept or reject the art and entertainment that’s available.
~ Penn Jillette
He who pays the piper calls the tune.