Axios doesn't know where Native Americans live
And that's a major media problem.
WASHINGTON — Lest you have been given the impression that Indigenous Wire only provides media criticism of conservative publications and their ill-informed trolling of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — or their attacks on an Ojibwe person attending the 2022 State of the Union — think again, dear Wiredians.
Today’s media outlet facing our Indigenous wrath — where are those apparently abundant tomahawks when you need them? — is Axios, a moderate, middle-of-the-road, D.C.-based press place founded by wealthy businessman Jim Vandehei and journalist Mike Allen (both former leaders of Politico). It tends to focus on politics, tech, and it very occasionally features simple Native-focused policy items.
We’ve criticized Vandehei in the past about his poor job at diversity in his various journalistic leadership roles — especially when it comes to Native peoples — so it’s been refreshing, actually, to see him allow some Native-focused stuff printed in his publication of late, like this recent brief interview with Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, in which the Bay Mills citizen briefly decries boarding schools, while raising attention about them in the process. It was surely not a controversial — or even a hot take — but it was something.
Then, to our chagrin, we read this recent piece, from Axios reporter Shawna Chen, who reported on possible Native American repercussions if Roe v. Wade is soon sunk by the U.S. Supreme Court. She wrote, in part:
The vast majority of Native Americans receive health care through the federal Indian Health Service per treaty agreements, but the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when a pregnant person's life is threatened.
Say what? That sentence is so egregiously wrong and so easily fact-checkable. And it’s akin to the old false trope that Indians don’t pay taxes (ask Somah Haaland about that one), or that we all get free casino money, or that we’re all dead. It’s just gross.
As we know — and as everyone should know, especially reporters covering the Native policy beat — the “vast majority” of Native Americans live nowhere near Native American reservations and/or Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities. The “vast majority” are not treated there.
Indigenous Americans tend to live in urban areas, far from IHS facilities (and some purposely choose not to visit IHS medical facilities, even if they are nearby, because they view them as inferior, wrongly or not). Federal statistics easily bear this fact out. A Native on the staff of Axios would have certainly caught that mistake by now (it’s been up since May 21).
We checked in with the federal folks at the IHS itself to be sure we weren’t delusional.
IHS confirmed that at least on this front, we are not. Of the approximately 10 million American Indians and Alaska Natives recorded in the 2020 U.S. Census, a total of 2.7 million Native Americans are eligible to receive health care through the federal Indian Health Service.
Not a vast majority, in other words. And the number of IHS users is actually far less than that.
“[O]ur total direct service user population is 1.6 million,” an IHS spokesperson told Indigenous Wire. “We know the vast majority of American Indian and Alaska Natives live in urban areas where they may not have access to IHS direct care services.”
Phew. So, we know where Indians live. That’s good for us. But like we said earlier, everyone should know, especially reporters writing about Indian peoples and their health.
When we checked in with Meredith Raimondi, the vice president of public policy with the National Council of Urban Indian Health, she found a way to help Axios fix what she thinks its reporter was trying to say.
“I’ve never seen data on breakdowns of where the majority of Native Americans receive health care,” Raimondi shared with Indigenous Wire. “I think it's more accurate to say the Indian Health Service is the largest government-funded provider of health care to Native Americans at approximately 2.6 million people served.”
She put that quite judiciously, and for that and more reasons, we appreciate her.
But it leads us to many more questions for Axios and the D.C. press in general. This was an easy-to-check situation, and it will be an easy one to correct. But what happens when the story is more complicated? What happens when that possibly anti-Roe decision comes down later this month, and it has a real impact on Indian women? How are you going to cover our stories if you don’t even know where we live?
At this outraged moment, we will go so far as to say that Axios’ mistake is such a major one that we can’t seriously take into account anything else that piece says, nor can we seriously digest other Native items Axios may choose to run in the future, without some sort of correction or mea culpa.
They have to know where Indigenous peoples live for us to seriously read them. That’s a point of order.
We find The Daily Caller’s recent attacks on Secretary Haaland far more juvenile, easy-to-see-through, and thus less impactful, because we (and many others) have come to expect that kind of treatment of Natives from certain segments of the right-wing press.
But we are supposed to hold places like Axios in high regard. They are usually fair, or they at least try to pretend really hard that they are trying to be fair.
They should be getting simple Indigenous facts right in order for them to be able to dive deeper into Native policy and do a better job serving all of us — which we all deserve.
We suspect Assistant Secretary Newland — and his Interior Department handlers — expect that from the media outlets they choose to work with, too, so they should be deeply mindful of where they choose to do interviews.
If Axios’ reporters don’t know where Indians live, do you think they really, truly care about the horrors of boarding schools? Do you think they realize their lasting impacts? Do you think they know that some contemporary Indian kids today are still traumatized by the effects of the sins of the not-so-distant past? Do you think they will communicate our information properly?
They simply aren’t the right people to tell our stories at this moment. They need to make some changes. Sooner than later.
Happy Friday, Wiredians.
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