Shannon Shaw Duty: 'A free press a priority among tribal nations'
'A free press for a tribal nation is a requirement of a good democracy.'
Editor’s note: This Presidents Day, we’re delighted to highlight some wise words from Osage journalist Shannon Shaw Duty about the importance of the Native American free press. Only a handful of tribes have it, she notes, and the vast majority of tribes do not believe it is in their sovereign interests to have a Fourth Estate that provides any level of scrutiny over tribal governments. To that, we say: check the calendar. It’s 2022. The United States is a sovereign government, but it still believes in a free press as a crucial part of a foundation of democracy. Sovereignty arguments are important, but they can be taken to terrifying extremes. We’re not advocates, but on free press issues, sign us up. Freedom of the press is something always worth supporting.
by Shannon Shaw Duty
As I hold the 28-page booklet in my hands, it seems very small. The Osage Nation Constitution, ratified in 2006, has a purple cover decorated with colorful stripes reminiscent of the Pendleton blankets that Osages wear for dances and ceremonies.
As editor of the Osage News for the past 14 years, I automatically open my copy to Page 2. Highlighted there in orange is Article IV – Declaration of Rights. My favorite part of the constitution is Section 3 that discusses “Inalienable Rights of Osage Citizens” and prohibits any law abridging freedom of speech or of the press.
Every time I read that section, my heart swells with pride. Our leaders had the forethought to know that the press would need protection.
Being Osage and a journalist requires me to go back and forth between mainstream and tribal media. Many people don’t know that a large network of tribal media professionals work throughout Indian Country as a community dedicated to freedom of information within our nations.
We’ve had the pleasure recently of watching accomplishments of our friends at Mvskoke Media. The Muscogee people’s vote in November to enshrine press freedoms in their constitution was a win for all of Indian Country. It showed other tribal nations that when asking for press freedom, they can turn to their people, not just their tribal leaders.
A free press for a tribal nation is a requirement of a good democracy. However, only the Osage, The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Muscogee operate under constitutional press freedom.
The Osage has enjoyed a free press since 2009, when its Supreme Court issued its first-ever ruling and included language that upheld our free press constitutional freedoms: “However, this Court does recognize that freedom of speech or the press is an inalienable right of the Osage people, not to be abridged or denied by any branch or department of the Osage Nation government or by any official of the government. This Court considers such rights to be necessary to maintain ‘a free, sovereign, and independent nation.’ ”
A nation’s laws are only as strong as its people’s belief in them. We believe in law and order.
Over the years, our Independent Press Act has been strengthened. Osage News is our nation’s only entity funded by mandate by our legislature. We have shield language, are governed by an editorial board and we’ve gone to the tribal court when open records requests were ignored.
The Osage News journey to press freedom, its impact on the Osage people and subsequent laws upholding it would have been impossible without the vision of the Osage Government Reform Commission and the leadership of the 31st Osage Tribal Council that certified adoption of the 2006 Osage Constitution.
These individuals deserve recognition.
Osage Government Reform Commission: William S. Fletcher, Priscilla H. Iba, Jerri Jean Branstetter, Joe L. Conner, Marvin Anthony Daniels, James Norris, Douglas C. Revard, Hepsi Barnett, the late Henry Edward Lookout, the late Charles H. Red Corn and the late Mary Jo Webb.
The 31st Osage Tribal Council members who certified adoption of the 2006 constitution: Principal Chief James Roan Gray, the late Assistant Principal Chief Kenneth H. Bighorse, the late Mark Freeman Jr., the late Harry Roy Red Eagle, the late Paul Stabler, Terry Mason Moore, Jodie Revard, Jerry Shaw, Dudley Whitehorn and John W. Williams.
Shannon Shaw Duty is the editor of the award-winning Osage News, the official independent media for the Osage Nation.
Indigenous Wire is a Native-owned, reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.