< … Stays On The Reservation


Friday, April 07, 2006

BOB GARFIELD: At a press conference a few days after the shooting last year, Red Lake tribal chairman Floyd "Buck" Jourdain Jr. responded to the criticism he was getting from a frustrated media. Jourdain was frustrated, too.

FLOYD "BUCK" JOURDAIN JUNIOR.: A lot of times nobody wants anything to do with us. They never want to come here. Media doesn't want to come here. People do not have any reason to come here and they could care less. But now that we have this tragedy, all of a sudden our sovereignty is a question and the way we conduct ourselves and our old tribal laws and our customs. Now, we're only looking out for our own and following our own laws, and our intention is not to do anything that encroaches on the laws of the United States.

BOB GARFIELD: Among the few journalists Jourdain actually sat down with in the days after the shooting was Dorreen Yellow Bird of the Grand Forks Herald in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and a Native American herself. She's a member of what's known as the Three Affiliated Tribes. A couple of weeks ago, Jourdain invited Yellow Bird back to Red Lake for a rare interview on the occasion of the one-year anniversary. Dorreen, welcome to the show.


BOB GARFIELD: Now, you were there as a reporter. Did you personally believe that Floyd Jourdain, the tribal chairman, and the other tribal elders overreacted to the press's onslaught?

DORREEN YELLOW BIRD: No. When I went in there, I was really taken aback at how aggressive they were. And I realize that's what you have to do to get a story, but that's not what I would do. I understand and I live the culture, and they were over the top.

BOB GARFIELD: I think you don't have to be a Red Lake Ojibwa to mistrust the press. That's very common in the United States.


BOB GARFIELD: But is there something about Indian culture which makes it a particularly delicate transaction between a stranger and a local, just trying to get basic information about a crime that has occurred?

DORREEN YELLOW BIRD: I believe that's true, because I think there's a long history of mistrust between tribes and outsiders, but the press even more. They actually don't know how to handle the press.

BOB GARFIELD: I gather that it's more than just a case of culture clash, because a reporter going to report a story there is entering a sovereign nation where there is no explicit press freedom and where there isn't – [OVERTALK]


BOB GARFIELD: - even freedom of speech for individuals.

DORREEN YELLOW BIRD: No, no. The people there could talk if they wanted to. No one came out and said that they couldn't talk. But the tribe did not want the reporters to get in their face when they were suffering, when they were mourning. But there were some that did talk.

BOB GARFIELD: On this program, we have often reported on governments around the world which repress free speech and free press in various ways. And I have to tell you, I was kind of shocked to [CHUCKLES] realize that, you know, right in the continental United States there are Indian nations which don't subscribe to basic First Amendment freedoms.

DORREEN YELLOW BIRD: I think you're talking like the reporters that were at Red Lake. I think you have a misconception. It's not a Third World where they have the kind of restrictions you're talking about. They take care of their people the best way they can. I mean, I think the freedom of the press would help our governing bodies, but we've only been government since 1934, and so we're going through growing pains. We are not at the level that we should be in that area, but we have some national, regional and local and also online newspapers that do a very adequate job of taking the tribes to task.

BOB GARFIELD: So what's the lesson from all of this, journalistically and, I guess, culturally?

DORREEN YELLOW BIRD: Well, when I interviewed Buck Jourdain a week or so ago, one of the things that he and I talked about was that he needed, as other tribes did, to learn how to deal with the media. And I told him, I said if you keep the media at bay like you did, I said, they'll do just what they did and they'll use stereotypes and make up things so they have a story. I said what you need to do is open the door and be careful of what you say and make sure that they understand it, I said, because a lot of these white reporters don't understand.

BOB GARFIELD: And is that option now foreclosed because of the hysteria during the shooting incident? Can a white reporter get to anybody to tell the Ojibwa story any more?

DORREEN YELLOW BIRD: I think so. The people out at Red Lake, they're good teachers. I mean, I've seen people who are non-native come in and endear themselves to the tribe. It's easy. It'll be a piece of cake.

BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Okay. Well, Dorreen, thank you so much.

DORREEN YELLOW BIRD: Well, you're welcome.

BOB GARFIELD: Dorreen Yellow Bird is a reporter and columnist for the Grand Forks Herald in Grand Forks, North Dakota.