Sunday Night Owls: Julian Brave Noisecat on covering Indigenous issues from a Native perspective

Sunday Night Owls: Julian Brave Noisecat on covering Indigenous issues from a Native perspective

Night Owls is a themed open thread appearing at Daily Kos seven days a week.

Julian Brave Noisecat was raised in Oakland, California, but he spent a lot of time in his younger years with his Secwepemc and St’at’imc First Nations relations in British Columbia where he is a member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen. Now, the 27-year-old activist and writer is vice president of policy and strategy at Data for Progress, a senior media fellow for NDN Collective, an organization building power for Indigenous peoples, and Narrative Change Director for The Natural History Museum, an artist and activist group. At the Columbia Journalism Review’s winter issue, he writes about the importance but difficulties for Native journalists of getting historical context and the impacts of colonization into the narrowly focused stories their editors typically assign. Below is an excerpt from the beginning of his article, Apocalypse Then and Now

In March 2019, HuffPost sent me to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota, to cover the work of an affordable-housing program. My editors had a particular story in mind, and so I was dispatched to source the material to write it. The article would be a piece of “solutions journalism,” positive in outlook and neatly framed, part of a philanthropically funded series called “This New World.” My assignment letter included potential headlines: “How The Poorest County In The U.S. Is Solving The Housing Crisis”; “How The Poorest County In The U.S. Is Breaking The Poverty Cycle.”

But a week before I arrived in Pine Ridge, a different story began to unfold. The reservation was pummeled by a blizzard. Gusts reached seventy miles per hour. The snowbank along the highways towered over the cars driving past. Then the storm became a bomb cyclone, the snow melted, and the reservation’s creeks overflowed. Pine Ridge sits on plains that are typically arid, so these extreme weather events were unusual—a result of shifting jet streams and increasing ocean evaporation driven by climate change. They were also catastrophic. Roads became impassable, cutting families off from medicine, food, and outside assistance. Water lines across the reservation broke, depriving eight thousand people of drinking water. At least four deaths were reported.

Amid the flooding, I drove all over the reservation to survey the damage, eventually arriving at Wounded Knee, site of the infamous 1890 massacre and 1973 American Indian Movement occupation. I parked and trudged up a small hill, the mud pulling at the heels of my boots. At the top was a mass grave of one hundred forty-six Lakota. Feeling the weight of this solemn place, I was compelled to offer a prayer. Lingering awhile at the peak, I watched residents of a nearby housing development walk along the highway to the closest post office to collect rations from the National Guard. I checked Twitter and learned that Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, had driven onto the reservation with a convoy of military vehicles carrying potable water. She was not welcome. Just two weeks earlier, Noem had passed a bill that held protesters opposing projects like the Keystone XL oil pipeline liable for what the state called “riot boosting.” (The Oglala were among the tribes opposed to the pipeline and the bill.) Here before me, in one scene, were the interlocking forces of genocide, ecological apocalypse, resistance, and repression—the imperial roots of the climate crisis and their colonial fallout.

After my visit to Wounded Knee, I could not in good conscience write the story that my HuffPost editors had assigned. A fifteen-hundred-word article treating the housing program as a worthy but isolated effort felt like a betrayal of the material I had gathered on the ground. As an Indigenous journalist, I decided the only appropriate way to tell a story like this was to simultaneously hold in frame poverty, climate change, and resilience, and to layer all this on the history of colonization, settlement, and genocide—one apocalypse on top of another.

To be Indigenous to North America is to be part of a postapocalyptic community and experience. Indigenous journalists have always grappled with earth-shattering stories: either as historical background to current events or in the deep despair of the still-unfolding legacy of Indigenous dispossession, displacement, and death that brought nations like the United States and Canada into being. This perspective tests the limits of journalism, asking reporters to cover marginalized subjects unfamiliar to most readers with an eye on the people, histories, and systems buried and erased by colonization—all without losing the thread of the narrative. […]

THREE OTHER ARTICLES WORTH READING

TOP COMMENTS • RESCUED DIARIES

TWEET OF THE DAY

Lake Michigan this evening looks like a scary place… pic.twitter.com/dc4JalLBKU

— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) February 1, 2021

BLAST FROM THE PAST

On this date at Daily Kos in 2006—NSA Surveillance: How It Puts You in Danger:

Polls are all over the place on Americans’ views on the NSA program, depending on the precise wording of the question, but for the sake of argument, I’ll grab the recent CNN poll that claims roughly half of the population thinks it’s okay for the feds to conduct surveillance and collect data without a warrant. Based on this, I assume most of us have friends, family members or co-workers who’ve uttered the words: I have nothing to hide, so why should I care about NSA surveillance?

Here’s a primer on why they should care.

It puts you at risk for identify theft … and IT’S ILLEGAL

From all reports we’ve heard about the secretive NSA program, it’s a vast vacuum operation that collects data, stores it and shares that information with other agencies, all without a warrant. Anything that’s done with electronic transmission is trackable in practical terms – meaning online credit card purchases and bill paying, ATM transactions, paying for groceries with a debit/credit card. PINS, passwords, Social Security numbers, driver’s license identifier information, bank account numbers, all are available … all in the hands of federal agencies and their employees. […]

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