Editor’s Note: While the Open Notebooks are usually available only to our monthly donors, this Notebook entry is free to all in the hopes of encouraging greater community input into our coverage of Indigenous Affairs. Thanks for reading and we hope you’ll respond through the surveys!

Date:  April 12, 2022

Whose Notebook: Marc Dadigan, Associate Editor and Indigenous Affairs Reporter (You can learn more about Marc here.)

Current Focus: Shaping Shasta Scout’s Indigenous Affairs Beat

What is this about? 

When I first joined Shasta Scout, Annelise and I agreed that deepening our audience’s understanding and awareness of the local Indigenous community was of the utmost priority. That foundational decision led us to become one of the few independent news organizations with an Indigenous Affairs beat.

Because the concept is relatively new in journalism, I’m hoping for your help in developing the mission, focus and priorities of our overall coverage in this area, rather than just one particular story. From Indigenous community members, I want to know what you think we should be covering, what type of news you most want to read, what non-Natives most misunderstand about your community, who are the important sources we should be talking to, and, of course, if you are interested in contributing in some way to our work.

From all our readers, I would like to know what questions you have about our local Indigenous community, no matter how simple they might be. What would you like to know about the work and organizing of local tribes? What aspects of Indian law or policy would you like to learn more about? What aspects of our local history would you like more thoroughly explained? 

What’s my goal?

My main goal is to ensure the local Indigenous community is a true partner with Shasta Scout in shaping the priorities of our Indigenous Affairs reporting and has opportunities to tell us – two white settler journalists – both how we can improve and what we’re doing well. Since I have been immersed in working with Indigenous communities for so long, I can sometimes forget what it was like to be a reader who’s still new to these issues and ideas. That’s where our non-Native audience can help by providing helpful insights about where you need help connecting the dots and what you’re interested in learning more about.  

How you can help:

Take my surveys! Follow these links or read to the end of this Notebook entry and you’ll find the surveys there too. There’s one survey specifically for Indigenous community members and another for all our readers, both Native and non-Native.

Why this topic? 

Indigenous people are often misunderstood as “just another” ethnic minority. But California Indian tribes are sovereign nations, although their autonomy remains limited in various ways by federal and state governments. Locally, regionally and statewide, tribal governments and Indigenous-led grassroots groups are important actors in the economy, environmental policy, education, social services, discourses about land use and debates about how we remember, or fail to remember, our past. 

Native people are also the original inhabitants of what we now call the United States, California and Shasta County. The histories of Wintu, Pit River and Yana peoples’ and their knowledges and relationships to their homelands stretch back millennia, to thousands of years before the first European-American settler ever stepped foot in Shasta County. As we are currently seeing with the mainstream adoption of cultural burning in our forests, Indigenous knowledge and traditional practices can play an essential role in addressing many of our current crises, especially those related to climate change. 

Local tribes also have extensive collective memories of interacting with government bureaucracies and with local extremists, often when the behavior of those extremists has reached the height of violence and oppression. Thus, tribal sources often can provide valuable observations about local and regional governance and our struggles to build a peaceful and just community.

Despite this, historically, Indigenous people have suffered from incredibly biased and derogatory press coverage. The state’s earliest newspapers actually played an integral role in promoting genocide of Indigenous peoples. Even today, I’m often frustrated by local media’s coverage of Indigenous communities. While there’s been some improvement in recent years, when I first moved to Redding in 2010, the majority of local news outlets’ stories about Native people ran in the police blotter. When quoting local Native leaders, reporters often pulled the most inflammatory quotes out of context, providing a sound bite to stir controversy but missing opportunities to provide important historical and cultural context.

This kind of poor coverage perpetuates stereotypes about Native people and is deeply harmful for all of us. I don’t think a community, especially one like ours, where colonization happened relatively recently, can fully understand itself and envision its future without developing a stronger respect for local Indigenous people’s perspectives and sovereignty. 

What was my inspiration?

I didn’t know much about Indigenous issues when I first saw Winnemem Wintu Hereditary Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk speak in 2009 while at an environmental law conference I attended as a graduate student at the University of Oregon. In her presentation, she described how the tribe was fighting against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s proposal to raise Shasta Dam, which would inundate more of their ancestral land for a second time. Naive and unschooled in the history of Western water development, I was gobsmacked by the presentation, unable to fathom how a tribe would have to relive what seemed like a clear human rights atrocity a mere seven decades later. Little did I know then that Winnemem Wintu people have and are experiencing what Indigenous peoples face around the world: constant threats from mega-developments that displace communities and rupture cultural lifeways all for the sake of “progress.”

To this day, the truth that Indigenous people have an inherent right to exist on their own terms is continually challenged and disputed. My hope with the Shasta Scout Indigenous Affairs beat is that our readers will come to learn about the vitality, complexity and importance of Indigenous cultures and knowledges. I also hope our readers will begin to think more critically when confronted with development projects that rely on the destruction of Indigenous ways of life so that we all begin to question what “progress” really is and who it’s really for.

On a personal level, working with and learning from Indigenous communities has spurred me to develop a stronger understanding of who I am, how I came to be here on their homelands and what my responsibilities are as a human being. I hope our Indigenous Affairs coverage may encourage some similar introspection among our readers.

What do I bring to this story?

Since meeting Chief Sisk in 2009, I have continued to work as a journalist and organizer with the local Indigenous community, and I’m currently in graduate school at UC-Davis, earning my PhD in Native American Studies and Human Rights. I have developed strong working relationships with many members of the local Native community. While I always will have much to learn, I have a solid foundational understanding of the density of the community as well as the complexity of the history and politics. One of my challenges will be effectively communicating that complexity to readers.

What’s influencing my work? 

Of course, the Indigenous elders, activists and educators I’ve been working with as well as my fellow students in my graduate program are the greatest influences on my work. From a journalistic perspective, I’m really moved by the work of Jenni Monet (Laguna Pueblo) who started publishing “decolonized” versions of her articles because she felt her editors were making changes to better fit their stereotypical expectations.

I also appreciate the work of my colleague Debra Krol, who is an Indigenous environmental reporter for the Arizona Republic. She’s also a great follow on Twitter and recently published an amazing series about the legal barriers to protecting Indigenous sacred sites.

In terms of scholars, Daniel Heath Justice’s book Why Indigenous Literatures Matters had a profound impact on my understanding of Indigenous justice and protector movements – especially what it means to fight for justice that won’t be achieved in your lifetime. Native poets like Deborah Miranda and Natalie Diaz have also helped me gain some sense of what it’s like when the process of demanding that your humanity be acknowledged challenges an entire society’s sense of identity. 

Here is the survey for Indigenous Community Members:

And here is the survey for all community members, including Indigenous peoples.

General

Thank you! If you have additional questions, ideas or feedback you can reach out to Marc at [email protected]