January 23, 2008

Bitchin’ and moanin’

I recently reported on Isuma.TV, a Native film site. Here's more on the subject along with an unnecessary swipe at us information providers.

IsumaTV. Films Made; Films Seen. OnlineThere’s a choice. We can continue to bitch and moan about Hollywood’s stereotypical portrayal of Natives in productions like Comanche Moon and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. We can; and while it’s cathartic, let’s be honest.

All the bitchin’ and moanin’ in the world doesn’t change a damn thing. Change changes things. And changing things starts with empowering Native filmmakers with the money to get their productions completed and, equally important, a medium to get their movies seen by a mass audience.

Organizations like Northwest Indian News and Native American Television (NATV) understand this and are quickly creating an international venue for Native news and cultural expression.

Add another change agent to the list: www.isuma.tv, a new website providing a video portal for Indigenous filmmakers. A collaborative effort started by Igloolik Isuma Productions, Nunavut Independent TV Network (NITV), imagineNATIVE Film+Media Arts Festival, and Vtape, the new site brings the Indigenous perspective to a worldwide audience. At no cost to either the filmmaker or the viewer.
Comment:  I couldn't disagree more with the opening remarks in this item. Bitchin’ and moanin’ don’t change a damn thing? Wrong.

Information is the first step in any process of change. First you identify what the problem is, then you decide how to fix it. If Eloise Cobell hadn't "bitched and moaned" about the Indian Trust Fund scandal, for instance, no lawsuits would've been filed. Few Indians would've received what the government owed them.

Do Indians still live in tipis? Are Indians underrepresented in the media? Are Indian mascots offensive to people? Until someone answers these and other questions with facts and evidence, there's no reason to expect people to act. Because no one will try to solve a problem until they believe a problem exists.

So that's why I and others (e.g., PECHANGA.net, Indianz.com, Indian Country Today) spend our time disseminating information. We're taking the first step necessary to change the world. Information is power, so the saying goes. Without it, we're powerless.

Ever since the first storytellers, bards, and town criers, informing people has been an honored role. Indians recognized this and so did many others. "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government," said Thomas Jefferson, "I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

I frequently hear from people how they've learned from my website and newsletters and blogs. The word for this is education. It may be a slow process--changing the world a person at a time--but it is happening. Some 50,000 people are visiting this site alone every day.

A hundred years ago, most people thought Indians were ignorant savages. Now many people have a more enlightened view. They didn't get that perspective from Isuma.TV. They got it from thousands of activists, authors, and others who have striven to correct the record.

Of course, I'm also creating Native-oriented fiction. But if I weren't, I wouldn't feel bad about being "only" a reporter. The people who gather, organize, and share information--researchers, librarians, teachers, journalists, bloggers--are near the top in my estimation. Their work is essential in promoting change.

Below:  The opening image for Isuma.TV.


Anonymous said...

Sorry bro, but I beg to differ. The world is rife with those who whine incessantly to the point that their message becomes white noise. Only, and I emphasize ONLY when discontent is put into action does discernable change take place. Yes, that can take the form of public awareness--but I make a distinction between that and aimless complaints.

Just this past week we celebrated the legacy of Dr. King. He didn't complain about Jim Crow. Neither did Rosa Parks.

The acted. Period.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Apparently it boils down to a matter of WHO is bitchin' and moanin,' especially where this blogsite is concerned. And as far as most of the opinions larded in here they only are various people's '2 cents worth,' prompting writerfella almost always to ask for his change...
All Best
Russ Bates

Anonymous said...

In reference to Rob using Indian Country Today as any form of accurate or impartial news and information, I need only reference the following obvious points. 1. They are owned, operated and micro-managed by the Oneida Nation of New York and Ray Halbritter! Pechanga.net, are you kidding? Indianz.com, owned and operated by the Ho-Chunk. Rob, I know you're not Native, and don't have a CLUE who owns, operates and runs what, what goes on "behind the scenes," especially in gaming...but really. You've got to be kidding. The sad part is, I know you're not. Here's and idea for you if you've got the moxy. Investigate who you just held up as standards of reporting on Native American/Indigenous news and issues. Investigate the reality of being a Native American, especially in the US with gaming and just the three tribes mentioned by you (by default by holding them up as examples of news and especially impartiality!) Then come back here, if there is even a blog to come back to when you've gotten it right about who you're talking about. Their own people don't even have a "vote" in their madness!

Anonymous said...

Clearly, action is necessary. NOT just by the over used names, "party line fools" and corrupt leaders in Indian Country. The people's suffering is INCREASING not decreasing while "casino wealth" is on the exponential rise. FYI over 90% of all Native Americans in the US do not live on their reservations. If you were Native Rob, you wouldn't either!

Action by the people, the people who have been more hurt than helped by gaming and "old guard" tactics and cliques, is absolutely necessary and it must happen NOW.

Rob said...

What's the difference between an "aimless complaint" and an effort to raise public awareness? As far as I can tell, every critic who reviewed Bury My Heart and Comanche Moon was doing what critics are supposed to do. Namely, educating the public about whether these works achieved the aims of art.

Since the vast majority of movie criticism isn't an example of an "aimless complaint," what is an example of one? Please let us know.

For every act of civil disobedience King participated in, he must've produced 100 speeches, sermons, articles, and essays. He certainly did "complain about" (i.e., protest) Jim Crow laws and other injustices against blacks--often. In fact, he's remembered most for his persuasive words--"I Have a Dream"--not his demonstrations.

Ironically, the original Martin Luther is an even better example of the power of words. By nailing his "95 Theses" to a church door, he launched the Protestant Reformation. He essentially did what bloggers do today, and it was a resounding success.

Rosa Parks was a civil-rights activist for some 12 years before the Montgomery bus incident. Are you saying she didn't do anything worthwhile until she got on the bus? Maybe so, but her supporters and biographers might say otherwise.

I already gave the trust-fund scandal as an example of a battle fought primarily with words. Indians have fought almost every battle over sovereignty, gaming, mascots, and a host of other issues with words. Physical demonstrations such as marching in protest have been inconsequential compared to the force of words and ideas.

I'd love to hear about all the Indian issues where profound words and ideas haven't preceded, initiated, and accompanied direct action. Go ahead...name one. Because I've named several where raising awareness and educating people were and are the primary components.

Rob said...

Good thing Martin Luther King didn't agree with Carole about the need to point out injustices. Here are some examples of his "bitchin' and moanin'" about the status quo:

"Segregation is the adultery of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality."

"Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them."

"Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten....America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay."

"The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them."

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

Rob said...

As for Anonymous, I didn't say PECHANGA.net, Indianz.com, and Indian Country Today were absolutely accurate or impartial. I said they disseminated information. Period. Learn to read what I wrote and don't put words in my mouth, bright boy.

Thanks for the news flash about ICT and Indianz.com, but I've known about their ownership since the beginning. Yes, they may not be impartial when it comes to their own tribes. So what? No news source is impartial when it comes to covering itself, so that doesn't tell us much. It certainly doesn't tell us they're biased for or against the other 560-plus tribes that don't own them.

Given the truism that no source is unbiased, what do you expect us to do? Avoid the news altogether? Or perhaps you've found the one news source that's truly accurate and impartial--that isn't owned and operated by someone with human emotions and biases. If so, please tell us this magical news source so we can begin perusing it immediately.

As for PECHANGA.net, are you kidding? You must be an ignorant newcomer since I've talked about this often. FYI, PECHANGA.net is owned by Victor Rocha, a private individual who happens to be a Pechanga Indian. It has no affiliation with the Pechanga tribe whatsoever except what I just stated.

Victor is partial to his tribe, naturally, but he links to every article whether it's pro- or anti-Pechanga. If you think he's omitted an article that he should've posted, tell us the URL now. Spare us the stupid insinuations and put up or shut up.

Since you're obviously clueless about PECHANGA.net, here's a clue for you. I don't need to investigate it because I operate it on the weekends. Since Indianz.com doesn't update on the weekends and ICT posts only a few stories then, *I* am the primary source of Native news two days a week. And I post every story I find.

Whatever biases you think the others have, I don't share them. If the Oneida, Ho-Chunk, or Pechanga tribe has done something wrong, I'm happy to post the news. In fact, I've never failed to post a story I didn't like or agree with. As a longtime writer/editor, I can't imagine such a thing.

If you think you know better, tell us which story or stories I missed. Again, put up or shut up. Until you do, your opinion couldn't be more empty-headed. It's as null and void as outer space.

From what I've seen, all three of these news sources are about as unbiased as any source. In addition, they serve as checks on each other. For instance, PECHANGA.net has no reason not to report on the Ho-Chunks and Indianz.com has no reason not to report on the Pechangas. Between them and other sources (the Native Times, News from Indian Country, the Navajo-Hopi Observer, RezNet, etc.), you're likely to get the true story.

Since Victor supports my efforts, Newspaper Rock isn't going anywhere. If he didn't support them, I'd put the blog on another server and pay for it myself. There's no way any tribe or Indian is going to silence me except by hiring a hitman. Get the message?

Rob said...

Sadly, your attempt to provide facts rather than worthless opinions also missed the mark. The percentage of Indians living off the rez is 60-something, not 90. (Source: "100 Questions for 500 Nations" in "The American Indian and the Media.") Of course, many of those living off-rez still participate in tribal affairs and still benefit from gaming.

As for whether gaming has helped or hurt Indians, you don't have a leg to stand on. I don't need to ask if you have a source for your ignorant opinion because no such source exists. Every study shows that Indian gaming has helped the tribes that conduct such gaming.

For instance:


Economic and social conditions in Indian Country improved substantially over the past decade, according to a Harvard University study released last week, with progress by gaming tribes outpacing non-gaming tribes.

Using 10 years of U.S. Census Bureau data, researchers at the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development discovered gains in income, education, housing and other indicators. In every category, conditions improved greatly for American Indians living on reservations from 1990 to 2000, the report said.

"The results are remarkable," researchers wrote in American Indians on Reservations: A Databook of Socioeconomic Change Between the 1990 and 2000 Censuses, released last Wednesday. "In all but two categories, Census-measured socioeconomic improvement is greater for gaming reservations than for non-gaming reservations."

In some categories, progress among gaming tribes was far greater than among non-gaming tribes. For example, per capita income rose by 36 percent for members of tribes with casinos versus 21 percent for members of tribes without casinos. Median household income among gaming tribes rose by 35 percent compared to just 14 percent among non-gaming tribes.

Rob said...

Perhaps you've swallowed the common but ignorant belief that Indian gaming was supposed to help all 560-plus tribes whether they conducted gaming or not. If so, you couldn't be more wrong if you tried. Indian gaming was designed to help only the tribes that pursued it, not every tribe. And it's done exactly that.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Wow, 1500 words or so! Someone hit a nerve that time! Rob doth protest too much, for all to see. Funding for this blogsite does come from a Native source and thus we know what this truly is all about...
Russ Bates

Anonymous said...

A bit sensitive I see. Since I AM a journalist, Rob (unlike yourself, who has no such experience writing for major media), I think I "get it" when it comes to the power of the pen and the need for a unfettered free press. I didn't enter this field self-anointed with no credentials. So no lecturing, please. I could, however, lecture you but I'll resist the all-too-easy temptation to do so.

If you can't discern the difference between those who carp and those who empower, then I suggest you take a few beginning courses in community organizing, non-profit management and journalism. Better yet, hang with people who have rolled up their shirt sleeves and DONE IT.

And yes, I'll let you tag along and take notes.

Anonymous said...


"Give up the ghost." Get a new job. We've got it covered.

BTW, I'm female you fool, and my tribes have some of the biggest casinos in the world! I too, like Carole might consider giving you "advice" or "an education" but that would be such a waste of time....LOL

Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob said...

Re "I didn't enter this field self-anointed with no credentials": That's nice. So what? Neither did I.

Carole, I didn't realize you were so, er, uneducated about my background. When I said I'm a journalist and have published 400-plus articles, I meant it. The places I've been published include the LA Times, PC Week, The Rotarian, Byte, and MSNBC as well as Indian Country Today, Casino Journal, the Native Times, IGWB, and the Navajo Times. For a while I was a monthly columnist for Computer Currents and Business Start-Ups.

If you want to tell us how many articles you've published and where, we'll discuss whether you're as much of a journalist as I am. Until then, sorry, but color me unimpressed.

Sounds to me like you can't express the difference between those who carp and those who empower. Here's a hint: vague and unhelpful phrases such as "bitchin' and moanin'" don't do the trick.

If you still don't think information is power, I suggest you take a few courses on Indian history and law. Learn how many treaty violations, political decisions, and court cases have turned on the interpretation of words.

The Cobell case continues to be an excellent example of what I'm talking about. Feel free to address it. It's a major issue in Indian country and it isn't unfolding because some grass-roots activists carried signs in front of the Supreme Court.

We don't even know exactly what you "beg to differ" with. Are you seriously disagreeing with the dictum that "information is power"? I'd love to see your proof that every writer, teacher, and librarian who ever uttered that statement is wrong.

Meanwhile, I guess you have no response to my comments on Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. So I'll simply offer another example. The US sent 100,000-plus troops to invade Iraq based on nothing but (mis)information. Actions didn't trigger this war; words did.

Four thousand Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis are dead because of one president's lies. If we'd had good information instead of bad information, those men and women would be alive. Because Bush controlled the information, he controlled the power, and people died for it.

Any questions?

By the way, many Indians know the difference between carping and empowering. That's why they've given Victor Rocha several awards for his dissemination of information via PECHANGA.net. I believe he's raised a few million dollars for disaster victims through his website.

Again, information is power and providing information is empowering. QED.

Rob said...

Russ, here's a translation of "Rob doth protest too much": "I can't attack the message so I'll attack the messenger. In other words, I'm an intellectual coward. As I've proved many times to readers of Newspaper Rock."

Yep, my funding comes from a Native source at present: an enrolled Indian. So what? I've supported myself through freelance writing before and I can do it again.

More to the point, PECHANGA.net is supported by advertising, not gaming revenue. That makes it an independent news source. It's as impartial as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or any other news source that supports itself through advertising.

Rob said...

Anonymous, you've got what covered? Your ignorance with a fig leaf?

Thanks for clearing up your gender confusion. Presumably you're no longer clueless about the news sources I listed since I explained them to you. But you must be clueless about what else to say, since you said nothing. I'm guessing you didn't want to embarrass yourself further regarding Native news, statistics, and gaming.

Thanks also for your concern about my employment, but I'm doing fine maintaining PECHANGA.net, writing freelance articles, and selling comic books. Those paid trips to museums to speak about Indians in comics don't hurt either. I'll do even better when the next edition of PEACE PARTY comes out.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
So, the question becomes, are you doing it now, Rob? Apparently not, by your own admission. Lose that sponsorship, and then we'll see if you are as good as your words. Ipso facto...
All Best
Russ Bates

Anonymous said...

Did you actually just suggest you, as a Non-Native, being paid as a "Native Specialist" of some kind at museums, etc. is a good thing? List the museums, the Native community will make sure that ignorance doesn't continue to spread.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

One last answer and 'tis all. Promise.

The Hartford Courant; The Hartford Advocate; The Denver Post; Native American Times; Mademoiselle Magazine; The Ann Arbor News; Scene4 Magazine Online; The Detroit Free Press; The Detroit News. Several suburban Denver and Detroit newspapers. As a reporter, BTW.

Doesn't include freelance pieces carried in more media than I care to count, including electronic. Nor does it take into account my role as a communications director for a Denver non-profit; educational foundation executive director; or my current position directing communications for a large human service agency. In all of these positions I worked(ed) with the media on a daily basis, including published editorials, columns, interviews, and press releases.

Rob said...

Doing what now, Russ? Maintaining PECHANGA.net, writing freelance articles, and selling comic books? The answer is yes, although only the first occupation is paying a livable wage at the moment. I haven't been writing many articles lately so I can concentrate on producing the PEACE PARTY graphic novel.

Rob said...

Your range of publications sounds roughly analogous to mine, Carole. I've certainly written for "major media" that's as big as anything you listed.

A journalist doesn't have to be on staff to be a journalist, of course. I've always been a freelance journalist who's worked mainly in the business and computer fields.

We still have no idea how many articles you've published or whether it comes close to my 400. When you count your "countless" articles, feel free to include any electronic articles you were paid for, since they qualify as journalism too.

Working with the media daily doesn't impress me since you and I are the media. Moreover, Victor Rocha and I work with the rest of the media daily when we post stories on PECHANGA.net.

Odd that you're questioning my journalist credentials when I haven't questioned yours. What's up with that?

I wouldn't call myself "self-ordained," since you're one of the many who have recognized (i.e., "ordained") my efforts. Did you forget that I've written a dozen or so articles for your NativeVue.org? That I'm listed on your site as a contributor? That you interviewed me for a profile and wrote, "Rob Schmidt—yep, the same Rob Schmidt whose blog, Newspaper Rock, we carry in NativeVue—he’s a missionary of sorts, or maybe in keeping with his focus, a superhero"?

I didn't commission you to do any of these things. You did them voluntarily. So spare me the silly talk of how I've "ordained" myself.

Rob said...

By the way, even unpaid writing may count as journalism. Since people seem to be unclear on the term, here's the dictionary definition:


jour·nal·ism /?d??rnl??z?m/

1. the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business.

Rob said...

In addition to my credentials as a journalist, I also have an MBA and an MS in library science with a concentration in information systems. Thus, I've studied how large organizations and systems change.

In general, they don't change when someone plunges ahead and "acts" without thinking. Rather, they change when someone has a vision and develops a plan to implement it. The words and ideas come first; the actions inevitably follow.

So it was with everyone from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr. to Elouise Cobell. So it shall always be.

Rob said...

The museums are the Eiteljorg Museum and the Montclair Art Museum, Anonymous. My contacts there are extremely well-aware of my non-Native background and credentials. They invited several "experts" on Native comics and I happened to be one of them. The others were Native and rightly so.

If your threat isn't the emptiest one I've ever heard, it's close. So go ahead and tattle on me. Be sure to list all the Natives who know more about Native comics than I do so the museums can replace me. Let us know whether they laugh you out the door or show you the door without laughing.

While you're at it, why don't you tell the "Native community" that the person who runs PECHANGA.net two days a week is non-Native? After all, the website is one of the top news sources for Indian country. People might be shocked to learn their news is coming from a non-Native...or not.

Meanwhile, we're still waiting for evidence that you know anything about Native news other than who owns ICT and Indianz.com. Surprise me and tell me something I haven't gleaned in seven years of immersing myself in the field. Go ahead...make my day.