NORMAN, Okla. - The Native American Journalists Association recognizes November as Native American Heritage Month and we are encouraging journalists everywhere to cover a Native American issue. Broader coverage of Native nations by the media means exposure of important topics for Native American people.
In recognition of this month and of NAJA's own unique history, a biography of NAJA's first president, Tim Giago, is below:
Tim Giago was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on July 12, 1934. He attended elementary and high school at the Holy Rosary Indian Mission. He enlisted in the United States Navy during the Korean Conflict in 1951 and was honorably discharged in 1958.
He attended college at San Jose Junior College in San Jose, Calif. in 1960 under the G.I. Bill and transferred to the University of Nevada at Reno. He majored in business with a minor in journalism. He was awarded the prestigious Nieman Fellowship in Journalism to Harvard University for the years 1990-1991.
Giago was the founder of the Lakota Times in 1981. The newspaper withstood firebombs, had its windows shot out with shotguns on three separate occasions and Giago received many death threats including one attempt on his life while building the newspaper successfully on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The paper was re-named Indian Country Today in 1992. He served as editor and publisher for 18 years building it into the largest independent Indian newspaper in America before selling the paper in 1998. He started the Lakota Journal in 2000 and served as its editor and publisher until his retirement in July of 2004.
He was the first president of the Native American Journalists Association in 1984. In 1983 he sent letters to every Indian newspaper he could find asking them if they would be interested in forming a Native American Press Association. He then worked with Journalism Professor Bill Dulaney of Penn State to raise the money to hold the first meeting of Indian journalists at Penn State. He was elected as the first President of the association when it was formally assembled on the Choctaw Nation the next year. He was the recipient of the H.L. Mencken Award for Editorial Writing from the Baltimore Sun in 1985. He holds Honorary Doctoral Degrees from Bacone College in Oklahoma and from the Nebraska Indian Community College at Winnebago, NE.
Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 1994. He became the first Native American ever to be inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame on November 10, 2007.
Giago has received many professional awards including the University of Missouri School of Journalism's Honor Award for Distinguished Service in Journalism in 1991, The South Dakota Education Association/National Education Human and Civil Rights Award in 1988, the Golden Quill Award for Outstanding Editorial Writing by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors in 1997, and Best Local Column by the South Dakota Newspaper Association for the years 1985 and 2003 and the Great Spirits Award from the Navajo Institute of Social Justice in September of 2004. The Harvard Foundation honored him in 1991 for his contributions to the growth of American Indian newspapers and Indian journalism.
A column by Giago challenging Republican Governor George Mickelson of South Dakota to proclaim 1990 a Year of Reconciliation to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee was accepted by the Governor and 1990 was proclaimed The Year of Reconciliation between Indians and whites.
That same year an editorial by Giago challenged Gov. Mickelson to replace Columbus Day with Native American Day. The legislators voted in favor of it and South Dakota became the only state in the union to celebrate Native American Day as a state holiday.
Giago received the NAJA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.