Stories that write themselves
In Northwestern Minnesota sits the White Earth Reservation that was created in 1867. Within the reservation are over 9,000 people. A majority of these people are Native Americans. For Native Americans, a lot of their history goes unknown because they didn’t have a lot of the abilities or resources to write down their stories and legends.
In 1886, a newspaper called The Progress was created on the White Earth Reservation to begin a documentation of events, customs and traditions of the White Earth band of Ojibwe. Today, the paper is a little bit different and is called Anishinaabeg Today.
Anishinaabeg Today serves its proximate community with a free monthly issue. The contents of the paper include community events, tribal government news, and some cultural information. The paper is completely owned and funded by the Tribe. This means the Tribe is able to publish whatever they choose in the newspaper. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean they do publish whatever they choose. When you read through an issue of Anishinaabeg Today you notice that a lot of the content is very positive toward the community. There has been a lot of criticism toward this.
An editorial article from the Navajo Post titled “Tribal Governments Should No Longer Own Media Outlets” said, “It’s a propaganda state of affairs. When tribal entities or the governing body itself is being scrutinized, who tells the truth?”
Gary Padrta has been the editor of the Anishinaabeg Today for 19 years. Padrta did not grow up in the area and doesn’t have much affiliation with the tribe other than working for the tribe as the editor and main reporter of the paper. Padrta came to the paper after graduating from Bemidji State University with a degree in criminal justice and gaining journalism experience and training through the Air Force. Padrta thinks of the tribal-owned newspapers in a different light.
In a phone interview with Padrta he said, “Our philosophy is that we’ve got other off-reservation newspapers. If they want to do the not-so-fun stories, you know, people can read it from there.”
Padrta said he’s a community journalist and supports the White Earth community through his journalism.
Padrta said, “We just try to keep things as positive as possible because sometimes things can get kind of down and out on the reservation, and I don’t know if people necessarily always want to hear about the negative things.”
Padrta’s roots come from the Twin Cities, so finding a place within the White Earth community was difficult at first. He said when he first started at the Anishinaabeg Today, people were leery of him and weren’t sure they should trust a new guy.
Padrta said, “When you’ve got someone considered an outsider, it takes a while to gain trust. I remember it was hard for me to get anyone to call me back.”
After some time and persistence on Padrta’s part, people started to trust him and include him as one of their own.
Padrta said, “After a while, people joked that I’m part of the tribe and they consider me a family member.”
Since gaining some trust and confidence from the community, Padrta has been able to successfully run the newspaper for the last 19 years. Padrta has stuck with the philosophy of publishing primarily positive stories. When asked about his favorite story that he’s written, he said that the story that first comes to mind is a story that he wrote about five years ago that he said he made a pretty substantial and comical mistake on.
The story was about homelessness in the community. Padrta’s spellcheck confused the word “homelessness” with “homeliness.” If you don’t know, homeliness means something is unattractive. So, for Padrta the moment a woman from the community called him to tell him about the mistake, his heart dropped and he thought that would be the end of his career. But, instead, people thought the whole situation was hilarious.
Padrta said, “People still bring it up and just laugh about it.”
That moment was pretty embarrassing for Padrta and maybe a little bit of a learning curve, but he said he can’t pick a favorite story. With a community that’s so inclusive and lighthearted, there’s bound to be too many favorite stories to choose from. It takes a lot for a whole community to include someone who may seem to be an outsider, but the White Earth community has done just that.
Padrta said, “I don’t know that I’ve got a number one. They’ve all been real fun to do.”
He said he enjoys getting out into the community to meet people. Padrta said people are proud of what they’re doing and having people with that mentality makes it substantially easier to write the stories.
Padrta said, “The stories almost write themselves.”
Some people might not agree with the primarily positive content of the Anishinaabeg Today, but in many people’s eyes, including Gary Padrta’s, it’s an important aspect to a community that has faced decades of negativity.
Gary Padrta, Editor of Anishinaabeg Today,
218–983–3285 Est. 5903, email@example.com
The Navajo Post’s article on tribal media outlets (no author listed),
Indian Affairs Council State of Minnesota historical information on the White Earth Tribe,
The White Earth Nation website of historical information on the White Earth Tribe, http://www.whiteearth.com/history.html