Journalism is rooted in Indigenous communities

From codices to calendars, storytelling has been part of Indigenous life since time immemorial.

 

The practice we call “journalism” has deep roots in Indigenous communities. From calendars to quipus, codices to songs, record keeping and storytelling have been part of Indigenous life since time immemorial. One of the most influential and enduring forms of documentation has been the ledger drawing: a genre created in the mid-1800s by Plains artists using grease pencils and ledger books — people like Silver Horn, Mad Bull and Zotom.

Zotom was one of more than two dozen Kiowa prisoners of war imprisoned at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida, in the 1870s at the end of the Red River War. During that conflict, tribes fought to stop the United States’ violent, and illegal, expansion into the Great Plains. Zotom and other prisoners documented their journey to prison and their experiences in ledger drawings — a stunning piece of visual reporting that testifies to the innovative styles of storytelling and documentation of 19th century Indigenous communities. This distinctive style of reporting, which has been criminally undervalued by journalism historians, stems not from a tradition rooted in Western democracy, but rather from the desire to record events in ways that reflect a community’s values, interests and priorities.

With this tradition in mind, we embraced an unusual medium this issue: the graphic novel. The story of the Nizhóní Girls is a contemporary story, one common to Indian Country though overlooked by non-Indigenous reporters. This is the story’s strength: It is the record of a moment and reflects the values and priorities of one group of Native artists at one point in our collective history.

  • Liz McKenzie in her garage before the Nizhóní Girls' September show.

    Tristan Ahtone/NewTowncarShare News
  • Rebecca Jones, Nizhóní Girls' lead guitar player.

    Tristan Ahtone/NewTowncarShare News
  • Lisa Lorenzo, the band's drummer, during their opening set for artist Shonen Knife.

    Tristan Ahtone/NewTowncarShare News
  • Liz McKenzie during the band's sound check.

    Tristan Ahtone/NewTowncarShare News
  • Artist Shaun Beyale sketches concept drawings during the Nizhóní Girls' show.

    Tristan Ahtone/NewTowncarShare News
  • Liz McKenzie performs onstage at Launchpad in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    Tristan Ahtone/NewTowncarShare News
  • The Nizhóní Girls, from left, bassist Liz Mackenzie, guitarist Becki Jones and drummer Lisa Lorenzo, in Glass Beach, near Albuquerque, New Mexico, last month.

    Nate Lemuel/Darklisted Photography

And we decided to tackle this story with the help of an all-Indigenous team. Jason Asenap (Comanche), a regular contributor to HCN (and a personal friend), is also an accomplished screenwriter. While we can’t afford to produce his screenplays (yet), we can find creative and dramatic ways to bring his visions to life — in this case, the graphic novel.

Tristan Ahtone, associate editor
Brooke Warren/NewTowncarShare News

Shaun Beyale (Navajo), an accomplished artist — and a former classmate of mine at the Institute of American Indian Arts — helped bring this story to life. Beyale’s work typically explores the fantastical elements common to the comic book world. His project Ayla: The Monster Slayer is set in a post-apocalyptic Southwest where humankind is on the brink of extinction. Ayla, a Navajo superhero, must protect her people and restore balance to a land ruled by an evil force. Beyale’s ability to visualize the Nizhóní Girls’ story enabled him to serve, essentially, as “photographer” for this issue’s feature.

From codices to calendars, from ledger drawings to graphic novels, the visual journalism we present in this issue is deeply rooted in Indigenous experiences, traditions, themes and values that explore ideas of friendship, family — and, of course, a little rock n’ roll. We hope this story speaks to you as well.

Tristan Ahtone is associate editor at NewTowncarShare News, overseeing the tribal affairs desk.

Follow @tahtone

Republish Print
NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • MOUNTAIN BIKE HEAVEN!
    Home For Sale $320,000. Apple Valley, UT. It is in a very quiet, peaceful part of the county and has the dark night sky. It...
  • GENTLE WILD HORSES NEED HOMES
    Jicarilla Mustang Heritage Alliance gentles and finds homes for mustangs. With every day, more homes are needed for wonderful loving horses. Can you Save a...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Colorado Conservancy is seeking an innovative and dynamic Executive Director to build on growing regional impact within the current strategic plan. This is a...
  • WESTERN MONTANA FIELD COORDINATOR
    Job Title: Western Montana Field Coordinator Reports to: Programs and Partnerships Director Compensation: $33,000 - $37,000, plus competitive health benefits, retirement savings, and vacation leave....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Please send a resume and cover letter including salary requirements to [email protected] The Madison River Foundation is a fast growing, non-profit that preserves, protects, and...
  • CAMPAIGN OUTREACH ASSISTANT - SALMON AND STEELHEAD
    The Campaign Outreach Assistant will be responsible for grassroots efforts to organize, empower and mobilize supporters to take action in support of ICL's salmon and...
  • OWN YOUR DREAM - TAOS BIKE SHOP FOR SALE
    Gearing Up, well established, profitable, full service bicycle shop. MLS #103930. Contact: 435-881-3741.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • PLANNING MANAGER - FORT COLLINS NATURAL AREAS
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking an Environmental Planning Manager in the Natural Areas Department. The Department has an annual budget of approximately $13...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Colorado Canyons Association seeks an Executive Director to join a motivated board of directors, an experienced staff, and a strong national following at an important...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • LOOKING FOR EXPERIENCED FARMER
    for 25-year certified organic vegetable farm. Business arrangements flexible. 7 acres raised beds. Excellent infrastructure. NW Montana. Contact: [email protected]
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM NM MOUNTAIN VALLEY HOME
    Home/horse property on 22.8 acres, pasture & ponderosa pines, near Mora, NM. Views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Near fishing, skiing, back-country hiking. Taos...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    - Project Manager nat. res. mgmt, stream restoration, conservation http://www.washingtonwatertrust.org
  • CLIMATE EDUCATION & STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM MANAGER
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a wildly enthusiastic person to develop curriculum and educational, stewardship, and ecological restoration goals for a new grant-funded program.
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE, INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES INITIATIVE, NOVO FOUNDATION
    About NoVo Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social...
  • SEEKING ORGANIC FARMER/RANCHER TENANT
    Large garden, current garlic production, small cottage, barn cats, small herd of livestock, poultry flock; some experience necessary; Union, OR. Contact: [email protected]
  • PERU: WEAVING WORDS & WOMEN ADVENTURE
    April 2020. A 13-day women-only immersion into the culture of Peru led by Page Lambert and True Nature Journeys. Includes Machu Picchu. Graduate credit available...
  • ELECTRIC MOUNTAIN LOTS - PAONIA, CO
    Only 2 lots left in Electric Mountain Recreational Subdivision. Spectacular vistas. Visit & dine at the reopened Electric Mountain Lodge, Thurs-Sun. Contact: [email protected]
  • FOR SALE: SOUTH AUSTIN RANCH NEXT TO WILDFLOWER CENTER
    Seeking LMP/family to share one of two complexes, ranching, hunting and recreation as allowed on a City of Austin held 385 acre water quality conservation...