Media and the Lakota

After experiencing the final project presentations yesterday, I decided to dedicate my final blog post to the issue of Indigenous Peoples in the media. We had two interesting presentations on the topic: from the media team we learned about the Lakota of the Pine Ridge Reservation in the news, and from Sam we looked into the theme of Native Americans in media (literature, movies, video games). We spoke about the implications of negative press or media in which a picture is painted of the Lakota, or Indigenous Peoples in general, as victims, hopeless, lost people. We asked the question, is press in which this image of the Lakota is perpetuated a positive? People who said yes believed that while buzzwords like “hopelessness”, “ravaged”, or “devastated” were redundant and not effective, at least the larger social issues that the Lakota face were being brought to light in mainstream media. People who said ‘no’ to this question felt strongly that this type of media was dehumanizing for the Lakota people. They believed that hearing this narrative of their lives again and again in the media could only be detrimental to the Lakota. The majority of the class sat in this second camp.

I thought a lot more about this after our discussion in class, and I think I am still torn. I can say confidently that a piece like the Diane Sawyer one was inappropriate and pure sensationalization. That type of media is surely negative for the Lakota, and it barely raised awareness regarding the social and political issues that the Lakota face. But we also read the New York Times opinion piece, in which the author stated facts about the inequality and poverty that the Lakota face, and then his own opinion that in order for the Lakota to make strives to social and financial security, many of the Lakota must leave the reservation. This opinion was based in the fact that the reservation would never be able to create enough jobs to support its population. Sure, this argument was a controversial one. And the class felt that the author’s economic analysis was not grounded or fair. I think I disagree.

Throughout the class, my peers often argued that stating statistics or health facts about the population on Pine Ridge was dehumanizing for the Lakota–making the community a series of numbers, rather than a living, breathing population. I found myself frustrated with this conclusion. Of course, statistics are treating people like numbers–statistics won’t ever pay full respect to a culture or its people. But as a Sociology major interested in Public Health, I have to argue that statistics, especially quite alarming ones, are precisely what motivates many people to action. Although some people need to hear the personal stories and meet the people before they feel this motivation, many do not.

I never want to minimize our experience at Pine Ridge–I believe it was essential for each one of us to meet the people who live in the Lakota community. That said, I would argue that the opinion piece, and ones like it that state the truly alarming statistics about Pine Ridge, are not detrimental to the Lakota, but actually quite necessary if true social and political change will reach the reservation.


This entry was posted in Block 3: 2011-12. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *