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AIM Central Texas Announces Boycott of 'Indian Country Today'--Calls for Free Press

I would like to thank AIM Central Texas for releasing this letter last night calling for a boycott of Indian Country Today Media Network, the largest Native American news site in the country.

The letter cites the termination of my relationship with ICTM and censorship as reasons for the boycott and says,
"We have since learned that ICTM is owned by Ray Halbritter who had previously gained control of the Oneida Tribe using unethical tactics. Jacqueline was fired by Chris Napolitano, the former editor of Playboy Magazine. The majority of the salaried positions at ICTM are held by non-natives in New York City and the Native reporters are columnists paid per story or not at all."
Here is the letter:

When I first found out that the editor-in-chief of the nation's largest Native American news site was non-Native (Chris Napolitano whose title is "Creative Director") I suspended judgement. I don't believe that only Native people can do a good job at anything--that would be a ridiculous proposition and swept aside those concerns willing to see what I can learn from this editor.  I Googled him and found that his primary experience as an editor was at Playboy Magazine from the mid-1990's to the early 2000's and read that he had received accolades for bringing in talented short story writers.

I now must admit I wonder how much editing mostly white male short story writers in Playboy magazine prepares one for editing the largest Native American newspaper in the United States serving some 566 federally-recognized tribes (and many more who are not federally-recognized) each with unique cultures and circumstances. It seems like an entirely different thing to me.

It became clear to me after awhile that all the editors, Native and non-Native deferred to him. He had final say on everything that appeared on the news site. And it also became apparent to me that he was directly under the direction of Oneida Nation CEO, Ray Halbritter. The Oneida Nation owns Indian Country Today having purchased it from its founder, the venerable Tim Giago, a Lakota newspaper man of note in Indian Country.

I soon saw that the editors and even business manager I was emailing were mostly non-Native and I could see on LinkedIn many were formerly of Playboy magazine. The office, once actually in Indian Country in South Dakota under Giago, was now ensconced in New York City, far from most of the bulk of the remaining large Native reservations and communities in the West.

When I first started in 2013 there were two still two Native editors. One an opinions editor who is extremely frail and was too sick to work perhaps half the time I wrote for them and is nearing retirement. That was perhaps for the best, as I had to demand he stop editing my editorials after he rewrote one of my pieces as a rage-filled diatribe and published it under my byline without my consenting to the extreme edit. I demanded he take it down and he literally taunted me over email and I forwarded these to Napolitano who finally took down the piece. I published it as it was meant to be here: Big Mac and the Redsk*ns: On Leadership and Sovereignty, Fumble and Fame. His version is still at which re-posts articles from other Native publications. His behavior was entirely unethical.

The other is, I believe, the only Native woman on staff at Indian Country Today. She is also nearing retirement and is not an active editor. She oversees special publications handed out at conventions paid for by wealthy casino tribes and attends gala dinners to represent the news site. A non-Native writer who went to the ICTM offices in New York City said the white staff referred to her as their "figurehead".

The social media accounts are (according to emails I had with an editor) run from the New York City office and overseen by a non-Native editor there.

The staff consists of these editors in the New York City office, and now, a couple of new male Native editors who appear to be more "at large" while the main staff do the nuts and bolts work. All pieces signed "ICTM Staff" are written by the New York City staff.

Then when I began referring other Native writers to Indian Country Today I began hearing back they were not paid. I urged them to invoice and gave them what I had been told were the going rates. One who invoiced received a phone call from the opinions editor who berating him and tried to intimidate him into rescinding the invoice. The writer held strong and would not rescind the invoice and was finally paid. Another had submitted more than one article and did not know she could be paid, I urged her to invoice. She did and was finally paid (initially ICTM refused to pay for her first piece). These experiences were troubling to me.

Since I've come forward with my concerns many Native contributors have messaged me to say they had not been paid at all and were unaware they could be.

Recently, ICTM has come out with articles obliquely addressing my concerns. Two featured Native women writers of Indian Country Today their faces arranged in Brady Bunch collages. None of these writers are on staff and none are salaried. It didn't occur to me but when I spoke to another Native woman writer she told me many Native women journalists she spoke to were insulted by the first article. None of the women were journalists or trained as journalists. They were all commentators.

In today's media climate the percentage of journalists of color is falling in newsrooms around the country. In The Investigative Fund's announcement of the new Ida B. Wells Fellowship they note,
"People of color constitute less than 13 percent of all newsroom jobs, according to an annual survey by the American Society of Newsroom Editors, and 10 percent of supervisors; their presence is even smaller on investigative teams. 
Women represent 37 percent of newsroom jobs and 35 percent of supervisors. 
Survey data indicates that fewer than 10 percent of journalists come from a working class background."

What is sad is that these numbers are just as bad--if not worse--over the past several years at one of Native America's largest news sites' newsroom. A news site that gets more than 1.8 million unique visitors per day. Those numbers outstrip any of their competitors. And I can't help but feel they are running on the fumes of what Indian Country Today used to be, when it was a real newspaper that my family used to get in the mail when I was growing up with news from home and that filled us with such pride. It's these memories that made me want to get my byline there in the first place.

And beyond the issue of equality in the workplace there is the issue of the lack of an independent and free press in Indian Country. Many tribal papers operate under the thumb of tribal government and Indian Country Today Media is no different. Ray Halbritter has not instituted any firewall between himself and the news site. Editors I spoke to, particularly, Chris Napolitano cited Halbritter's wishes constantly. One editor even told me Halbritter refuses to pay legal fees for his writers so they cannot do real investigative work at all.

More disturbingly, when I interviewed Oneida Nation dissidents who claim Halbritter took over their government, they said his main tool in establishing his rule was disenrollment. In fact one said there is, "horrible horrible corruption going on" and that "disenrollment started here in Oneida I know it did."

Disenrollment is a serious issue going on in Indian Country today. The kind of reporting required to investigate such allegations, however, is nearly non-existent. I was repeatedly told by Oneida and other members of the Iroquois Confederacy (of which Oneida is a part) that it would be very dangerous to my own well-being to do on-the-ground journalism in New York state concerning these accusations against Halbritter. I was told that he is a dangerous man and a billionaire who buys off his opposition and has even imprisoned dissident tribal members in a federal prison he contracts to in Pennsylvania. His all non-Native Oneida tribal police force are also federally deputized. This video shows tribal members who opposed him having their homes destroyed in a manner reminiscent of Palestinian homes by the Israeli government.

Halbritter claimed he destroyed their homes because they were not up to code but tribal members in interviews with me that he requires them to sign loyalty oaths to him personally in order to receive new homes. When they refused to sign, they were offered Section 8 housing far from the reservation in a dangerous neighborhood in Syracuse.

The dissident I spoke to said, "There’s nothing nation--there’s no community it’s totally destroyed. It’s horrible. People are afraid to talk to each other."

My source, who asked their identity be kept secret because they claimed they feared retaliation, also claimed that the few homes left on "32"--the 32 acres that was all the land left to the tribe before the casino was built, are patrolled every 15 minutes by Halbritter's hired non-Native police force.

There are many Haudenosaunee writers who have written about Halbritter's alleged authoritarian rule. Notably, John Kane in March at his blog "Let's Talk Native" where he claims, "Halbritter used some of the influential Onondaga icons to seize power as the sole leader of the "Oneida Indian Nation (OIN) of New York" back in the late 1980s. He then rewrote Oneida customs by crafting his official enrollment list of Oneidas (that list includes "Oneidas in good standing" and those who aren't). Along with his new list was his new list of enrollment requirements which include…, you guessed it, blood quantum."

An editor of Indian Country Today responded in the comments saying, "You offer no tangible examples, just a series of leftist statements aimed at no one other than Halbritter."

Also, Doug George, founder of the historic Native newspaper Aweksasne Notes, wrote for another Native newspaper News From Indian Country about Halbritter's reputed bungling of Oneida Nation land claims (he also lays blame at other Haudenosaunee leaders) in article titled "Factionalism Destroys Our Land Claims" where he says, "Skennenrahowi bundle of arrows was unraveled by Arthur Raymond Halbritter of the Oneida Nation of New York." His wife's mother was the clan mother Maisie Shenandoah who Halbritter reportedly had "her voice taken" before he dismantled the traditional clan system of government led by clan mothers and instituted his own "men's council."

Some of this has been covered by Halbritter's enemies on the Native American mascot issue. Halbritter has taken a leading role funding Change The Mascot and demand the Washington NFL team change their mascot from the "Redsk*ns." His activism has been dogged by claims that his mascot-fighting is a cover for his allegedly brutal takeover of his tribe. An article at the conservative American Thinker with a lurid headline, "Race-Baiting Oneida Nation Leader Has Problems of His Own" recounts Halbritter's rise to power. These articles are often discounted by Native readers because of the vitriol towards misappropriation also voiced in these takedowns. However, none of the Haudenosaunee I have interviewed disagree with the descriptions in this American Thinker piece as to the details describing how Halbritter took over the Oneida Nation in New York.

Yet we will never know if any of these serious allegations are true about Ray Halbritter or countless other tribes across the country now facing an epidemic of disenrollment because we lack an independent free press to investigate them on the ground.

This is necessary because disenrollment is seriously undermining the hard-won gains towards sovereignty won in the 1970's. Disenrollment is often used to silence opposition or to simply get rid of other families profit (such as per capita payments) or for payback. The fight against disenrollment even has its own hashtag #StopDisenrollment.

After hours of interviews with Iroquois people who claimed Halbritter harmed them and destroyed their dream of a nation, I posted this on Facebook. My own call for a truly free and independent press for our people:

And to top this all off (as if what is above is not enough) I received information regarding Ray Halbritter's participation in the Karl May Festival in Germany that is put on by German hobbyist groups who camp out as "Indians" and call themselves Indianers. This festival is put on by the Karl May Museum which has refused calls by Native American activists to return scalps belonging to the Ojibway people. Halbritter is the headliner at this year's event and will be featured in an event moderated by well-known German author and cultural appropriator Kerstin Groeper, identified on the program as an "Indian writer."

"Kerstin Groeper is a German woman who writes novels about natives," Red Hair Crow told me. He wrote extensively for ICTM about the Karl May Museum's holding of Native scalps. "Very, very stereotypical bad ones, culturally appropriating and is considered an 'expert'. Basically the German JK Rowling, but far worse and longer at it."

In a strange contrast, many of Halbritter's freelance Native writers are wonderful and respected voices on the issue of cultural appropriation.

Hair Crow, who lives in Germany, says that Halbritter is treated like a celebrity in Germany and his attendance is interpreted as supporting the cultural appropriation. He claims that after he questioned ICTM editors about Halbritter's activities they stopped accepting his articles. He also claims, "they edited/inserted advertisements/promos for Halbritter & certain Oneida interests in Germany as if I wrote it and without my permission. I was furious and we had it out over it, but it had been published. Halbritter is very problematic here because he supports and is in league with events like the Karl May Festival, and very rich hobbyists clubs who are some of the worst offenders. In cooperation with the NAAoG (Native American Association of Germany), we continue efforts to educate and inform about any who use "nativeness" for profit. Hobbyists use Halbritter's suppport and friendship as validation to excuse their activities."

All this boils down to one thing: Native people need an independent press nationwide and accountability in hiring. We do not have it now--not even in our largest news site.

To revisit why my relationship with Indian Country Today was terminated please see my blog at TiyospayeNow: Fired by Indian Country Today--Native Journalist Silenced

Jacqueline Keeler
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