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Remembering trailblazing journalist Tim Giago

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

One of the nation's most prominent Native American journalists has died. Tim Giago spent decades building a media landscape by and for Native people. South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Lee Strubinger reports.

LEE STRUBINGER, BYLINE: Tim Giago was a trailblazing journalist who got his start in journalism during the Korean War when a commanding officer saw him typing.

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TIM GIAGO: Pretty soon, he came over. And he said, you know, the editor of the base paper is being transferred to another station. So he said, you're now the new editor. That's how I got my start in journalism.

STRUBINGER: Giago, who is Oglala Lakota, brought his newsgathering skills back to the Pine Ridge Reservation, population 35,000. He started his first newspaper there in 1981.

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GIAGO: I felt we needed to have something that would provide information and report the happenings in the schools, in the tribal governments and in places that weren't being reported upon. So that's the main reason I started.

STRUBINGER: Giago started three newspapers in four decades. Mark Trahant edits one, Indian Country Today. He says Giago leaves behind an extraordinary legacy.

MARK TRAHANT: I mean, he took on subjects that are now really well-known. But when he started, they weren't.

STRUBINGER: Giago wrote extensively about Indian boarding schools. In 2021, he spoke about being a student assigned to dig another's grave.

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GIAGO: We were about five feet down. And I hit something with my pick. And when I lifted it up over my head, it was a little child's skull. These were just some of the things that happened in this day in the schools here that I think have been totally overlooked.

STRUBINGER: Giago long advocated for the United States to reckon with its boarding school legacy. Last year, the U.S. Department of Interior launched an investigation into that 150-year history, saying boarding schools were part of a policy of genocide and erasure of Native cultures. Giago died in a hospital in Rapid City. He was 88 years old.

For NPR News, I'm Lee Strubinger in Rapid City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.