Tribal Council orders Native American newspaper to cease publication

A Native American newspaper in a remote area of northern California has learned the hard way that First Amendment’s safeguards do not necessarily apply on a tribal reservation.

The two-person staff of the Two Rivers Tribune in eastern Humboldt County, a weekly newspaper owned by the Hoopa Valley Tribe, was ordered by tribal authorities to cease publication “effective immediately.” The Hoopa Valley Tribal Council, while citing financial considerations, made clear that displeasure with the Tribune’s editorial policies figured prominently in the decision to shut down the newspaper.

Council chairman Leonard Masten, in a memo to the Tribune staff, said that he was “very disappointed” in recent articles published in the paper, apparently referring to an interview with a fugitive and news coverage of a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. He said these articles were “not in the best interest of the tribe.”

Hopefully Masten and other Council members will come to their senses and realize that the Hoopa tribe’s members are best served by a publication that is independent of the tribe’s government. Even though tribal authorities, as the Tribune’s owners, may have the power to dictate what stories the paper publishes, their exercise of that power is an offense to the tribal members–the voters–who elected them and to whom they are, in theory, accountable.

Voters want a real newspaper, not a tribal propaganda organ.

Peter Scheer
Vice President, NFOIC, Executive Director, First Amendment Coalition