Naomi Schaefer Riley
Published October 20, 2018
NORMAN, Okla. — The Native American Journalist Association, based in Norman, Oklahoma sent a letter critical of the Los Angeles Times publishing an op-ed that allowed a writer to call for the elimination of the landmark 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act.
Here is the letter sent to the Los Angeles Times:
The Native American Journalists Association is disappointed in the lack of due diligence demonstrated by the Los Angeles Times in publishing the op-ed “Does the Indian Child Welfare Act protect tribal interests at the expense of children?” We call on the organization and the opinion section to review their policies and practices in light of its unchecked dissemination of anti-Indian propaganda.
The Times published an Oct. 12 op-ed by Naomi Schaefer Riley in which Schaefer Riley advocates for the elimination of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) by deliberately misrepresenting the law to readers – a tactic organizations labeled hate groups have used in an attempt to undermine the law.
NAJA is dismayed that the Times would publish opinions that align so closely with views held by established anti-Indian hate groups and calls on the paper to review their op-ed policies and journalistic standards. It is chilling that a revered organization like the Times would lack the ability to identify the difference between informed opinion on important and consequential Indigenous issues, and talking points advocated by anti-Indian hate groups based on stereotypes and misinformation.
For this reason, NAJA has published a guide on best practices when reporting on ICWA cases to provide newsrooms with the tools to provide readers with accurate and contextual coverage on the topic. NAJA consistently advocates for consultation with tribal leaders and authorities. Had the Times’ editors consulted any tribal leaders, they would have learned that tribal nations within the United States do NOT support the elimination of ICWA.
NAJA also recommends that reporters never refer to blood quantum when covering ICWA cases. The law applies to citizens of tribal nations as determined by that nation, not federally imposed standards like degree of Indian blood. Measuring the amount of Indian blood a child has is an inherent act of racism. However, Schaefer Riley’s op-ed hinges on this idea then leans on stereotypes such as poverty, domestic abuse and drug use to paint a disparaging picture of Indigenous families to suggest that those communities lack the ability to provide children a good life.
We encourage the Times to follow the journalistic practices established by Indigenous journalists and endorsed by NAJA to provide ethical and culturally sensitive coverage to readers, instead of providing a platform for hate groups and their sympathizers to promulgate anti-Indian propaganda.