Grand Ronde Tribe Adopts Independent Press Ordinance

The Grand Ronde Tribe adopted an Independent Press Ordinance on December 28 for its tribal news publication Smoke Signals.

Since 1984, The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde has published a tribal newspaper called Smoke Signals, but it was on December 28, 2016 that the Grand Ronde Tribal Council joined an increasing number of other Native American Tribes nationwide to adopt an Independent Press Ordinance. The ordinance goes into effect in mid-January and will codify that the tribal news publication has the independence to report Grand Ronde Tribe news objectively and free from undue political influence by tribal elected officials.

Though the Grand Ronde Tribal Constitution, adopted in 1984, does state that the “Tribal Council shall not deny … freedom of speech, press, or religion,” Smoke Signals has been supervised by a manager who reports directly to the Tribal Council for many years. This created concerns among newspaper staff, tribal employees, and Grand Ronde Tribe members about the newspaper’s ability to report news objectively without undue influence.

Chris Mercier, who in the past worked at Smoke Signals as a reporter before being elected to the Tribal Council in 2004, ushered the ordinance through the council.

“Freedom of the press was guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution when this country was founded,” Mercier said in a press release. “It has always been a fundamental right of American citizens. I think that when people approved our Tribal Constitution in 1984 they included language for freedom of the press for a reason. I do believe that this is what they had in mind.”

UThe ordinance creates an Editorial Board of three to five members, a majority of whom will be Grand Ronde Tribal members, that will supervise the editor of the publication. The board will be appointed by the Tribal Council and will serve three-year terms. Board members will adhere to accepted ethics of journalism as defined by the Society of Professional Journalists and endorsed by the Native American Journalists Association. “The Editorial Board members shall serve their terms of office free from any undue influence or any political interest,” the ordinance states.

The ordinance also provides newspaper staff with protection from disclosing their sources, and requires the editor to adhere to accepted ethics of journalism and serve free from undue influence and any political interest.