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Indians to Arianna Huffington: What About Us?

On the news that the Huffington Post website is planning to launch a section for African American topics, Native Americans are asking the popular mainstream blog and news site to consider featuring a space that highlights the richness and diversity of American Indian culture and people.

“I think a mainstream media site could feasibly host a Native American section,” said Brian Bull, assistant news editor at Wisconsin Public Radio. “We’re the First Nations… as far as relevancy’s sake, there’s history, politics and financial influence galore within Indian country, which can certainly establish Native people as a relatively small—but significant—demographic.” He noted that there are 565 federally recognized tribes and many state recognized ones with unique and powerful stories to share in every major news-making area.

Native attention has increasingly turned toward the Huffington Post because it’s a news-based website showing major signs of growth and strong financial backing. Irrepressible political commentator Arianna Huffington co-founded her namesake site in 2005, and back then it largely featured prominent political columnists and celebrity bloggers. In the years since, the site has broadened its coverage to include sections for entertainment, media, comedy, travel and sports.

Associated Press reported that one goal of the expansion is to better reach African Americans, and said the plans are to add a black-focused section in March.

“Our goal is to cover more stories of importance to the black community,” Huffington told the AP. “We have the supreme irony of having the first African-American president, which is such a historic event and a milestone, while at the same time, conditions for African Americans are deteriorating, in terms of unemployment, in terms of high school graduation, in terms of the number of African American males in prisons.”

The section is to be titled “GlobalBlack,” and will be the 27th section offered by the site. It will be the first racially focused section, but the AP said the Huffington Post plans to soon launch a Latino section as well. The GlobalBlack section will have a powerful backer in Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila Johnson, who is expected to play a major role in the launch.

“In all of this digital space, the African American voice is really falling off the radar screen,” Johnson told the AP. “We’re on other radar screens, with other digital sites, which is wonderful. But I really wanted to bring the real news, the storytelling—to really bring back the voice of the black community on some relevant news and views. We’re going to be able to fill that void.”

The news has some Native American journalists hoping that the Huffington Post is willing to soon fill another major void in the American mainstream journalism scene.

“Huffington Post’s site would only benefit from having a Native American section—after all, news should reflect all people regardless of race,” said Lori Edmo-Suppah, editor of the Sho-Ban News, which covers the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. “Currently the public doesn’t know enough about Native people because our news is rarely covered, as many still think our people are in the past.”

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Edmo-Suppah said there would “definitely” be enough Indian contributors to make a strong page, and the right person just needs to seek them out. “Information would depend on who is hired to write it and it must be someone who is aware of current and past issues, because Native people always have to remember teachings passed on through culture and traditions.”

Bull, a citizen of the Nez Perce Tribe, said it would be “very important to have a sizable, dedicated group of Native journalists that are committed to the highest journalistic standards” working on such a page.

“We’ve seen it in RezNet and to some degree, and National Native News does it daily through a five-minute module. Programs like the American Indian Journalism Institute (held annually in South Dakota) and training at the annual Native American Journalists Association conventions could be good ‘seeding’ efforts to get more journalists into the mix, though I also think it’d be important to get seasoned vets making the bigger editorial decisions.” At the same time, the new is making strides in the area.

“And as much as some journalists may flinch at the idea, a fair amount of marketing would also have to be involved, to get the word out and hopefully fire up interest and enthusiasm early before the first edition hits the online newsstand,” Bull said.

The AP included some statistics that hint at why the Huffington Post is adding this section now. It reported: “A February 2010 survey by Edison Research and Arbitron found that about 25 percent of all Twitter users are black, roughly double the percentage of blacks in the U.S. population. About 11 percent of all U.S. Facebook users are black, the social-networking site reports. A greater percentage of whites than blacks and Latinos have broadband access at home, but laptop ownership is now about even for all these groups.” In comparison, several studies have noted the relatively low coverage of Internet service in Indian country, especially compared to African Americans and Latinos, which may be one reason Huffington isn’t racing to highlight the “first Americans” as her first race-based experiment.

A 2009 report by Native Public Media found a large disparity between Internet availability in tribal communities and, “a very real digital divide” between Native America and the nation as a whole in terms of access, coverage and affordability of service. The report estimated broadband penetration in Indian country to be less than 10 percent, which, according to the Internet World Stats organization, puts Indian country behind Algeria, Cuba and Christmas Island. However, Indian journalists like Bull who work for mainstream outlets have found that indigenous coverage can resound with a wide audience, regardless of race, and, in turn, widespread coverage can help shed light on the connectivity problem.

A handful of Native American writers already contribute to the Huffington Post as unpaid bloggers; no Native Americans are known to serve on the full-time paid staff. The organization has said that it doesn’t disclose that type of information.

Some Native writers have found success in getting their work published on the Huffington Post by working with the Race-Talk blog hosted by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University. Articles from that site are regularly cross-published on the Huffington Post, AlterNet and OpEdNews.

At posting time, the Huffington Post had not responded to queries on whether a Native American section is in their plans.