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Native American Student Publication in Hot Water

A Native American student publication at the University of Arizona may have to find a new place to call home as the American Indian Studies program at the university may evict them.

By every indication the 20th anniversary issue of Red Ink magazine, which came out in April, should have been a triumph. The theme of renewal coursed through its 140 pages. Featuring a selection of past “Best of” Red Ink articles and poems, this special edition of the journal, published at the University of Arizona, had a cover depicting an artist’s rendition of Standing Rock Sioux writer and activist Vine Deloria Jr. Before leaving for his summer break, Red Ink Editor Joseph Quintana Ramirez, Santo Domingo, commended the student staff on a job well done.

So he was astonished when the head of Arizona’s American Indian Studies (AIS) Program notified him this summer that the magazine, which is published under AIS auspices, would have to vacate its offices by September 15.

It is not entirely clear why Red Ink is faced with eviction, which in any event has now been postponed until October 15. “It completely caught us off guard,” Ramirez said. “I can usually read between the lines, but I didn’t see this one coming.”

But by all indications, the department has determined that there are long- and short-term academic, editorial, and financial problems with the publication.

When it debuted in 1989, Red Ink was just another alternative university magazine. Today, however—and despite a two-year break in publication at one point—it has made a name for itself by delving into some of Indian country’s most pertinent topics. Coming out twice a year, always with a theme to each issue (“Humor and Taboo,” “Gender,” etc.), Red Ink has grown into a widely admired glossy filled with a variety of articles, photos, poetry, fiction, and art. According to Ramirez, the magazine has nearly 100 subscribers.

But on August 1, Ramirez said, he received a letter from Ronald Trosper, who on July 1 succeeded Joseph Hiller as head of AIS, saying that Red Ink would have to vacate its offices and sever its affiliation with AIS. No reasons were given.

If Ramirez was floored by the letter, so too was Trosper by the editor’s reaction. Trosper said he was merely acting on advice given to him by Hiller and therefore did not hesitate to carry it out—even though he did not preface his notice of eviction by personally meeting with the Red Ink editorial staff.

“It was a surprise to me that they were surprised,” Trosper said in an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network. “It would have been helpful to have met [with Red Ink] beforehand.”

In an interview with ICTMN, Hiller did not cite specific reasons for the eviction notice. But he did say, “There were some events that occurred over the summer . . . stuff that didn’t get published should have been in the publication.”

He was referring to a 20th anniversary issue piece titled “Celebrating Native American Indian Lives: Indigenous Reggae Music in the United States,” written by Neal Ullestad, a contributor from Pima Community College. For some reason, neither Ullestad’s byline nor an author’s biography was featured anywhere in the issue; no Red Ink staffer has provided a clear explanation of the omission. Ullestad told ICTMN that when he saw an early draft of the article, sans any identification, he was told, “Don’t worry, it will be taken care of.”

But Ullestad said it was not: “They claimed that they were following up on it and I never heard from them.” He did acknowledge that Hiller wrote him “a very thoughtful and respectful letter apologizing for the mistake.”

According to Hiller, this was not an isolated incident. “The Ullestad case,” he told ICTMN, “is one that was a repeat in a history of problems.”

Red Ink has also come under fire because of the anniversary issue’s production costs, which Trosper told ICTMN exceeded its profits. The AIS program contributed $2,500 to the issue. “We all have a problem with the glossiness and fanciness of the publication,” Trosper said.

But Ramirez said the magazine had covered the $8,000 cost of printing 350 copies of the anniversary issue. He also said he was puzzled by Trosper’s financial concerns because Red Ink is a student-run organization that conducts its own fund-raisers and has regular donors. “We pay for everything,” he said. He added that if he had known the $2,500 donation from AIS would be problematic, he would not have accepted it.

A further strike against Red Ink, Trosper said, was cited by Hiller, who told him the magazine was distracting students from their studies. Ramirez disagrees strongly with this assessment. Most students working for the magazine, he said, maintain a 3.0 grade-point average or higher.

Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu, a Ph.D. candidate who is Red Ink’s marketing officer, said she “almost laughed” when she first heard the distraction claim. “Red Ink is by no means a distraction from my classwork, compared to my teacher assistantship,” she said.

For all of the problems that the American Indian Studies administration has with Red Ink, its eviction is by no means certain. As the deadline for vacating its offices has been extended, so too have discussions among the principal players in the conflict. In his letter of August 1, Trosper said that Red Ink could continue to publish under certain conditions. After finding a new advisor, it could apply for funding from Associated Students of the University of Arizona, the student services and advocacy group. Red Ink would also have to secure new office space. And at a meeting with six Red Ink staff and Ramirez on August 30, Trosper reportedly asked that the participants submit a revised business plan.

Trosper would also like to institute a faculty review of each issue before it goes to print to ensure that there are no errors that could spell legal trouble for the department. Ullestad’s missing byline and author’s biography, Trosper said, worried him sufficiently to seek legal counsel from one of the University of Arizona’s seven staff attorneys.

But in a phone interview, Ullestad said he never intended to bring legal action against Red Ink. He merely wanted the staff to personally address his concerns and demonstrate that they were sincere in trying to rectify their failure to acknowledge his contribution to the anniversary issue.

“I don’t want to cause them more trouble than I already have,” he said. “I think it’s important they stay in business and continue to do their work.”

Ramirez said he was given to understand that continuing Red Ink negotiations were contingent upon one condition—that the staff cease discussing the controversy with the media. “Currently Trosper’s requirements for continued discussion to remain with the department are that we are no longer to give any more public interviews about our discussions,” he said.

Trosper said he did tell Red Ink staff that he wanted them to avoid press interviews as the issue continues to be hashed out between the department and the magazine. But he said that “they misunderstood” his message, and that negotiations would not be called off if students chose to speak publicly on the matter.

“I didn’t want that to be subjected to reporting while in negotiations,” he said. “They can tell you what they want.… It’s just that I don’t want that.”

Meanwhile, as October 15 looms, Ramirez has come to realize that there is much that remains to be done.

“It has not been a goal of the publication to sever a 20-year connection with the department,” he said. “Our decisions are not hastily thought out as we’ve sought the advice of past staff members, community members and respected elders who could lend insight on how to move forward.”