Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today
The annual Native American Journalists Association-Medill Milestone Achievement Award is given to journalists who have made a lasting impact on media to the benefit of Indigenous communities.
This year’s recipient, Lori Edmo of the Shoshone Bannock Tribes exemplifies such a journalist.
Edmo has been editor of the Sho-Ban News, owned by the Shoshone Bannock Tribes of Fort Hall, Idaho for over 25 years; she is also past president of the Native American Journalists Association.
“I feel like I have a responsibility to our tribal people to cover the news and inform them as much as I can about what’s going on in the community and how it affects their lives,” Edmo says.
Unlike mainstream media which is financially and editorially independent of government, the day to day challenges for tribally owned news organizations are unique. Tribal journalists must navigate the politically charged landscape presented by changing tribal leadership that often control the purse strings of their organizations. Performing even the most basic journalistic duties such as covering tribal council meetings, confirming data in tribal reports or covering court proceedings can be fraught; the danger of censor or dismissal hangs over the heads of many tribal journalists.
Edmo has faced these and many other challenges during her long tenure. She was fired from the Sho-Ban News in 2003 for publishing a letter to the editor with which tribal council members disagreed.
“I stayed home with my family for a while after I was fired,” she says. “We lived off commods and wild game.”
Soon, however, tribal members asked her to start her own paper. They helped with donations for printing and a computer according to Edmo.
“I published my newspaper, Native Gem, every 2 to 3 weeks for about 5 months,” she says.
Eventually, the community banded together at the tribal council’s annual membership meeting, insisting that Edmo be reinstated as editor of the Sho-Ban News.
Edmo got her job back in the summer of 2003 and has been there since.
As Patty Talahongva puts it: Edmo practices journalism with a capital “J.”
Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer at Indian Country Today. “We know about the importance of tribal media, whether it’s getting essential news out to the community or through feature stories recognizing members of the tribe," she says. "Lori has been leading that effort for many years.”
Edmo is a graduate of the University of Montana where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism. She was a journalist in residence at the University of Idaho School of Journalism and has worked as a copy editor at the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello. She also served as a member of the Native American Journalists board of directors for ten years during which time she was elected president and served as mentor to countless young Native journalists.
Talahongva jokingly calls Edmo “Mad Dog” in recognition of her legendary even temper.
“Lori seldom shows her anger; she has a really good spirit that helps to lighten intense moments; as journalists we often face such situations,” Talahongva says.
Prayer and faith help sustain Edmo through the challenges of the work as well as a dedicated crew of employees at the Sho-Ban News.
“Our staff is so dedicated; they love the work. Their drive and determination is amazing,” Edmo says.
“We all have a passion for this work.”
Despite limited resources, the Sho-Ban News produces a color magazine during the annual Shoshone-Bannock Festival and has created special publications on the 140th and 150th anniversary of the Fort Bridger Treaty featuring interviews on the treaty’s significance for the tribes.
Storytelling plays an important role in Edmo’s work as she frequently turns to elders to help inform the Sho-Ban News coverage of tribal history.
“We wouldn’t be who we are as a people without our ancestors,” she says.
Although the Sho-Ban News produces content for the internet, the organization continues to produce a printed newspaper.
“Not all of our people have access to mobile phones and the internet, especially our elders; they depend on the printed newspaper to stay informed about the tribe,” she said.
Edmo admits to being a bit of a workaholic. “It’s hard not to dream about the newspaper, upcoming projects and what we should be doing next,” she says.
Kevin Callahan, acting chairman of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes praised Edmo.
“Congratulations to Lori for the hard work and dedication to the Sho-Ban News for the past 23 plus years in journalism. As a working mother and tribal editor, she is a hard worker and we appreciate her work ethics and ability to overcome any obstacle.”
The Native American Journalists Association-Medill Milestone Achievement Award includes a cash prize and includes an invitation to speak at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.