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Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

Laura Waterman Wittstock understood that since Native Americans have a unique relationship with the federal government, it’s essential they understand and interrogate its inner workings.

She dedicated her life to learning about this relationship and teaching and empowering other Native people to do the same.

“We looked at every bill that went through Congress to see if it had potential impacts on Native people,” said Gary Fife, radio communications specialist for Mvskoke Media.

“Laura gave me my start in journalism when she hired me to work at the Legislative Review in Washington, D.C.,” said Fife, of the Muscogee and Cherokee Nations.

Wittstock was a well-known journalist and advocate for Native Americans both in the Minneapolis area and throughout the U.S.

She died Jan. 16 at the age of 83 after battling a long-term illness, according to her family.

Born on the Cattaraugus reservation in New York, Wittstock was a citizen of the Haudenosaunee Seneca Nation.

After her stint working in Washington, she moved in 1973 to Minneapolis, where she worked for the Little Red School House writing grants to fund the school and helping out where needed.

Wittstock directed the Heart of the Earth Survival School and served on several nonprofit boards such as Independent Television Service, Native American Public Telecommunications, American Indian Cancer Foundation, Civic Media Minnesota and the Minneapolis Foundation.

After meeting with Native students interested in journalism at the University of Minnesota, she helped create Migizi Communications, a nonprofit organization that still operates today, functioning as a media outlet for Native peoples. Wittstock led Migizi for nearly 30 years.

“She really wanted to make a difference in the lives of American Indians and how we were perceived in mainstream media,” current Migizi president Kelly Drummer told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“Laura mentored so many young women. I feel like that was one of her purposes in life,” Drummer said.

“Laura opened my eyes to a much bigger world beyond my home in Oklahoma; she taught me not to be afraid of the big Washington government machine and the people involved,” Fife said.

Fife also worked with Wittstock at First Person Radio at Migizi. After the show folded in 1992, Wittstock revived it in 2010 as a weekly public affairs program on KFAI radio, where she served as host until 2018 when she retired.

According to Fife, Wittstock and one of her honorary children Michael Dalby (now deceased) spent their days along with a few volunteers hammering together wallboard and two-by-fours to create a studio at Migizi.

Migizi is part of Wittstock’s legacy.

“So many people went there and learned something that fired their ambition to go on and make an impact on Native media,” Fife said.

“Laura gave me the strength to tackle things on my own. Most importantly, she taught me to always be myself.”

Dedicated to documenting and teaching about Native history, Wittstock published the book “Ininatig’s Gift of Sugar: Traditional Sugarmaking” in 1993.

She also helped produce the book “We are Still Here: A photographic history of the American Indian Movement” with a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society.

Wittstock is survived by her husband, Lloyd, and children Arthur Waterman Simas, James Olivera Simas, Tedi Marie Grey Owl, Rosy Marie Simas, four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and a great, great grandson.

According to the family, services have not been scheduled.

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