National Geographic about to release major cover story on reservation

posted on July 11, 2012

On July 15, the Pine Ridge Reservation will find itself prominent in the news once again.

The reservation has experienced national publicity before, as with last winter’s 20/20 special on the ABC network, and with a series of high profile stories run in the New York Times earlier this year. This time, however, the attention will be on a far larger scale.

For their August issue, National Geographic magazine is publishing one of the biggest stories they have done in decades; a cover story about the Oglala Lakota and the Pine Ridge Reservation. The online version of the story will be published on the magazine’s website on the 15th of July in advance of the paper version.

One of the most exciting aspects of this upcoming event is that the National Geographic website will be including primary content from reservation residents themselves, through the online storytelling platform Cowbird.

Photojournalist Aaron Huey has been working for months to solicit stories from Pine Ridge residents, encouraging them to contribute content for what will be an unprecedented opportunity to have their voices heard by a worldwide audience (the National Geographic website has a reach of 40 million people worldwide). He has done much of his recruiting at Red Cloud, and students from the school have contributed several dozen of their stories to the site.

Huey, who started visiting the reservation seven years ago, said that in promoting the Cowbird site, he was looking for a way to let local people tell their own stories to a broader audience, without the filter of traditional mass media. Huey felt that the approach that needed to be taken – and that had been missing from the majority of journalism about Native people – was to provide the people with a platform that would enable them to tell their own stories. It has also become increasingly clear to him that modern technology and the internet has the potential to be a great leveler in regard to journalism, and that given the right tools, people could bypass the filter of the traditional media and tell their stories themselves instead of through outsiders.

Huey stated, “How do you represent an entire people? The answer is that you can’t. But what is possible is to help people to amplify their own stories, their own voices, their own pictures.”

Marisa Snider ’12 put several of her own photos and audio narratives onto the site. When Huey showed her how the platform worked, she immediately grasped its potential. “I feel like it’s important to get the story out there,” she said, “It’s a great opportunity for students and others to reach people around the world, and let people know about us. Before now, stories about the reservation would automatically be negative – focused on alcoholism and that sort of thing. People don’t see that there are young people and [institutions such as] our school who are trying to make a difference.”

Snider has gotten the images she has used from her grandmothers extensive collection of old photos. She has enjoyed using Cowbird to tell the stories behind the pictures, and she says she will continue adding content into the future. She said, “We [Lakota people] are a strong people, but it’s important for people to realize that strength only goes so far. Also, people also need to see the thin line that exists between strength and pity – that line needs to be defined. We don’t need to be pitied, but we do need to remember our strength.”

Student photo-stories can be found HERE, and stories about the broader Pine Ridge Reservation can be found HERE.