American Indians portrayed in news media

There has been a longstanding issue with the portrayal of American Indians in entertainment. Movies, television, and novels have portrayed the indigenous peoples as monolithic, ecological, and vanishing. The news has the opportunity to display Indian life as it really is, but do they? Associate Professor at Penn State University, John Sanchez, focuses on how American Indians are portrayed in the News, and what kinds of stories they are covering in “American Indians in Bead and Feathers”


Indians usually make it into the local news when the topic of the story is relevant or has an impact on surrounding communities. A majority of these news stories relate to environmental issues or the expansion and security of treaty rights. These stories often spark heavy opposition and reinforce the “ecological Indian” stereotype.

Other types of stories are reported as well many of which announce a new program or project that will help to preserve and teach Indian culture and community involvement, but not very many depict everyday Indian life. For this reason many reservations and Indian groups have their own news community like Indian Country News or the Native American Times.

In many cases the stereotyping of American Indians in news is probably unintentional. The best thing we can do is educate ourselves and know that not all Indians feel the same way or have the same opinions about certain topics. Jeff Harjo, former executive director of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) expressed desire for mainstream media to be mindful the context that is being reported in a statement published on He also urged reporters to contact NAJA for guidance when in doubt.

Jeff Harjo, former executive director of NAJA

Jeff Harjo, former executive director of NAJA

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