Exposing How US Universities Profited from Indigenous Land

A joint investigation by a historian and a journalist revealed that a number of US universities were beneficiaries from land expropriated from Indigenous communities. The authors, Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone, reveal what tools helped them uncover the story. They built a geodatabase and traced the money to find out where the land had come from and how much was paid for it.

Getting Documents, Dealing with Whistleblowers, and Staying Safe

Getting information from official or unofficial sources lies at the heart of investigative journalism. This section of the GIJN/NAJA guide covers:

How to make official requests for information
How to work with whistleblowers
How to protect yourself

Using Access Laws to Get Information
Information laws are key prying devices in the investigative toolkit. However, the unique legal status of Indigenous governmental bodies may result in unique challenges when pursuing open information requests with these entities. The freedom of information laws of the United States and Canada do not cover tribal nations and few tribes have adopted their own access laws. There are also nuances in national laws.

Indigenous Data Sovereignty

He whenua hou, Te Ao Raraunga Te Ao Raraunga, He whenua hou

In Maori that phrase means, “Data is a new world, a world of opportunity.”

The lack of reliable and consistent data results in a paucity of evidence-based Indigenous policy-making.For Indigenous peoples worldwide, the lack of good data about their communities and their limited control over the collection and use of the data have serious consequences. The lack of reliable and consistent data results in a paucity of evidence-based Indigenous policy-making. This GIJN/NAJA guide explores what investigative opportunities exist for journalists regarding the bundle of issues known as “Indigenous data sovereignty.” Although this topic may sound philosophical and ethereal, the real-world ramifications are significant, affecting the creation of policies and the dispersal of funds. Background
Indigenous data sovereignty (IDS) issues are multifaceted.

Covering the Climate Crisis

From the tropics to the Arctic, Indigenous peoples are on the front lines of the climate crisis. Investigative reporting is critical to tell their stories, delve into the causes and effects of global warming, and examine mitigation strategies. Indigenous communities worldwide are witnessing the impacts of warmer temperatures. They are also part of the solution.“Western scientific evidence is now saying what our Indigenous peoples have been expressing for a long time: Life as we know it is in danger,” said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the US-based Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, in a 2019 Truthout article. Indigenous communities worldwide are witnessing the impacts of warmer temperatures.

Investigating Criminal Justice

In early 2019, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples expressed serious concerns about the systems of justice for Indigenous persons, announcing plans to write a thematic report and inviting public input. Although stories about singular crimes play out daily in the media, it is rarer to see examinations of systemic problems within the criminal justice system.In her call for comments, Victoria Tauli Corpuz cited these “main concerns”:

The lack of effective recognition of, and support for, their systems of justice by local, regional, and national level authorities. Ongoing discriminatory and prejudicial attitudes against Indigenous peoples and their systems of justice. The lack of effective methods of coordination between their justice systems and the State ordinary justice authorities. She intends to address these issues “through an examination of international standards regarding Indigenous customary justice, access to justice, and the right to a fair trial, as well as lessons learned from domestic legislation and judicial decisions addressing Indigenous customary justice, as well as observations and recommendations made by international human rights bodies.”

Corpuz’s outline could well be a guide for investigative journalists.

Investigating Murdered or Missing Persons

Attacks on Indigenous people worldwide are an important focus for investigative journalism. However, these stories of personal tragedy contain leads that can inform reporting on wider systemic issues which relate to these personal stories. Reporters have delved into cold cases, documented the disproportionate numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous persons, and identified underlying causes. In North America, this topic often goes by the acronym MMIW (murdered and missing Indigenous women) and sometimes MMIWG, with “girls” added. Largely unknown is the fact that men and boys go missing in greater numbers.This GIJN/NAJA guide provides examples of good journalistic work done in this area, suggests new avenues to explore, and provides tools and techniques that are useful in covering this issue.

Land Ownership: Community Rights Under Threat

The claims by Indigenous peoples to the land on which they farm, graze animals, hunt and live are often unrecognized, tenuous, and vulnerable. Despite their historic use of the land, they often lack legal security. The exploitation of natural resources located on traditional community land is one of the most frequent problems for Indigenous communities. And “commons” land may be sold by governments into private hands. The absence of clear ownership rights has many consequences.

Data Journalism on Indigenous Communities

The absence or poor quality of data on Indigenous communities presents both challenges and opportunities for data journalism. Because it is widely recognized that official data on Indigenous communities is faulty or sparse, reporters may need to look for alternative sources, or even create it themselves. Although data journalism commonly refers to the use of existing data, it also can mean filling a data void. Creating data is more work, but the results can be impressive, unique, and highly impactful. This GIJN/NAJA guide will:

Look at some of the issues concerning the available data on Indigenous people
Discuss alternative sources of data
Provide information on learning about data journalism
Review data journalism tools
Suggest some of the official places to look for data

Problems with National Data
Complaints about the data on Indigenous peoples are similar around the world.