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Influential Lakota journalist Tim Giago dies at 88

Tim Giago
Andrew Bork
Tim Giago

A longtime, legendary Lakota newsman has died.

Tim Giago, most recently of Native Sun News, passed away on Sunday morning.

Giago was many things in the news world — a publisher, columnist, journalist and television personality. He started several newspapers, including the Lakota Times, Lakota Journal and Native Sun News.

Giago got his start in journalism during the Korean War when an editor for the base newspaper was transferred. The commanding officer saw how well Giago typed and made him the editor.

Giago brought his newsgathering skills back to the Pine Ridge Reservation, where he started his first newspaper. Here’s Giago in 2021, talking about his start in journalism on SDPB’s In The Moment.

“35,000 people on the reservation and we didn’t have our own newspaper,” Giago said. “I felt we needed to have something that would provide information, report the happenings in the school and tribal government and places that weren’t being reported upon. That’s the main reason I started it. Then I found out, going along, that there were things we could do as advocates for Indian rights.”

Giago’s papers led an investigation into bank housing loans that prompted the Department of Justice to look into unfair practices. Giago also worked alongside Gov. George Mickelson to form a year of reconciliation in 1990. He also wrote extensively about boarding schools in South Dakota.

Mark Trahant, editor-at-large for Indian Country Today, said he and Giago "worked together as colleagues and rivals for 40 years."

Trahant said Giago leaves behind an extraordinary legacy.

“I mean, he took on subjects that are really well known, but when he started they weren’t,” Trahant said. “I think, perhaps, the greatest legacy, though, may be the number of people he inspired to become journalists. A lot of young people he opened doors for.”

Giago was 88 years old. Funeral plans have not yet been announced.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.