NAJA responds to headline “Cowboys Scalp Indians”

The Native American Journalists Association extends an invitation to Michael Brooks and publisher Chris Lundstrom to participate in an ethics and coverage training.

Michael Brooks, a sports writer for the Jackson County Herald-Tribune, recently authored a story headlined “Cowboys Scalp Indians” posted to the website. This headline marks a significant lapse in ethical judgement on the part of the writer and editorial staff.

“Cowboys Scalp Indians” is a reference to a time in US history when Indigenous people were hunted for bounty, and when the genocidal practice of violently annihilating Native communities was federal policy. For instance, an excerpt from The Daily Republican newspaper in Winona, Minnesota from Sept. 24, 1863, reads:

“The State reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory. This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth.”

In order to claim the bounty, a “red-skin” scalp was needed as evidence of the killing.

NAJA condemns referencing or alluding to genocidal practices to sell newspapers when the story in question has nothing to do with said practices. NAJA demands that the Jackson County Herald-Tribune and its publisher Chris Lundstrom immediately retract the headline, apologize for its errant and unethical use, and participate in journalism ethics training.

Referring to the act of scalping Indigenous people violates the dignity of men, women and children that were victims of the practice. This is not simply a callous or thoughtless use of language, “Cowboys Scalp Indians” violates basic journalism ethics by employing stereotypes, distorting context and failing to minimize harm. More importantly, such language downplays crimes now defined as genocide by human rights observers and glorifies such racially-motivated acts by ignoring context at the expense of Indigenous people.

NAJA encourages Mr. Lundstrom to review the Herald-Tribune’s editorial policies and take steps to raise the journalistic ethics to acceptable, and accepted, standards.

NAJA offers newsroom trainings to any media organization interested in improving its coverage of Native people and issues. Please contact us at to discuss or schedule a training.

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