Telling Our Own Stories: Rebuilder Vi Waln

Cohort 7 Rebuilder Vi Waln (Sicangu Lakota) is Editor-In-Chief for the Lakota Times, an award-winning, Native-owned newspaper that operates out of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. We interviewed Vi to learn more about her role with the Lakota Times and her advocacy for more Native voices in the media.

Native Governance Center: Tell us a little bit about your background, family, and community.

Vi Waln: I am a Sicangu Lakota Tribal citizen, otherwise known as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. I grew up on the Rosebud Reservation here in South Dakota. Today, I live in the He Dog community where I was raised. My community is named after Chief He Dog. I have a bachelor’s degree in Lakota Studies from Sinte Gleska University and a Master’s in Mass Communication from South Dakota State University.

NGC: What makes the Lakota Times stand out from other media outlets?

Photo of Vi WalnVW: The Lakota Times has been in circulation for fifteen years. I think we stand out because the majority of our writers are Lakota. Our main focus with the paper is our young people. And we try to showcase them as much as we can every week. Connie Smith, the paper’s owner, and I have had conversations about how we want this newspaper to be positive. And we’ve taken criticism for it. But we will run the positive stories before the negative stories. Because you could pick up any paper in the country and read all about the negative things happening. You can look on the internet and see all the negative news. Go on social media, look on TV—the majority of it is bad. So we want to focus on positive things.

NGC: Why do you believe it’s important to have Native representation in the media?

VW: Well, I believe we have to tell our own stories as Native people. Most of our Tribes come from an oral tradition ancestry. But we have to be willing to evolve with the times. I see many non-Indian journalists out there attempting to write about the Lakota. And when I call them out on it—sometimes, they’re offended when I tell them that a Native person should be writing those stories. But, I continue to advocate for Native writers to write our stories. We’re the only ones who can offer a true perspective on our communities.

NGC: Do you see a link between your current work and nation building?

VW: My work is definitely linked to nation building. Columns I write every week address issues that our people are facing on our reservations. So, I always come to the computer thinking, if I can affect change through my writing, then all my hard work has paid off. If one person changes their behavior for the good after reading a column I wrote, then I believe that’s nation building.

This article was originally published in our Spring 2019 print newsletter. Sign up to receive the print newsletter in your mailbox twice a year!