When journalists need to find out what's happening in Indian Country, the first place many turn is NativeNewsOnline. Run by tireless and ever-friendly webmistress Linda LeMonde (known to everyone as Ishgooda, or Ish for short), the free daily news service is one of the first online First Nations mailing lists -- and one of the best.
Subscribers get an average 1,000 news items per month, which Ishgooda archives in a searchable database with over 22,000 documents going back to 1999. Also on her website is an amazing array of other resources – articles on legal, environmental, health, business and treaty issues, news alerts, a this-day-in-Native-history bulletin, book reviews and lots more.
Ishgooda devotes 40 hours a week to the service – all volunteer work with no pay -- while working a full-time job. Helping her out are 20 to 30 news posters and half a dozen volunteer board members of Barefoot Connections, a Michigan-based non-profit group that runs the service. Ishgooda, who is a member of the Wendat Confederacy and also part Ojibway and Cherokee, is president.
The information is so scattered out there. We are trying to point out one place for it, says Ishgooda, whose name means "fire" in Ojibway.
To establish a dignity and a centre-focus of credibility and visibility is paramount. My feeling is that because we have become so scattered and disrupted by the colonizers – between reservations and elsewhere – a lot of people lost touch with their own roots.
Ishgooda had the idea for NativeNewsOnline after she started an online petition to oppose a plan by the governor of South Dakota to limit the size of gatherings in the Black Hills and create a system to "license" medicine men. Over 1,000 people signed Ishgooda's petition in the first 48 hours.
My mailbox was so full I couldn't deal with it, she says.
The governor reacted by trying to get Ishgooda's internet service provider to yank her net access, but that effort failed. In fact, the governor was forced to back off his plan.
The victory set off a light bulb in Ishgooda's head. The names on the petition became the backbone for the news mailing list, which she started in 1996.
Ishgooda recently took over running another site devoted to news about Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier. She also has a separate site for Huron and Wendat news. The Lincoln Star-Journal has named NativeNewsOnline one of the top four news services on the Internet.
Wherever we can help, we do, says Ishgooda. I can't imagine doing anything apart from what I'm doing.