The man many regard as the dean of American Indian journalism died last evening (March 9) of complications from heart surgery at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. He was 62.
Richard V. La Course's journalism career spanned more than 30 years, with the last 12 spent as associate editor of the Yakama Nation Review, a tribal-owned newspaper in Toppenish. Over the course of his career, Mr. La Course, an enrolled Yakama, reported on such stories as the Yakama Nation's recent alcohol ban, the David Sohappy fishing-rights case, and the Zapatista uprising in Mexico.
Mr. La Course also covered the 1975 shootout near Wounded Knee, S.D., that resulted in the deaths of two FBI agents and the imprisonment of Leonard Peltier.
Mr. La Course was born in Nespelem, Okanogan County.
He wrote for tribal and nontribal publications. He founded two tribal newspapers and was news director of the American Indian Press Association in Washington, D.C., a job he held for more than four years. He started his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1969.
That list of accomplishments only skims the surface of what Mr. La Course meant to a generation of Indian journalists.
"He ... pushed us to be professional," said Mark Trahant, a former Seattle Times columnist.
A member of Idaho's Shoshone-Bannock tribes, Trahant was working at the Sho-Ban News in Fort Hall, Idaho, when he met Mr. La Course in the 1970s.
Mr. La Course expected Indian newspapers to be as good as mainstream papers and Indian journalists to maintain the same standards as any other journalists, Trahant said.
"Richard set the bar high for all of us," said Mary Annette Pember, president of the Native American Journalists Association.