Watchlist: ‘Bad Press’ trailer

09.14.2023 Kamiah Koch Watchlist


By Kamiah Koch

Social media/digital journalist

Smoke Signals staff, two members of the Editorial Board and a Tribal Council member attended the Indigenous Journalists Association’s annual conference in Winnipeg, Canada, in August.

One of the conference activities was a special screening of the documentary “Bad Press.” To our surprise, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and Smoke Signals received a shout-out in the film.

The film focuses on the Muscogee Nation’s journey to a constitutional amendment establishing a free press for its Tribal news organization, Mvskoke Media, after the Tribe’s Free Press Act was repealed abruptly under suspicious circumstances by the Muscogee National Council in 2018.

The documentary follows Angel Ellis, a Muscogee (Creek) Tribal member and Mvskoke Media journalist who advocates for a constitutional amendment securing freedom of the press for her Tribe.

During the documentary’s trailer, text overlaying a map of America with the Tribal nations shaded in states, “Out of 574 federally recognized Tribes, only five have passed laws protecting freedom of the press.”

In the trailer, Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton, a Cherokee Nation Tribal member and freelance reporter, talks about how censorship is not something you expect to hear about in America since the First Amendment of the Constitution protects freedom of speech and press. However, because Tribal nations have sovereignty, that free press protection from the First Amendment is not guaranteed on Tribal lands.

In the trailer, Krehbiel-Burton lists the Tribal nations with codified press protections: Navajo Nation, Cherokee Nation, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Osage Nation and (only recently) Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

During the screening, journalists from those named Tribal nations let out “whoops” and cheers, including Smoke Signals staff and the present Editorial Board members.

Filming for the documentary started soon after the Muscogee Nation had its Free Press Act repealed in 2018, and during that time Mvskoke Media employees were instructed to provide a copy of the paper to the Tribal government leaders before it was published. Those leaders would then edit or remove any stories that they felt put the Tribe in a bad light, especially stories reporting on the unethical behavior of Tribal leadership, most notably cases of sexual harassment.

The documentary follows the many attempts to reinstate a free press law, culminating in a constitutional amendment vote, requiring 66.6 percent of eligible voters’ votes. The movie had scenes of suspense and humor throughout, highlighting the uniqueness of Tribal law in America today.

Ellis sums up the importance of a free press with her blunt humor in the first few seconds of the trailer.

“What we cover is most important to Muscogee Creek people, but here I am reporting on news topics that maybe don’t show my Tribe in the best light,” Ellis said. “But do you want a friend who will lie to you and leave you walking out the door with a booger hanging out of your nose or toilet paper on your shoe? Or do you want a friend who will stop you and say ‘Hey, check your face!’ ”

“Bad Press” has several screenings scheduled in 2023 throughout the United States. To find a screening near you, visit

To watch the trailer of “Bad Press,” visit: