Tributes & comments from Native leaders, media for Mohawk journalist Ray Cook

Ray Cook, second in on the left, holding a handful of NAJA Awards, stands with his former colleagues at Indian Country Media Network, now Indian Country Today. Cook was an icon in the Native media world. (Photo: Vincent Schilling)

Many in the Native media world and in Indian Country were saddened to hear the news that journalist, radio producer, and Native media icon Ray Cook passed away at the young age of 62 * Updated

Raymond J. “Wahniti:io” Cook, 62, passed away on Sunday, July 14, 2019, at the Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital after what has been described as a brief illness, and complications due to PTSD from his service as a Marine Veteran and from complications of a vehicle accident in 2018.

Ray Cook says his career in journalism began when he was just 12 when he delivered newspapers in Long Island New York. His reach in Native news and media would expand a hundredfold before he died at 62.

Cook was a co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association, worked with Akwesasne Notes, was co-founder of the Mohawk publication Indian Time, founder of Akwesasne Freedom Radio, co-founder of Associated Indigenous Communications, and served as audio producer for the Indigenous Peoples Network, associate editor of the Northeast Indian Quarterly, and opinions editor for Indian Country Media Network.

Soon after his passing, Native leaders and journalists sent words of tribute to Ray Cook, who left behind a legacy that will continue for much into the next seven generations.

Peggy Berryhill
The “First Lady of Native Radio”
Founder of the Native Media Resource Center

I am still in shock, thinking about Ray who was always larger than life. Ray was a big man, with a voice that could boom with laughter or fury. He was that massive contradiction of a powerhouse and a goof and negotiating with him could be like talking to an immovable wall. He accomplished so much. I met Ray many years ago as the Native Radio movement was taking hold. For a long time, Susan Braine, Joseph Orozco and I helped hold it together. Ray joined us in our efforts and he and Joseph started an offshoot of their own, launching the Indigenous Communications Association or ICA. ICA was to be headed by Ingrid Washinawatok; sadly, due in part to her untimely death, the organization struggled, but Ray stayed with us radio folks all as we continued to evolve and mature and became a Native Radio Network. Ray was not one to parse words when dealing with government agencies that he felt were intent on keeping Native Radio colonized. He edited Indian Country Media Network, aka ICMN, with that same passion. I liked Ray and admired his activism and his understanding of the importance of freedom of the press and sovereignty of the airwaves for Native Country. Walk-On in Peace Ray.

Suzan Harjo
Advocate for Native rights, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient
Radio host, Indian Country Today columnist

Ray Cook produced good radio, wrote with clarity and passion and was a cool editor. A former Marine, he was one of the first to heed the call for Native and non-Native combat veterans to be witnesses and buffers in the Standing Rock standoff. We knew each other over decades, but with years-long gaps between working together on this or that group project, mostly in some aspect of journalism or cultural rights. I always enjoyed re-meeting Ray and we could pick up where we left off, without the need to fill in every blank. From Akwesasne Freedom Radio to Indian Country Today Media Network, he was about the work (even when telling his goofiest jokes) and always, always for the past, present and future Native Peoples. He was over a dozen years my junior, so this week’s news seems like a mistake and I want to be able to call him and confirm. In sorrow, I offer deepest condolences to all his family.

Ruth Hopkins Robertson
Contributor to Indian Country Today

Ray was the first person to publish my work. I don't have a degree in journalism, communications, or creative writing, and at the time, I had virtually no media training or professional writing experience. But he saw something in me. Over the years, I learned so much from him. Some considered Ray a little abrasive, but he was real and he was honest, and those are the two qualities that I respect most in a person. And we shared a rebel heart. Ray became more than an editor, or even a friend. I saw him as a father figure. He understood the trauma I'd survived as a young Native woman who was born and raised on the Rez, and the poverty and struggles that entailed. He encouraged me to write about it, and those pieces were groundbreaking and later, award-winning.

He fought for me when I thought I didn't deserve to be fought for. He always supported me, and I trusted him. He corrected me when I was wrong, and he explained hard truths to me, like why dads do or don't do certain things. We talked about writing techniques and current events, but we talked about the hard stuff too, like war, death and loss. I'm glad he came to Standing Rock. He helped us get the word out.

Some people are truly one of a kind and cannot be replaced. Ray is one of those people. I am heartbroken and so sorry for his loss. I wish I could have told him goodbye, and I hope he knows how much of an influence he's had upon me. Pidamayaye (thank you) Ray, for giving me that one chance that I asked for. Without you, I wouldn't be the writer I am today. Journey well. I will see you in the stars.

Sonny Skyhawk
Founder Native Americans in television and film

A friend and colleague left this dimension today and began his journey into the Spirit world. His name was RAY COOK and he was a good Native man. He was Mohawk and proud. I respected him for who he was and what he stood for. He served as the Op-Ed Editor for Indian Country Media Network, the largest and most popular Native media component in Native America at the time. RIP my friend. YOU WILL BE MISSED.

Chris Napolitano
Former editor of Indian Country Media Network

Colleague, mentor, friend: Ray Cook played an outsized role in my life as we worked together with a great team to try to build the largest bullhorn possible for Native news, voices and thought. He was highly skilled at spreading the word and cultivating thinkers young and old, male and female, Native and non-Native—after all, he’d been doing it all his life. Like many great people, I don’t think he realized how talented he was. I take solace that the strength of spirit in his work will endure through the impact he had on all the writers he discovered and championed.

Oneida Indian Nation

We are saddened to learn of the passing of our brother Ray Cook, a leader, fighter, and advocate for Native people across the country. Ray was deeply committed to serving Natives and Native journalism, and his loss will be felt throughout Indian country. As a long-time editor at Indian Country Today Media Network, Ray helped lead the largest Native news platform focused solely on delivering the pertinent news and information that affect Native Nations across the Americas. We mourn this terrible loss with the rest of Indian country and extend our deepest sympathies to those Ray helped and inspired throughout his life.

Brian Patterson
Oneida Nation Bear Clan council member

Ray Cook served as a great example for young people, who should pick up the torch and follow in his leadership.

Vincent Schilling
Associate editor Indian Country Today

Ray Cook was the first person to tell me that I needed to refer to myself as Akwesasne Mohawk as a younger Mohawk. I worked with him for years as the Arts and Entertainment editor with Indian Country Media Network and through the years I continued to learn about his vast connection to Native Media startups. Ray Cook was and always will be an icon and an inspiration to me and other Native journalists. Nia:wen Ray Wahnitiio. Ona. 

Robert Warrior, Osage Nation, author and founding president, Native American and Indigenous Studies Association

One early evening in the early 1990s on the Upper West Side in New York City while I was in graduate school, I stopped in to the West End, a bar across from Columbia made famous by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and other Beat Generation writers. Taking a seat, I noticed a Native guy across from me, which wasn’t a common sight in that neighborhood. He and I started a conversation, and it turned out I had just had the great good fortune to meet Ray Cook, one of the brightest and best friends I made during those years. Ray was in town for something or other and was staying nearby. After that, we would meet up at the West End, my apartment, or some other spot in Manhattan whenever he came through town, and in 1991 I made an unforgettable trip to spend the better part of a week with him and his family at Akwesasne.

For all of his accomplishments, Ray was much more than a very important radio man who did important things for his community and others. Ray had an incredible gift for building. The radio station at Akwesasne, the Native American Journalists Association, and many other important things came into being, at least in part, because he knew how to build. What he built might be messy, it might look like it will fall apart tomorrow, but Ray could get it going and keep it going, convincing others that whatever they were working on was worth the effort.

Various people have rightly paid tribute to Ray’s service as a member of the US Marine Corps, but I like to think of his best qualities as coming from deep within his Mohawk soul. Our last long, heart-to-heart conversation, sadly, took place years ago. I don’t recall the specific circumstances, but I remember that we were both dispirited. I came away from that conversation, though, reminded that we will rarely make progress in building the world we seek and deserve without fighting for it. Even more, I was reminded that our responsibility is not to win, but to fight hard and to do our best, regardless of the odds. Let’s do our best, we told each other, to show those who look back closely at this moment that we fought like hell to make a difference. I am sad to lose my friend, Ray Cook, but am proud to say he achieved all that and more. Kokona brishta. 

Vincent Schilling contributed to this report

See related: Ray Cook, co-founder of Native American Journalists Association, Marine Corps veteran dies at 62

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