For centuries, Native Americans have fought for their land, their voice, and their rights. Reports have tallied the discrimination they have faced, such as the Native women who go missing or murdered each year, a population that routinely sees higher incidences of racial profiling and police brutality, and how the press and police continue to ignore the violence directed at them.
An investigative story by Stephanie Woodard published at In These Times this week further indicates that, after controlling for population size, Native Americans are being killed by police at a higher rate than any other group in the country. Yet, their stories rarely see the light of day.
Of the 29 Native Americans killed by police between May 1, 2014, and October 31, 2015, the article reported that only three received some coverage in the top ten newspapers circulated in the United States. Nor did those outlets report on Native jailhouse deaths in 2015.
The larger narrative at play here is that “racial issues in the United States tend to be framed as black and white, while other groups are ignored,” Woodard stated.
“But Native Americans’ experiences of violence and discrimination in the United States often parallel those of African Americans,” wrote Woodard. “Federal investigations have found that on the borders of reservations, Native Americans are treated as second-class citizens by police and public agencies in ways that echo the experience of black Americans in towns like Ferguson, Mo.”
Kandi Mossett, an activist who grew up on a reservation in North Dakota and has been fighting the Dakota Access pipeline there, told Rewire, “We don’t need a report to tell us what we have known for decades. We’ve been talking about it long before these reports. If you want to know the truth, ask us.”
Native Americans have been historically underrepresented and ignored by the media—a direct result of how this country was founded, “by the taking of Native American land and livelihoods,” she said.
Having faced the militarization of police against the pipeline activists during peaceful protests, Mossett said it’s hard to explain the “blatant lies” and “buoyant propaganda” being spread against the population by the police, the state, and the media.
“It’s hard to keep going forward in the fight for justice, but we have been, for hundreds of years,” she said.
Chase Iron Eyes, a Lakota attorney and Democratic candidate for Congress from North Dakota, is not surprised by In These Times’ findings.
Native activists have compiled many reports of the sort over the last two decades, he told Rewire. Reports that indicate record numbers of Native people incarcerated, murdered, children in foster care, and killings that go uninvestigated.
These are the circumstances under which the Native Lives Matter movement was created.
One of the founders, Chase Iron Eyes estimated there are people organizing in about 20 cities, mostly in the urban areas and border towns of reservations.
“America wanted to sweep this under the rug because we are a walking, talking challenge to the legitimacy of its land claims and the very existence of the Natives,” he said. “As Americans we have broken every promise [to the Native people]. I think there is a tendency to forget about that, [to say] it’s in the past, let’s forget about it.”
For a movement that has started to grow, the experience of Native Americans like Chase Iron Eyes is “a continued reinforcement of the discriminatory, oppressive state of affairs.”
According to the Red Nation, a coalition of Native American activists formed in 2014, 45 percent of all 2014 arrests in Flagstaff, Arizona, for instance, involved Native Americans.
Annual crime statistics for Arizona in 2014 also indicate that the majority of Natives are detained for low-level offenses, DUIs, liquor violations, and the ambiguous category “all other, except traffic” that makes up almost 30 percent of all arrests in the state regardless of race.
“The police are protecting the rich against the poor and the white settlers and business owners from the unsightliness of Native poverty,” wrote Andrew Curley, a Red Nation activist, in an article this year.
Curley went on to point out the systemic pattern of discrimination against Native people, which is similar to the issues Black Lives Matter activists have highlighted in recent years.
The Native activists stress that “murder is not an isolated incident. It is part of racialized and gendered violence against Native people in Arizona that has existed for centuries. It is also a part of a larger process of settler-capitalism, a structure of power, violence, and intimidation against our people,” Curley wrote in the April article.
Red Nation co-founder Melanie Yazzie also reiterated this.
“From the disproportionate violence that Indigenous people experience from citizens and cops here in Albuquerque, to the ongoing theft of Indigenous water rights by big cities and corporations through so-called ‘legal settlements’ that will ensure we are no longer able to live in our own homelands, to the horrifying impact of nuclear and uranium development in Indigenous communities, it is clear that Indigenous people must fight simply to survive,” she said in a statement on Facebook.