Power and Politics in American Indian History
Lakota People’s Law Project Report, “Native Lives Matter”
Despite systemic violence against native people beginning on the first day of the occupation of “America” by the settler colonists who would birth the white imperial ethnostate, and despite a hundred million murdered native people and billions of acres of stolen land, these centuries of state violence, interpersonal violence, and a careful and deliberate policy of mass extermination and mass displacement have often gone ignored and untaught. (Native Lives Matter 3) It wasn’t until about a century ago that native people gained citizen rights in the white imperial ethnostate, and yet to this day they are systematically denied access to the services, wealth, and institutions of the white imperial ethnostate. (3)
“Black Lives Matter” is both a rallying cry and a claim; a normative claim, a claim about what should be but about what is it true today. To say Black Lives Matter is to say that Black Lives should Matter. Across the nation today we see case after case of police murdering black people with impunity, even at Black Lives Matter rallies, as if to prove the point that those lives actually don’t matter in the white imperial ethnostate. The same is often true at Native Lives Matter rallies or other Red Power events and meetings; police will often murder native people with impunity, making the performative argument that in fact native lives do not matter in the white imperial ethnostate. (4)
There are many differences in outcome between native people’s lives versus white settler colonist’s lives. Native people, like black people, have less wealth than white people. Native people, like black people, live less long than white people. Native people, like black people, are given less education than white people. In many ways, systems are built in this country to deny power and resources to native people in favor of giving those things to white people instead. (6) This is the definition of systemic racism, and while anti-blackness is different from anti-nativism, these systems work in the same way; stealing power and resources from non-white people and giving them instead to white people. Therefore the claim that “Black Lives Matter” is similar but different than the claim that “Native Lives Matter.” We see many discussions today about the need to focus specifically on black lives in the public discourse at this moment, but unless we acknowledge that the problem is the system, and the system is working against more than just black people, we can not truly change the system and create justice for either black people or native people. It can be true that both black lives and native lives matter. This may seem like a digression from the text, but given the current political climate, it seems irresponsible to explore this topic without making this critical point.
Incarceration is another critical area of systemic injustice. Native men are four times more likely to be imprisoned than white men. (8) Native women are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white women. (8) Altogether, natives are incarcerated at 38% higher than the national average. (10) Curiously, the Department of “Justice” has already recommended changes to reduce these injustices. (14) Additionally, as we learned from the Vice series, Red Power is already making progress in Canada and elsewhere. Maybe the tides will finally start to turn towards justice for native people within our lifetimes.