Native Lives Matter

While I was doing my readings for another class, I came across an article in the Huffington Post called “13 Issues facing Native People Beyond Mascots and Casinos”  by Julian Brave NoiseCat. It was interesting to read, especially after reading “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation” because it made me realize that police brutality and mass incarceration is not solely a black and white issue. NoiseCat presents some shocking statistics about the police killings and mass incarceration of Native peoples.


The article presents the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s data that although Native people are only 1 percent of the population they account for almost 2 percent of police killings. I was so shocked by this data that I decided to do a little more research. The Lakota People’s Law Project issued a Native Lives Matter report that examined the key legal issues that are facing American Indians today. Their report includes a quote from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal justice that states that “the racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement is Native Americans, followed by African Americans, Latinos, Whites, and Asian Americans.” The report also states that “although Native youth are only 1 percent of the national youth population, 70 percent of youth committed to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) as delinquents are Native American, as are 31 percent of youth committed to the BOP as adults.” At first, I could not believe those numbers, so I decided to visit the BOP’s website. The numbers were true. Here is what the BOP says about the mass incarceration of Native youth:

“Historically, the federal juvenile population has consisted predominantly of Native American males with an extensive history of drug and/or alcohol use/abuse, and violent behavior. These juveniles tend to be older in age, generally between 17 to 20 years of age, and are typically sentenced for sex-related offenses.

In fact, the Federal Government has unique jurisdiction over crimes in Indian Country and the most serious crimes committed on reservations tend to be prosecuted in federal court. As a result, most federal juveniles are Native American. Typically, federal juvenile offenders have committed violent offenses and have a history of responding to interventions and preventive measures in the community unfavorably. As a last resort, they are sentenced by the federal courts to the custody of the Bureau (BOP). Federal law does not provide aftercare supervision for BOP custody cases following release from residential programs.”

The mass incarceration of Native youth seems to be an issue of tribal sovereignty. Native youth are tried more harshly for crimes in federal court than non-native youth would be in state level court cases. The issue is not that they commit more crimes, instead there must be reform where Native youth are no longer tried in federal court and as adults.

The mass incarceration of Native youth is an issue that does not receive nearly enough, if any attention from non-native media outlets. The Lakota People’s law project has been tackling this issue as well as the more prominent issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline on their website. They do the majority of their work through petitions and marches.

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