Native Americans are often overlooked when it comes to mass incarceration and police abuses, according to an article in Truth-Out News Analysis.
Native Americans are incarcerated at a 38 percent rate higher than the national average, according to the Bureau of Justice.
They are incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of Whites and slightly more than Latinos but less than half the frequency of Blacks, according to the article.
Native American women are incarcerated at six times the rate of White women, according to a report compiled by the Lakota People’s Law Project.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights attributes lack of access to adequate counsel and racial profiling for the higher rates and the differential treatment by the criminal justice system.
“For Native American’s, being overlooked is nothing new, said Simon Moya-Smith, a journalist quoted in the article. “Our voices are seldom in the mainstream, our issues disregarded … this country has yet to recognize our humanity.”
From 1999 to 2013, Native American deaths in custody per capita was roughly equal to those of Black people and nearly double the rates for Hispanics and almost three times the rates for Whites, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those who have died at the hands of police in recent years are Rexdale Henry, Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, Allen Locke, Paul Castaway and Sarah Lee Circle Bear, the article states.
Henry and Circle Bear passed away in police custody under suspicious circumstances, according to the article. Locke and Goodblanket died in a hail of bullets. Henry, a Choctaw, died a day after Sandra Bland, a Black woman who made headlines after a traffic stop and death in custody. But Native American deaths have attracted little media attention beyond the indigenous circles, the article states.
“Our voices are seldom in the mainstream, our issues disregarded … this country has yet to recognize our humanity”
Under federal jurisdiction Native people faced longer sentences when Native courts lost its sovereignty in the legal criminal realm, the article stated.
In 2014, the U.S. Sentencing Commission formed the Tribal Issues Advisory Group to address federal commission reform recommendations from 2003.
Native Americans represent about 2 percent of the overall U.S. population.
Yet in states like South Dakota, Natives represent 8.9 percent of its population but are 29 percent of the prison population, and juveniles were 38 percent, according to its 2011 state’s Department of Corrections, as reported in the 2013 April edition of the Prison Legal News.
In Montana, Natives are about 7 percent of the general population but 19 percent of the men state’s prison population, and women made up 33 percent of its prison population. Minnesota in 2012 indicated that 1.3 percent of Native American were state’s residents, but its DOC reported that 9 percent of its prisoners were “American Indian,” according to the same Prison Legal News article.
Tribal authorities are fighting to re-empower its courts to bring about genuine alternatives. That embodies a restorative justice model that differed from the punitive and adversarial system of the U.S., the Truth-Out News article stated.
True justice, argues Robert Yazzie, chief justice emeritus of the Navajo Nation, “rejects the process of convicting a person and throwing the keys away in favor of methods that use solidarity to restore good relationships among people. Most importantly, it restores good relations with self,” the article quoted.
The article concluded, “Even today, many tribal courts sit in peacekeeping circles rather than vesting all authority in one judge seated on high. While politicians seek answers to mass incarceration in metadata and cutting-edge risk assessment tools, they might find a more genuine alternative by listening to Native philosophers.”