Native Youth Incarceration (community/news)

"Native Americans and Juvenile Justice: A Hidden Tragedy,"

by Terry L. Cross November/December 2008 issue of Poverty & Race

In the United States in 2008, there are more than 560 federally-recognized American Indian tribes comprising an American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) population of approximately 4 million individuals. About half this population lives on reservations, and the others live off-reservation, primarily in urban communities. The AI/AN population is young: 42%—almost 2 million—are under 19 years of age. Twenty percent (800,000) are at risk—60,000 suffer abuse or neglect each year. According to the Youth Violence Research Bulletin, the suicide rate for American Indian juveniles (57 per 1 million) was almost twice the rate for white juveniles and the highest for any race. In addition, 200,000 are believed to suffer from serious emotional disturbances.

American Indian youth are grossly over-represented in state and federal juvenile justice systems and secure confinement. Incarcerated Indian youth are much more likely to be subjected to the harshest treatment in the most restrictive environments and less likely to have received the help they need from other systems. AI/AN youth are 50% more likely than whites to receive the most punitive measures. Pepper spray, restraint and isolation appear to be grossly and disproportionately applied to Indian youth, who have no recourse, no alternatives and few advocates.

In 2003, litigation over conditions in a South Dakota state training school revealed horrible abuses in the use of restraints and isolation, yet little in the way of education or mental health services. Findings also showed that Native youth were significantly over-represented in the lockdown unit and thus subject to the worst abuses. For example, one young girl from the Pine Ridge Reservation had been held in a secure unit within the facility for almost two years, during which time she was placed in four-point restraints while spread-eagled on a cement slab for hours at a time, kept in isolation for days and even weeks, and pepper-sprayed numerous times. This young girl, like many of the females confined at the facility, suffered from significant mental health and substance abuse issues. Due to the lack of appropriate mental health treatment and the harsh conditions in the facility, she resorted to self-harming behavior as a way to draw attention to herself, and like many of the other girls now has scars up and down her arms from cutting herself. Finally, the facility also instituted a rule that penalized Native youth for speaking in their Native language, and several were placed on lockdown status for speaking Lakota to each other.
There is a growing awareness that many tribes’ children and youth are being taken outside the care, custody and control of their families, communities and tribal government, and that many are suffering from extreme physical, mental and emotional abuse in the process. 

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Congress Finally Passes VAWA (news)

Five hundred days since letting the Violence Against Women Act expire, House Republicans finally caved today and voted to reauthorize the bill, which was first passed in 1994 to help victims of rape and domestic violence find safety, care and justice. VAWA passed the House today with a vote of 286-138 (with the 138 against being all Republican), and President Obama is expected to sign it once it gets to his desk. Republicans aren't too happy about this turn of events, but their ongoing resistance to this popular legislation was starting to make them look like monsters, so they didn't have much of a choice.

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VAWA & Rape of Native Women (news)

Cantor: Rape is less heinous to some women

According to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) rape against Native American women is a less heinous crime that doesn’t deserve protection.

Cantor has been working lately with Vice President Joe Biden on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) after it expired last year. Neither camp publicly let on it was talking to the other until Wednesday, when Cantor said the two are in negotiations.

But Cantor wants to strip from the bill a key protection for Native American women.

VAWA, which has been reauthorized consistently for 18 years with little fanfare, was, for the first time, left to expire in Sept. 2011. The sticking point has been new protections for three particularly vulnerable groups: undocumented immigrants, members of the LGBT community and Native Americans.

The additions are supported by Democrats and opposed by House Republicans, who are calling them politically driven. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill in April with the additional protections, and House Republicans passed their own bill in May that omitted those three provisions. Since then, the issue has gone nowhere.

The rate of sexual assault on Native-American women is more than twice the national average. And according to Amnesty International, 86% of Native American women who are raped are attacked by non-Indians—who are beyond the reach of tribal authorities. As a result, “we have serial rapists on the reservation—that are non-Indian—because they know they can get away with it,” one native American activist told Salon.

So some House Republicans proposed a measure to fix the problem, by allowing tribal courts to try non-Indians in such cases, while still letting the defendants move the case to a federal court if they felt their rights weren’t being protected.

But Cantor—who’s seen as influential with the conservative wing of the House GOP caucus—is blocking the proposal because he doesn’t want to give added jurisdictions to Indian tribes. And he may end up killing the VAWA re-authorization over the dispute.

In other words, for Cantor, limiting the authority of tribal courts is more important than making sure rapists are prosecuted and women are protected from domestic violence. And now that the elections are over, and the GOP received the message that they need to do a better job of appealing to women and minorities, is good to get that clear.

‘Occupation of Alcatraz’ graffiti (news)

Putting graffiti in a national park is a federal offense. So it’s more than a little unusual that the National Park Service is not only allowing, but has actually restored some graffiti left during a protest held by Native Americans inside the former prison site Alcatraz.

"We restored it because it has a social significance," Alcatraz Site Supervisor Marcus Koenen told theSan Francisco Chronicle. "It is part of what this park is all about."

The once-notorious prison, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Fransisco, was occupied from the winter of 1969 through the spring of 1971 by a group of Native Americans after the prison had closed.

Native Ground (news)

On Native Ground Youth Reports is a monthly entertainment series that is broadcast on First Nations Experience (FNX). Each episode brings you news and entertainment from communities throughout Indian Country. The series is hosted by Native youth studio anchors, Daniel Herrera (Miwok Nation) and Bela Longee (Assiniboine Sioux/Mandan Nation). 


On Native Ground Youth Reports' Field Reporters will cover news, entertainment, film festivals, sports, the rodeo, and the powwow trail, as well as Native celebrities and role models for today's youth. Special interest stories concentrate on cultural, political, and educational events.


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Kill the Indians Then Copy Them (politics/news)

JUST over a week ago, a handful of Senator Scott P. Brown’s supporters gathered in Boston to protest his opponent, Elizabeth Warren. The crowd — making Indian war whoops and tomahawk chops — was ridiculing what Mr. Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, called the “offense” of Ms. Warren’s claim that she has Cherokee and Delaware ancestry.

To mock real Indians by chanting like Hollywood Indians in order to protest someone you claim is not Indian at all gets very confusing. Even more so because early Americans spent centuries killing Indians, and then decades trying to drive any distinctive Indianness out of the ones who survived. Perhaps we’ve come a long way if Americans are now going around accusing people who don’t look or act Indian enough of appropriating that identity for personal gain. But in fact, the appropriation of Indian virtues is one of the country’s oldest traditions.

Indians — who we are and what we mean — have always been part of how America defined itself. Indians on the East Coast were largely (but never completely) deracinated, and tribes like the Delaware were either killed or relocated farther west. At the same time, their Indianness was extracted as a set of virtues: honor, stoicism, dignity, freedom. Once, in college, an African-American student shook his head when I told him that I was Indian and he said he was jealous. Why? I asked. Because you lived life on your own terms and would rather have died than become a slave. That sentiment — totally at odds with the reality in which many tribes were indeed enslaved and a few owned slaves themselves — seemed a very wistful expression of what being an Indian meant.

In any case, the mythic Indian virtues of dignity and freedom adhere less to real Indians than they do to the very nation that deposed them. Just think of how much the ultimate American, the cowboy, has in common with the Indian: a life lived beyond the law but in accordance with a higher set of laws like self-sufficiency, honor, toughness, a painful past, a fondness for whiskey and always that long, lingering look over his shoulder at a way of life quickly disappearing. Contrary to the view held by a lot of Indian people, America hasn’t forgotten us. It has always been obsessed with us and has appropriated, without recourse to reality or our own input, the qualities with which we are associated.

BEGINNING in the late 19th century, assimilation of the remaining American Indian population was official federal policy. This was around the time that the American frontier was considered closed: the West Coast had been reached and there were no more lands or peoples to conquer. And yet Indians still held on to much of our land and our identity. So at the behest of the federal government, thousands of Indian children were removed from their homes and sent to boarding schools. Indian languages and native religions were suppressed.

Even as late as the 1950s, the federal government ran a relocation program that promised American Indians housing and job training if they left their rural communities for cities like Cleveland, Chicago and Los Angeles. (Very few of these programs provided anything close to what the brochures handed out door to door on many reservations had promised.)

Meanwhile, Indians themselves found work or didn’t, left their communities, or didn’t. Fell in love and married — sometimes other Indians and sometimes not. Had children. Got hired, got fired, found Jesus or went to a sweat lodge. For many of us, our Indianness was more than a heritage or an ancestral tale about who our great-great-grandparents were; our cultures remained central to who we were. For others, not so much. In states like Oklahoma, where Elizabeth Warren is from, it’s almost unusual not to grow up hearing stories about your Indian heritage. So many tribes were moved there, there was such a saturation of Indians who worked and were educated and lived alongside other Americans and such pressure to assimilate, that to have such heritage was, in some ways, to be an Oklahoman.

Growing up as I did, on the Ojibwe Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, it was patently obvious to me that Indians came in all different shapes and colors. I’m fairly light-skinned and have been told many times that, looking the way I do, I can’t be an Indian, not a real one. I’ve heard this from colleagues, writers, neighbors. Once I was told I couldn’t be Indian because we’d all been killed. And yet I am. We are bound by much more than phenotype or blood quantum; we share a language, history, religion, foods, the bonds of family.

Only someone like Mr. Brown, who hasn’t spent any time around us or has only passing acquaintance with us, could say, as he did during a debate: “Professor Warren claimed she was a Native American, a person of color. And as you can see, she is not.” After the video of the tomahawk-chopping protesters emerged on the Internet last week, Mr. Brown apologized for their behavior. But he also explained that Ms. Warren had “claimed something she wasn’t entitled to.”

Thankfully, we American Indians are no longer forced to assimilate to accepted American culture. Instead, as the senator from Massachusetts suggests, we’re expected to assimilate to accepted Indian culture, a stereotype perfected in Boston way back in 1773, when protesters tossed tea into the harbor dressed as Mohawks in war paint. By going after Ms. Warren’s claim, Mr. Brown is appealing to an American narrative just as old as the one where Indians are noble and dark and on horseback, and just as divorced from the textured complexity of the American experience; one where the good guys are broad-chested and the villains twirl their mustaches; one where the only differences that are allowed are those that serve to reinforce American fantasies; one where Americans persist in eradicating problem Indians, so that they can wear our feathers.

David Treuer is an Ojibwe Indian and the author of “Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through the Land of His People.”

Kúmateech /Later
André Cramblit, Operations Director
Northern California Indian Development Council (NCIDC) ( 707.445.8451

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Meth on the Rez (news)

HOOPA, Calif. -- He snorted his first line of dope when he was 15. He remembers the day. He ran with the older boys, and they tried to look out for him by refusing to rail him up. They told him, “You better not.” But it wasn’t long before his “bros” caved to his curiosity. Nor was it long before he stopped snorting, and started shooting his poison. He spent the next 21 years incarcerated or on the run, battling an addiction that swept his youth away like powder in the wind.

Today, Michael is 38 years old with long black hair, salted gray. With 11 children and another on the way, he surrounds himself with “support people” and drenches himself in spirituality to stay healthy. With tattoos peaking above his coat collar, he spoke calmly about his journey to recovery and his drive to be a good father. Looking back, he says he wasted most of his life on drugs. “I’ve never been off of parole,” he said. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of his face. He has 23 months drug free. 

Michael caught the meth wave like thousands of people throughout the U.S. during the 1980s. He, like so many youth on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation, stood little chance against the drug. By 1990, methamphetamine — a.k.a. speed, crank, crystal, dope — was considered epidemic in the rural west and Hoopa was no exception. A 2006 Bureau of Indian Affairs report claims American Indians have higher rates of methamphetamine abuse than any other ethnic group — nearly three times higher than Caucasians.