Native Lives Matter

Fighting for a voice and standing up for those whose "truth is often justified away."
Friday, January 23, 2015

As the daughter of a Law Enforcement Officer who has served for almost 30 years, I have always been keenly aware of the issues that affect the families of police officers. Growing up hearing the stories of my people and the difficulties of living in rural Native communities, as well as feeling the pain of loss, has colored the way I view the world around me and how I raise my two children.

But here’s the problem that I’ve encountered all my life:  despite the stories that are told in the media about poverty and alcoholism on Native lands, the vast majority of them are not ours. The truth is, as Native people, the fight for recognition as living, breathing, human beings in 2015 is real. We constantly fight against stereotypes created to erase individuality inherent in a Native person, created by those in power, and perpetuated by mass media. We have to fight to remind everyone that we aren’t ancient relics (though we strive to protect our traditions), that we haven’t died off (though we know death too well), and that we know the sides of history that are not told in textbooks. Our truth is often justified away, along with our rights as dual citizens, the original inhabitants and stewards of our land and languages, in the name of manifest destiny, assimilation, natural resources, and the economy.

So when Michael Brown was killed unarmed, in broad daylight, and left in the middle of the street to die, I wasn’t surprised by the hurt that I felt because I have known loss; or by any of the facts of his death necessarily. This is the experience of so many of our Native people, whether they die from the crippling effects of alcoholism, exposure during the winter, homelessness, overzealous officers, or simply being out numbered in cities that depend on the alcohol sales and the institutional racism to thrive. 

When the grand jury declined to prosecute the officer for the murder of Eric Garner, I wasn’t surprised by the hurt that I felt then either, as I have felt firsthand the hurt from lack of prosecution of non-native people who have raped our women, killed our men, and abused our children. Knowing that 1 in 3 Native women are victims of sexual abuse, that the incarceration rate for Native men is 38% higher than the national average (despite being roughly 1-2% of the total population), and that American Indians are more likely to be killed by police officers than any other ethnic group, it’s amazing to me that we have not seen the outcry for justice in non-native media sources (or any media coverage for that matter) for the killing of Native People.

Last month, nearly 100 people of all ages rallied against police brutality in Rapid City, SD. Less than 24 hours later, Allen Locke, a Lakota man who participated in the rally the day before, was shot and killed in his home by a Rapid City Police Officer (who was later cleared of the death of Mr. Locke). But how many people know about Allen Locke? Or about Corey Kanush? Or the countless deaths of Native men and women across the country in the past year?

At the end of the day, I want my dad to come home, safe. I want for my daughter to come home, unharmed, my son to come home, alive. So while we all reflect on the value that is placed on individual lives by virtue of where you are born, the color of your skin, or how colonized or assimilated you are, know that it does no one good to silence the many voices that should be in the national conversation. For me, that makes asserting #Nativelivesmatter all that more urgent.

Ahéhee’,

Shayla Yellowhair

Enrolled Member of the Navajo Nation

Tódík’ǫ́zhí nishlí.

Naaneesht’ézhí Táchii’nii bashishchiin.

Tábąąhá dashicheii. Bįįh Bitoodnii dashinálí.

Salt Water clan, Born for the Charcoal streaked division of the Red Running into the Water Clan, Maternal grandfather is Water’s edge clan, Paternal grandfather is the Deer People clan.  This is how I am a Navajo Woman. #notyourmascot

 

Four middle-aged and elderly teachers wearing black in front of a school, holding white protest signs, with one reading "Red Lives Matter."

 

 

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