Native Lives Matter campaign takes off in South Dakota

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Native Americans are more likely to be killed by police than any other racial group, reports the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. But this fact is virtually unknown because most news media ignore these killings.

While the rate of killings by cops among all races and ages is 1.2 per million, it is 5.6 for Blacks and 6.6 for Indians from ages 25 to 34. Violence against Indians, like that against African Americans, is despicable but nothing new.

Although the long history of massacres of Indians in the U.S. has closed, racist violence by police continues unabated.

A recent rash of cop murders and racist harassment of Native Americans in South Dakota has moved Oglala Lakota tribal members to hold protest rallies shouting “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “Stop police brutality.”

“Undeclared race war.” This is how Chase Iron Eyes described the crisis at the Native Lives Matter rally on Dec. 19, 2014 in Rapid City, S.D. (known as Racist City to many). The rally was held to call attention to police brutality and the 25 bodies, mostly Native, that have been found along Rapid Creek in the past twenty years. All the cases were quickly closed as “unsolved” or called suicides.

The day after attending this rally Allen Locke, a 30 year old Lakota sun dancer, was fatally shot by a white policeman while standing in a doorway holding a steak knife. His wife says he made no threatening moves.

In Oklahoma, two officers were given their department’s medal of honor after they killed 18-year-old, unarmed Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, a Cheyenne-Arapahoe. Incensed protesters compared this to the disgusting award of Congressional Medals of Honor to 20 soldiers who massacred nearly 300 Native men, women and children at Wounded Knee in 1890.

There are scores of other Indian victims of police seldom mentioned in the media: Christina Tahhahwah was tasered to death in an Oklahoma jail last year; Corey Kanosh, a Paiute, killed in Utah in 2012; Clint John shot in the head while on the ground in a parking lot in New Mexico; Lakota Daniel Tiger killed at a routine traffic stop, Myles Rough Surface, Robert Villa … the list is long.

One 2010 case which did get national attention was in Seattle, Wash. First Nation woodcarver John T. Williams was gunned down while crossing the street with a block of wood and a closed pocketknife. Video of this blatant murder went viral. The officer was never charged, but resigned. Repeated outraged demonstrations forced the city to settle with Williams’ family.

Over-policed but under-protected. In South Dakota, hate crimes are ignored by police. Fifty-seven K-8 students from a reservation school were rewarded for academic achievement with a trip to Rapid City for a hockey game. They were doused with beer and told “go back to the rez” by white thugs. Only one has been charged — with a misdemeanor — in this cruel hate attack.

Youth traveling off “dry” reservations to nearby mostly-white towns to socialize are vulnerable to racist violence from townspeople and police. Too many deaths, beatings, rapes and disappearances of Indians are not investigated or prosecuted.

Under a 1978 Supreme Court ruling in Oliphant v. Suquamish, the 566 federally recognized Native American tribes are prohibited from exercising criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian people.(*) This gives on-reservation whites impunity and sets up complicated disputes between tribal law enforcement, non-tribal police, Bureau of Indian Affairs agents, and the FBI.

Fighting for Native lives. The horrifying 50,000 volt taser attack on an 8-year-old Rosebud Sioux girl already surrounded by four cops in Pierre, S.D., is clear proof that Native lives, even children’s, are still treated as less valuable. This mirrors how Indian treaty rights have been ignored in order to steal resources or pollute for profit.

Too often the only outcry when Indians are brutalized has come from local tribal members. But the “Native Lives Matter!” campaign is spreading and raising visibility. At marches and rallies in California, New Mexico, Oklahoma and across the U.S., Indians are shouting out the names of their dead, calling for media attention, and demanding justice.

Just as the Black Civil Rights movement motivated and inspired the women’s, Chicano, Native American and gay rights movements in the ’60s, the “Black Lives Matter” slogan has inspired “Native Lives Matter!” This is a response to Black leadership and a call for solidarity. It has no connection to the “All Lives Matter” counter-slogan that denies the reality of racist violence against Blacks and other people of color.

The struggle for violence and crimes against Indians to be recognized as important enough to publicize and investigate is just one step toward ending police atrocities.

The police war on Blacks, Indians, and Latinos will not end as long as the role of police continues to be protecting the wealthy and their economic system.

Capitalism needs racism not only to keep people of color down, but to divide and conquer the whole working class. Still, multi-racial organizing by communities of color, tribes, unions, and radicals can help contain racist cop violence.

Steps toward justice:

• Establish elected civilian control boards with power to make policy changes, investigate, discipline and fire.

• Require police to live in the communities they patrol. Prosecute hate crimes. Tribal police must have authority to arrest and charge non-Indians.

• Cut spending on jails. Fund housing, jobs, and drug and mental health treatment on and off reservations.

• Enforce and defend sovereignty of tribes; their lands, courts and governments.

Contact Lois Danks at

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*Updated May 14, 2015. It is true, in general, that tribes are not allowed to exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Native people. However, as of March of last year, tribes may investigate and prosecute non-Indian men who commit crimes of domestic or dating violence or who violate a protection order against a victim living on tribal land.

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