The United Nations has made a statement that is shocking to many, but comes as no surprise to those who know their history. An investigator probing discrimination against Native Americans has said that the United States government has an obligation to return much of the land stolen from Native American tribes, if they want to combat systemic racism and discrimination in the United States.
As of 2011, there were 5.1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the U.S. but the rate of Native Americans being killed by law enforcement far outpaces the rates of any other group, with African Americans coming in second.
From 1999 to 2013, Native Americans have been killed by police at nearly identical rates as black Americans, but at a slightly higher rate in recent years. The big difference with Native lives, however, is that the media is virtually silent on these killings and the “Native Lives Matter” movement.
Simon Moya-Smith, a journalist and editor with Indian Country Today Media Network, said, “we protest, we take to social media, we get as many stories and Native American voices as we can into news media,” but still, “we’re not entirely on [the mainstream media’s] radar – maybe for Indian mascots, but for police brutality? Barely, if at all.”
Now, James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, has concluded that there is no way justice will ever be possible in the United States, as long as the government continues to hold illegally-seized Native American land.
Anaya said that no member of the US Congress has been willing to meet him during the course of his investigated into these stolen lands and the impact the land theft has on Native American communities today.
Anaya said that he spent nearly two weeks of visiting Indian reservations, communities and Natives living in cities. At the end of the investigation, he concluded that in all contexts, police brutality and systemic racism has been pervasive. He reported “numerous instances of outright brutality, all grounded on racial discrimination”.
“It’s a racial discrimination that they feel is both systemic and also specific instances of ongoing discrimination that is felt at the individual level,” he added.
Anaya said this does not just extend to how law enforcement treats Native Americans, but is also part of the broad relationship between federal or state governments and tribes which effects issues including law enforcement, education and poverty.
“For example, with the treatment of children in schools both by their peers and by teachers as well as the educational system itself; the way native Americans and indigenous peoples are reflected in the school curriculum and teaching,” he continued.
“And discrimination in the sense of the invisibility of Native Americans in the country overall that often is reflected in the popular media. The idea that is often projected through the mainstream media and among public figures that indigenous peoples are either gone or as a group are insignificant or that they’re out to get benefits in terms of handouts, or their communities and cultures are reduced to casinos, which are just flatly wrong.”
Anaya visited an Oglala Sioux reservation. There, he found that the per capita income is only around $7,000 a year, and life expectancy is about 50 years. That is no coincidence. Native American communities have been disempowered by the government’s theft of their property and thus their potential for sustenance and opportunity. The United States still holds on to a huge amount of land that was directly stolen from Native tribes, not including vast swaths of land appropriated by the United States government, which this report does not account for.
Anaya said the Rosebud Sioux community is one example where the government returning land that was clearly stolen directly from Native residents, is one way that the government could begin a “process of reconciliation” that could create ripple effects in ending police brutality and systemic racism against Native Americans.
“At Rosebud, that’s a situation where indigenous people have seen over time encroachment on to their land and they’ve lost vast territories and there have been clear instances of broken treaty promises. It’s undisputed that the Black Hills was guaranteed them by treaty and that treaty was just outright violated by the United States in the 1900s. That has been recognized by the United States supreme court,” he explained.
The Guardian reports that Anaya said he “would reserve detailed recommendations on a plan for land restoration until he presents his final report to the UN human rights council in September.”
Anaya added that he’s “talking about restoring to indigenous peoples what obviously they’re entitled to and they have a legitimate claim to in a way that is not divisive but restorative. That’s the idea behind reconciliation.”
But he notes that this is likely to be met with strong resistance in Congress, just as previous calls for the US government to pay reparations for slavery to African-American communities were also disregarded.
As noted, members of the US government have so far refused to meet with Anaya to discuss this report with him.
“I typically meet with members of the national legislature on my country visits and I don’t know the reason,” he explained.
This is huge news, so don’t expect it to be discussed much in the mainstream media. Do you agree with the report? If you do, or if you think it’s a step in the right direction, help us get the word out!