A regular feature in IREHR's Treaty Rights and Sovereignty issue area of the website will be to report on incidents of violence, harassment and discrimination directed at indigenous peoples. While many bias crimes against native peoples are similar to those against other people of color, motivated as they are by the bigotry of their perpetrators, they are reported separately here because of potentially distinct aspects of bias crimes against Indian people.
Paramount among these differences is the political sovereignty of indigenous nations. As sovereign nations, tribes should have control over crimes against Native peoples committed in Indian Country. However, since the passage of the 1885 Major Crimes Act, the federal government has repeatedly stripped tribal communities of control over violent and other crimes that occur in their homelands. This continued in the "Termination era" with the passage of Public Law 280 that imposed some state's laws on tribes and allowed other states to assume jurisdiction over specific areas of law in Indian Country. This colonial process of asserting federal and state control over violent actions against tribal peoples in their homelands continued with the 1978 Supreme Court ruling in Oliphant v. Suquamish, a decision that specifically stripped tribes of criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians.
Policies undermining the ability of tribes to protect tribal members from acts of violence is especially troubling in light of the incidence and nature of violence against native peoples. A 2004 study by the Justice Department indicated that American Indians were more likely than any other identified group to be the victims of violent crimes relative to their population. While American Indians made up 0.5% of the estimated population in the study, they comprised 1.3% of violent crime victims. Blacks were also overrepresented (12.1% of the population, 14% of victims) while whites and Asians were victimized at rates lower than their presence in the population (these racial designations are those used in the report). A large majority of violent crimes against Indian people were also committed by non-Indians. The study indicated that the race of the perpetrator in violent crimes against Indian people was reported as white 57% of the time, black 9% of the time and "other," a category including American Indians and Asians, in the remainder of incidents. That is, 66% of violent crimes against Native peoples were committed by non-Indians, the large majority by whites.
(Note: Reports of hate crimes against indigenous peoples do not report the victim's tribal affiliation. When the IREHR is able to determine this information it will be reported.)
Chuck Tanner is a co-coordinator of Borderlands Research and Education. Borderlands is committed to using strategic research to support indigenous sovereignty and treaty rights and environmental justice.
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