All lives matter, but this is not a discussion about all lives. This is not about putting the lives of one people above the lives of others. This is not about denying police brutality and injustice affects us all. This is not about vilifying non-POC. This is not about homogenizing the issue and ignoring that we, as people of color, are preemptively and disproportionately profiled as criminals and targeted for harassment and violence.
This is about Native lives.
This is about Mah-Hi-Vist Goodblanket, Christina Tahhahwah, John T. Williams, Nicholas “Sul” Concha, Corey Kanosh, Benjamin Whiteshield, Christopher J. Capps, and all Native lives lost and affected by the systemic racism within our society that deems indigenous people unworthy of life, liberty, and equal protection of the law. This is about addressing the dehumanization and marginalization of indigenous people through racial profiling based on racist stereotypes.
This is about the incarceration rate of Native Americans being 38% higher than the national average when we are roughly two percent of the U.S. population. This is about the reasons why Native Americans receive and serve longer sentences than non-natives for the same crimes. This is about how a person is more likely to serve prison time for animal cruelty than for the rape or murder of a Native American. This is about how law enforcement officers are more likely to receive medals of honor for the murder of indigenous people than be indicted.
This is about addressing the reasons why law enforcement turns a blind eye when it’s our girls and our women raped, murdered and missing. This is about the reasons why our boys and our men die for hypothetical and minor crimes. This is about the pain, the loss, the anger, the strength and the indomitable spirit of OUR people.
AND IT’S A DIFFERENT KIND OF HURT AND ANGER THAT DRIVES OUR NARRATIVE BECAUSE THE MINDSET ON THE VALUE OF NATIVE LIVES HAS NOT CHANGED MUCH IN THE LAST FIVE CENTURIES. OUR LIVES AND LAND ARE STILL SEEN AND TREATED AS EXPENDABLE CASUALTIES OF COLONIAL PROGRESS. HENCE THE REASON THAT WE ARE STILL TALKED ABOUT IN PAST TENSE AND PORTRAYED AS A PEOPLE ON THE VERGE OF EXTINCTION, DESPITE OUR GROWING PREVALENCE IN MAINSTREAMED SOCIETY.
So, it’s not okay to hijack these conversations with statements of #AllLivesMatter.
It’s not a statement of solidarity. It’s forced assimilation to a narrative that derails crucial conversations about the institutionalized racism within our society; how it affects our treatment within the judicial system; and how it affects our youth and communities. It shifts the focus from the injustice of police brutality towards indigenous people and the loss that is felt by the families of those victimized. #AllLivesMatter is not about equality, but about maintaining the existing power structure that allows for the continued oppression and destruction of native lives through the erasure of their narratives.
Respect that these are not conversations about all lives. Understand that these conversations are specifically about the lives of our respective communities, whether Native, Black or Latino, and the reasons why we have to assert that our lives matter. Yes, we can talk about how police brutality affects us all regardless of our cultural heritage. However, this is not a “one size fits all” kind of issue, so it is important that we be able to discuss how it affects our respective communities without encroaching upon each others’ narrative and marginalizing the experiences of others. These discussions are important in building solidarity with other communities because solidarity is dependent upon respect and recognition without competing for attention and resources.
That being said, please stop interjecting with “all lives matter” in narratives that are specifically geared toward addressing the issues and needs of specific communities. We know that all life matters, but sadly that is not the reality we live in. Our lives are not equally valued and this is why we have to say that Native Lives Matter.
Johnnie Jae is of the Jiwere-Nutachi and Chahta tribes of Oklahoma. She is the Managing Partner & Midwest Regional Director @ Native Max Magazine | Contributing writer to Native News Online | Founding Board Member of Not Your Mascots | Member of the Native American Journalists Association.