The Southeast Indigneous Peoples’ Center reached out to me via Twitter earlier this week, asking me to supplement their submissions to the UN in NY today and to Geneva in two weeks. They had seen the work I was doing for #IndigenizeZuckerberg and also the mascot issue in Biloxi this past week. This is their reviewed version of the piece I threw together to supplement their report on how the mascot issue is a form of hate crime in violation to UNDRIP:
Since Manifest Destiny first targeted the indigenous peoples of North America, Native Americans and Alaska Natives have become a marginalized race of Peoples, suffering worse afflictions than any other racial group in the United States. The U.S. Government holds a special trust relationship with the hundreds of sovereign indigenous nations within the 50 states, yet treaty rights continue to be ignored and Indian services are severely neglected in federal spending priorities. As a result, Reservations have become concentration camps where the descendants of genocide victims are expected to either lose their indigenous identities, leave, and assimilate, or to continue suffering in silence. Centuries of wrongful U.S. policy has demonstrated the desire to erase cultural identity from the indigenous peoples, to reap tribal lands of resources for the benefit of the non-indigenous and leaving pollution in its wake, and continually neglect the high youth suicide rates, murdered and missing indigenous women, and discrimination on indigenous peoples by outside communities.
Not only is tribal self-determination not being adequately promoted, but mainstream America is being taught a biased history of the vast crimes committed on indigenous peoples. Their skewed view is multiplied when their only modern exposure to Indigenous Peoples are the grotesque and stereotypical caricatures, racial slurs, and cultural appropriation used as mascots in educational systems and lucrative sports industries. These inaccurate representations perpetuate ignorance and provide platforms for hate speech and the continued silencing of Indigenous Peoples who live in fear of verbal and physical repercussions to their dissent of such mistreatment. The continued mascot issue therefore perpetuates and worsens the continued neglect in Indian Country.
The Onedia-commissioned study documents the direct impact these stereotyped imageries have on the self-worth of indigenous youth who already have the highest rates of suicide of any group in the country. It also demonstrates how these images continue to teach non-indigenous youth prejudice, even if the mascots are meant to be positive and even if the children do not intend to learn racism.
According to the Aspen Institute,
• American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) poverty rates in 2009 were 23.6%
• AI/AN average household income was $33,300 versus a National average of $46,200 in 2000
• AI/AN in Indian Country have incomes of less than half the National average
• the IHS estimates, historically, annual Congressional appropriations have only met 52% of AI/AN healthcare needs
• in 2009, 24.1% AI/AN lacked health insurance coverage, yet had more than double the suicide rate, with indigenous teens the highest suicide rate of any group in the country, a 514% higher alcoholism mortality rate, a 177% rate of diabetes (and the highest Type 2 rates in the country), and 500% higher rates of tuberculosis.
• 16% of students at BIA schools in 2001 had attempted suicide in the preceding 12 months
• the second leading cause of death is suicide, 2.5 the national average, among AI/AN ages 15-24
• in 2003, the national graduation rate was 49.3% for AI/AN versus 76.2% for whites, 13.3% AI/AN got undergraduate degrees verses 24.4% for the general population
• drop out rates for AI/AN high school students are more than double the national average, and are over 50% in states with the highest AI/AN population
• AI/AN children make up 2% of American children, yet 8.4% of American foster care children
• violence accounts for 75% of deaths in AI/AN ages 12-20 years (malicious injuries, homicide, suicide)
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice:
• AI/AN women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the U.S. in general
• 1 in 3 AI/AN women will be raped in her lifetime versus 1 in 5 of American women in general
• a larger percentage of victimization against AI/AN women is committed by white offenders than by AI/AN offenders
All of these statistics are relevant to demonstrate how, across the board, AI/AN youth, women, and whole communities are suffering as a race at unacceptable rates. The U.S. Government is obligated to provide services to these communities, and to promote self-determination. However, self-determination requires self-sustainability in four community aspects: environmental, social, cultural, and economical. All four of these components are being inadequately addressed if not completely neglected, as evidenced by these atrocious statistics. Furthermore, the lack of education and the perpetuation of hate speech and silencing of indigenous peoples that revolves around the presence of indigenous mascots in non-indigenous communities directly contributes to these disparages. These symbols encourage the dehumanization of human beings. This dehumanization washes away identity and cultural significance, leading to the cultural appropriation of sacred indigenous symbols and beliefs. The lack of proper education on indigenous histories and current issues contributes to this ignorance. All in all, indigenous peoples are lumped together as a lesser human race and are silenced and continuously marginalized. Youth have lower self-worth and self-respect, and suicide rates remain terribly high. Indigenous women, by the thousands areraped, murdered, missing, and ignored by the populations who are statistically more likely to have committed the crimes in the first place.
So we ask, as indigenous youth who accepted the Gen-I challenge this year, are we expected to accept that we or 2/3 of our friends and family will be raped in our lives? Are we expected to accept the perpetuation of dehumanization against us and all Indigenous Peoples through the continued use of native mascots in our schools and sports? Are we supposed to lose more indigenous friendsto suicide, because we are just an expanding statistic? Are we supposed to believe this is what is constitutional to Indigenous Peoples? When will the international community stop ignoring the disparities in between indigenous and non-indigenous communities and the lack of education on indigenous realities in mainstream US?
Start with the easy fix: Change how we educate Americans on Indigenous Peoples, and change how they view the mascot issue. Banish all mascots and public uses of racial slurs, such as by the Washington football team, the Cleveland baseball team, and the hundreds of schools still using these images like the Biloxi Senior High School in Mississippi.
We are harassed, ridiculed, and live in fear of the consequences when we ask others to stop dehumanizing and mocking us. We fear for our lives and the lives of others, just because we are representing IndigenousPeoples in an overwhelming non-indigenous society.
Why does the United States refuse to protect our rights as defined by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP)?