Chairman Arlan Melendez of the Reno Sparks Indian Colony

Natives Targeted Most for Hate Crimes

Valerie Taliman
6/27/11

During his six-year term on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Chairman Arlan Melendez of the Reno Sparks Indian Colony saw more than his share of racism, discrimination and hate crimes against Native Americans.

But even he was surprised by the vicious attacks by skinheads against one of his tribe’s families, Johnny and Lisa Bonta, in Fernley, Nevada in late May.

“We know from hearings in Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota that hate crimes are continuing to happen against Native Americans, mostly in border towns near our reservations,” he said, citing a soon-to-be released report developed by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that compiled testimony in 2009 about hate crimes from hundreds of Americans Indians.

The report follows up on the 2005 Department of Justice report that showed the overall violent crime rate among American Indians and Alaska Natives was 100 per 1,000 persons, meaning that one out of 10 American Indians has been a victim of violence.

The study also found that “American Indians are more likely than people of other races to experience violence at the hands of someone of a different race,” with 70 percent of reported violent attacks committed by non-Indians.

“Nevada was always known as the ‘Mississippi of the West’ for its rampant racism. Up until the late 1950s, Indians had to be off the streets by sundown or face arrest,” said Melendez. “Reno was a very racist place, but over the years it’s become more diversified as more Hispanic people moved into the area. Sadly, that’s not the case in many rural communities where there’s still a lot of good ‘ole boy attitudes.”

Melendez said he was shocked and very concerned about the hate crime committed against tribal members, especially since the victims are now being portrayed as the perpetrators, despite evidence to the contrary.

“We need to put pressure on law enforcement and the judicial system to ensure the Bontas are treated fairly. Our main concern is that these attacks need to be taken very seriously and fully investigated as hate crimes,” he said. “Lots of times there are questions about who has jurisdiction in small towns near reservations, and we try to work cooperatively with them, but sometimes they want to sweep things under the rug. All we are asking for is fairness and equitable treatment.”

Melendez said it’s difficult to establish adequate and effective oversight to ensure border towns are respecting the civil and human rights of Americans Indians.

“How do we make sure their elected officials, law enforcement and judges are not prejudiced or have negative attitudes about Native Americans?” he asked. “I would hope they wouldn’t want their community to get a black eye and bad reputation for harboring racist attitudes.”

But one of the few large-scaled studies of hate crimes conducted in recent years indicates that only 10 percent of hate crimes against Natives are reported to law enforcement authorities, according to Barbara Perry, a professor at the University of Ontario who interviewed nearly 300 American Indians in border towns. She said the low reporting rate was largely due to "historical and contemporary experience with the police, and the perception they do not take Native American victimization seriously."

In her 2007 book “Anti-Indianism in Modern America,” Native American Studies professor Elizabeth Cook-Lynn said, "There has been little attempt by legal authorities or anyone else to understand the phenomenon of racially motivated violence in these communities. The first step is to acknowledge that anti-Indian hate crime is America’s essential cancer and that it is a mortal illness, as devastating as anti-Semitism has been to other parts of the world."

Melendez said he’s spoken to other tribal leaders in the region and they are asking law enforcement in Nevada communities to keep an eye out for clusters of neo-Nazi skinheads or other organizations that promote hate against minorities.

“We hear stories all the time about racial slurs in businesses and stores, and we hear from Native people who are getting attacked because of racial hatred. We have to do more to make people accountable for their actions,” said Melendez.

“People should report these incidents no matter how minor they seem because small things lead to big things,” he said.

“Every Native American has the right not to be threatened or abused. We’ve kept quiet about these things for too long, and it’s time to publicly speak out against this type of unacceptable behavior.”

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chico2dc's picture
chico2dc
Submitted by chico2dc on
I dont think this comes to a major surprise to Us......but, seriously u don't have to be physically violated to be realize the hatred, I think we see it in Supreme court decisions and some State legislation, local political decisions, My tribe wanted to build housing for our members, and local people didnt want Indians livign next to them.

felitru's picture
felitru
Submitted by felitru on
More support to Mr. Melendez--Another way the genocide continues: in 2006 a Paiute man was convicted of sexually abusing his daughter despite the facts that the CSI evidence contradicted the taped statement of the little girl. His wife was seeking a separation and suddenly these baseless charges arose. The ER doctors, the CSI tests all proved that James Chavez was innocent, but he was sentenced to 85 years in prison. A hard-working husband and father, he made the mistake of LWI--Living While Indian in the racist Reno area.

randalmassaro's picture
randalmassaro
Submitted by randalmassaro on
RACISM AND PREJUDICED COMES IN MANY WAYS OR FORM'S. FROM VERBAL ABUSE, TO BURNING OF THE CROSS, TO WHITE HOODED PEOPLE, TO GANGS BEATING UP PEOPLE, ETC, ETC. RACISM HAS BEEN AROUND FOR A LONG TIME, IT'S NOT JUST A WHITE ISSUE,IT'S A HUMAN ISSUE. THEIR IS PREJUDICED PEOPLE IN EVERY RACE, CREED, COLOR,AS THERE ARE GOOD AND BAD PEOPLE IN EVERY CULTURE. BUT WHAT MAKES THIS EVEN MORE UNACCEPTABLE IS THAT THE POWERS AT BE , LIKE THE POLICE & GOVERNMENT AGENCIES AND OFFICIALS THAT WE PUT IN OFFICE TO REPRESENT US, SEEM TO TAKE IT WITH A GRAIN OF SALT. FOR THEY CONTINUE TO LOOK THE OTHER WAY AS IF COMPLETLY OBLIVIOUS TO WHAT IS GOING ON, OR THAT THEY HOPE THE PROBLEM WILL GO AWAY BY SIMPLY IGNORING IT AND HOPEFULLY THE PEOPLE WILL FORGET ABOUT IT UNTIL THE NEXT TIME IT OCCUR'S AND AND THE INJUSTICE CONTINUES. BUT WHAT COMPOUNDS THIS MATTER,IS WHEN A CRIME IS COMMITTED OR A BEATING DOES HAPPEN TO A PERSON LIKE A NATIVE AMERICAN INDIAN, NOT ONLY ARE THE POLICE OR THE GOVERNMENT AGENCIES NOT THERE TO HELP, BUT MANY TRIBES FAIL TO STEP UP TO THE PLATE TO HELP AS WELL. AND IT'S BECAUSE OF THAT, THE ATROCITES CONTINUE. THEN YOU HAVE A DIVISION AMONGST TRIBES THAT ARE EITHER BICKERING WITH EACHOTHER, OR HAVE SOME ANCIENT DISAGREEMENTS WITH EACHOTHER THAT ALSO HINDER THEM FROM GAINING ANY GROUND AGAINST ACTS OF VIOLENCE TOWARDS NATIVE AMERICAN PEOPLE. THERE IS AN OLD SAYING MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME, SHE USED TO SAY, IT IS SO EASY TO POINT THE BLAME AT SOMEONE ELSE, BUT ONE MUST LOOK AST ONESELF IN THE MIRROR AND ASK IF I AM TO BLAME ? AND WHAT CAN I DO TO CHANGE IT? OR STOP IT FROM HAPPENING ?? EVEN THOUGH I DID'NT ALWAYS AGREE WITH MY MOTHER, SHE WAS RIGHT AND GAVE VERY WISE ADVICE. OH SURE MANY TIME'S INCIDENTS OCCUR WITH NO REASON AT ALL,BUT WHEN AN INCIDENT DOES OCCUR, MANY TIMES YOUR OWN TRIBE DOES NOT EVEN RAISE A FINGER TO HELP. AND THIS IS WHY, THE BEATINGS, THE CRIMES,& INJUSTICES KEEP OCCURRING, BECAUSE YOU HAVE STRENGTH IN NUMBERS, MUCH LIKE A UNION. AND THE FACT THAT MANY INDIANS ARE DIVIDED, NOT ONLY AMONGST THEMSELVES, BUT THE DIFFERENCES TRIBES HAVE WITH EACHOTHER. AND INSTEAD OF CALLING A MEETING OR A TRUCE BETWEEN YOURSELVES-YOU STAND DIVIDED. FOR THE ONLY TIME THAT YOU DO GET TOGETHER AND CELEBRATE AS ONE UNITED PEOPLE UNDER ONE FLAG IS AT A NATIVE AMERICAN POW WOW OR GATHERING, THEN IT'S BACK TO THE FIGHTING AND BICKERING AMONGST EACHOTHER, WHEN IN REALITY YOU SHOULD BE JOINING TOGETHER IN PROTESTS, MARCHES,STRIKES,AND GETTING MEDIA ATTENTION AS TO THE CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST YOU. AND MOST OF ALL, BE THERE FOR EACHOTHER, UNITED. FOR WHEN A CRIME IS COMMITTED,TRIBES SHOULD SUPPORT EACHOTHER AND MARCH TOGETHER, MUCH LIKE AFRICAN AND HISPANIC AMERCIANS DO IN THE BIG CITIES, AND THAT'S WHY THE TV NEWS AND MEDIA AS WELL AS GOVERNMENT AGENCIES PAY ATTENTION TO THESE MINORITIE'S. SOMETIME'S IT'S IGNORANCE, COMPLACENCY,LAZINESS, OR JUST PLAIN STUBBORNESS OR STUPIDITY. BUT SOMETIME'S, ONE MUST STOP, LOOK, LISTEN , AND LEARN. TAKE THIS ADVICE FROM AN ITALIAN-SICILIAN AMERICAN, I KNOW WHAT RACISM IS. AND MOM USED TO SAY, "GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELPS THEMSELVES", JUSTICE ISNT GOING TO BE HANDED TO YOU OR GIVEN TO YOU ON A SILVER PLATTER JUST BECAUSE YOU SIT THERE CRYING AND FEELING SORRY FOR YOURSELF. YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO UNITE AND FIGHT FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN, OTHERWISE YOU WILL CREATE YOUR OWN DESTINY IM SORRY TO SAY. IM RANDAL MASSARO, AN ITALIAN-SICILIAN AMERICAN AND ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST AND FORMER GREENPEACE REPRESENTATIVE AND FRIEND OF THE PEOPLE. I HAVE WORKED WITH CANADIAN AND NATIVE AMERICAN INDIAN TRIBES FOR HALF OF MY LIFE AS GREENPEACE HAS ALWAYS HAD A GOOD WORKING RELATIONSHIPAND UNDERSTANDING WITH INDIANS OF BOTH NATIONS.FOR IF WE ARE GOING TO WIN THESE BATTLES AGAINST HUMANITY AND AGAINST OUR WILDLIFE AND NATURE, WE BETTER LEARN ONE THING AND LEARN IT QUICK. WE MUST STAY UNITED.IM SORRY IF MY HONESTY HAS OFFENDED ANYBODY, BUT SOMETIMES HONESTY HURTS IN ORDER TO WAKE YOU UP AND SEE THE LIGHT.

joel hoh river ward's picture
joel hoh river ward
Submitted by joel hoh river ward on
i am doing a research paper on hate crimes agaisnt native americans and i need help with some cases that involve native americans in a hate crime
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