Cecil the Lion Can Teach Us About #Native Lives Matter

Terese Marie Mailhot

Cecil the lion has me rethinking my style choices. I might opt for some hair teasing and furry suits. Maybe we’ve been going about ‘Native Lives Matter,’ all wrong. We’re silly to think the public would care about brown bodies—let’s be cats instead. We are like the majestic lion: forcibly removed from resources, hunted down and subject to conquest.

It’s not radical to be angry over the murder of Cecil; it’s simply decent. Even Jimmy Kimmel got teary-eyed over the precious cat, as he went on a four-minute tangent. Keep in mind that he has never once bothered to say, “Black Lives Matter.” Yes, let’s be cats. It’s too political to say, “Native Lives Matter,” but if we were cats, the left and right would be leaping to save us, and it wouldn’t be political; it would be human. I might be ok with being seen as an animal by the media if it meant our women would be looked for, or our men would have justice.

Maybe if the Native men shot down by Roy Clyde had been cats, they wouldn’t have been reported as homeless. Nobody’s calling a cat homeless, right? This month we’ve seen a lot of “homeless Native” references, as two men were shot down in their sleep, and a couple set a Native man on fire, shooting him with fireworks, simply because they wanted to. Last summer, three teenage boys beat two Native men to death in a vacant lot in Albuquerque. Yes, had these men been cats, they would have been referred to by name and not described as homeless.

Whereas before it seemed like the media could only handle covering one minority at a time, now we must wait in line behind cats? I mean Native people are great at waiting. We wait for that IHS appointment, the inquiry, that check, land claims, and that blood quantum thing to figure itself out, but now we have to wait after cats? Hell no. Even renowned social activists like Tim Wise have given more attention to this cat than Native men. Does he know about our disparity, or are we not cute enough to count? LastrealIndians.com reported that, “American Indians, in fact, suffer the most adverse effects of a criminal justice system which consistently reifies itself as structurally unjust.” The report goes on to state, “Although Native youth are only 1 percent of the national youth population, 70 percent of youth committed to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) as delinquents are Native American …”

My father experienced a life of hardship in and out of the system since adolescence. He was murdered in a transitional living home in Hope, BC. He was estranged from me most of my life. I often passed him on the streets as he was selling paintings of bears and eagles to tourists. He described himself as a wounded bear to me once, when he tried to explain his inability to be a decent man. “Your mother took me in and tried to heal me,” he said. But he was too far-gone into a life of addiction and pain. Maybe it is wrong to compare men to animals, but I feel like that’s what white supremacy has done to us. I can’t help but think of these men as endangered, a dying breed running against time and odds.

The media would have us believe it’s a competition. They couldn’t possibly nix a story about a celebrity scandal, Donald Trump, or a cat to make room for stories about our wrongful deaths. Yes, let’s be cats and make them care. We can chant, “Native Lives Matter,” but it will never sound familiar enough to them. So, let’s put on our furry ears, and barge to the front of the line to say we are just as majestic and just as endangered.

Terese Marie Mailhot is from Seabird Island, a place bound by the Mariah Slough and the Fraser River. She studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work, “Heart Berries,” can be found in Carve magazine, and her story, “House Party,” is forthcoming in Yellow Medicine Review.

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