Photo at left courtesy; at right
Left, Chief Spotted Elk of the Miniconjou Lakota lies dead in the snow in South Dakota following the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890. Right, Paul Castaway, Lakota, is shot and killed by Denver Police on July 23, 2015. The officer who shot Castaway will not be charged with his killing.

Moya-Smith: When Did Native Lives Begin to Matter to These People?

Simon Moya-Smith

A common question on the lips of Native Americans today is: why isn’t mainstream media reporting on the onslaught of police brutality in Indian country?

It’s a fair question, given that Native Americans are killed by authorities at a higher rate than any of the other racial groups in the country.

The answer to this question is rooted in history, and, likewise, it is answered with a question: at what point in time did Native American lives BEGIN to matter to the European conquerers and, later, their descendants?

RELATED: Houska: Where Does the Death of Paul Castaway Leave Us?

Throughout history, there have been numerous campaigns to wipe out the indigenous North American bloodline. There was westward expansion, the Trail of Tears, Indian boarding schools, and many indiscriminate killings, including the Wounded Knee Massacre where an estimated 500 U.S. soldiers slaughtered as many 300 Lakota – 200 of which were defenseless women and children [more than 100 more would later perish as a result of this massacre].

This December will mark 125 years since that mass execution.

Unsurprisingly, though, soon after the Wounded Knee Massacre, the Medal of Honor was awarded to 20 U.S. troops who participated in those killings for simply doing their part in solving the “Indian problem,” as the U.S. once referred to Native Americans [and in some circles still do].

These 20 medals have yet to be rescinded, which, for many Native Americans, sends a clear message that indigenous lives still do not matter to the U.S. more than a century after Wounded Knee, and, hell, more than 520 years after the invasion of Columbus and his boatloads of conquering Christian crusading cretins.

At one time Native Americans were considered a problem because, among other reasons, there were so many of us on this continent. Demographers have estimated that prior to the European invasion of these shores, the indigenous North American population was as high as 100 million.

Today, Native Americans are the smallest racial group in the country at a mere 5.2 million.

What makes this number even more profound is that this land is our “old country,” as the phrase goes. Lo, unlike our European American neighbors, we Native Americans cannot catch a flight to a continent across a big blue sea to witness our languages and cultures thriving. This land is it. It’s our “motherland.”

Still, getting Native Americans down to 2 percent of the total U.S. population was by no means a small feat. It took detailed planning. It took legislation, and it took viciousness.

Yet, here we are at the latter end of 2015, and it still seems that Native Americans have a bounty on our heads today as much as we did centuries ago. The difference being back in the 19th century one could make $250 for every “redskin scalp” collected.

So what we have here is the smallest racial group that is, at the same time, the most likely to be killed by police. And once again, there is very little coverage of this disturbing reality for Native Americans on mainstream news.

The fact is Native lives have always mattered – it has just invariably been our job to remind the United States of this axiom.

Simon Moya-Smith, 32, is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, and the Culture Editor at Indian Country Today. Follow him @simonmoyasmith

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Thanks for a GREAT article, Simon, but I think you'd FIRST have to prove that Native lives EVER mattered to these people.