4 Untold Truths About The Mass Incarceration Of Native Americans

In recent years, news and media alike covered the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. They are an organization that shined light on the mass incarceration of African Americans. Unfortunately, while BLM got much-needed attention, one specific ethnicity was left out from that light… Native Americans— ignorantly called “Indians.” Native Americans are often forgotten and thought to have “died off” or totally assimilated into the United States, but believe me, they’re very much alive, and their abject struggle is just as real. You may or may not know about the mass incarceration of Native Americans— if you do kudos to you. But for those who didn’t know before clicking on this article, keep reading to better understand the mass incarceration of Native Americans.

Where Did They Go?

People often believe that Native Americans are “gone” — they’re not. I believe this is mostly a result of what we are taught in US education system.

United States history literature is infamous for misleading people. The books explain that our pioneering ancestors committed unnecessary genocide against the Native Americans. However, the books either stop there or continue to say that remaining were forcibly put on land during the Indian Removal Act.

Whichever way they proceed, they all fail to mention the ongoing list of nefarious aftermaths that Native Americans faced in the United States. On a list too extensive to write out, there is one of many that impacts communities to this day — the untold mass incarceration of Native Americans.

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The Great Falls Tribune reports in their article — Survey: People think Native Americans don’t exist/aren’t discriminated against — that 64 percent of people surveyed don’t think Native Americans are discriminated against. And that 64 percent alone is the reason why Native Americans are grossly incarcerated — no one knows.


Incarceration Statistics

Now, when looking at the statistics of things like incarceration, it is essential to realize that the total number of Native Americans will be lower than that of Black and White constituents. You must understand the proportionality of the number of inmates in comparison to the total US population of Native Americans.

Of the approximately 300 million total people in the United States, there are about 5 million Native Americans.

Of the 5 million Native Americans, 34,500 of them are incarcerated. In the United States, there are a total of 2.3 million incarcerated people. Which means Native Americans make up 1.5 percent of prison populations. But only 0.9 percent of the country’s total population.

  • 2.3 million total US incarcerated population
  • 1.5% of total incarcerated population ins Native American
  • Native American US population is 5 million
  • 34,500 Native Americans incarcerated total in the US

This means that 0.7 percent of the Native American population in the United States is incarcerated. 

Mass Incarceration In Montana

In my research, I found that Montana is one of the worst for perpetuating the mass incarceration of Native Americans. Within the state, Native Americans comprise 6.5 percent of the population yet make up 20 percent of the state’s prison population.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports the various reasons why Native Americans make up 20 percent of the prison population

  • Most Native Americans are arrested for violating their parole and probation.
  • As a first time offender you are more likely to become a reoffender
  • Montana is home to 13 federal reservations.
  • Most indigenous people have trouble trekking back and forth to visitation.
  • For most Native Americans, it is almost impossible to meet parole and probation requirements due to a nearly 60-mile trip to check in with their officers.

This is a system that’s supposed to be rehabilitating and able to reintegrate offenders back into society. But instead, this justice system is marginalizing, oppressing, and discriminating.

United States Justice Systems

Unfortunately, this isn’t unique to Montana. Around the United States, once you’re in the justice system, it’s more or less like a Chinese finger trap. The harder you try, the more you struggle.

The United States justice is a trap for those who enter. Now that’s not to say that you can’t make it in the free society, or that no one ever has, but it certainly isn’t easy.

 In the United States, approximately 44 percent of first-time offenders are going to become reoffenders. In the United States, .8 percent of the 300 million people are prisoners, and nearly 45 percent of that .8 percent will commit another crime.

These numbers may warrant much more context, but I’ll leave that for another article.

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Here’s Why Racial Identities Matter

The moment a baby emerges into the world, their racial identity is assumed. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, whatever it may be, it is assumed by anyone and everyone. As the child grows, they develop how they racially define themselves. One feels an immense feeling of solidarity and lack of belonging without a stable and finetuned identity. The following points explain why racial identity matters and how it impacts lives.

Why Racial Identity Matters

Our racial identity, unfortunately, is influenced and sometimes completely formed by what we see in the media.

 Media tends to portray African Americans sagging their pants, or Asians not knowing English, and Hispanics being immigrants — illegal or not. 

And these representations set a tone throughout society. Some can relate to the stereotypes, but most feel alienated from their racial community, and this is why racial identity matters. 

Racial identity allows individuals to find comfort in a warming sensation of belonging. Whether it be a celebration or consolation, when things happen that affect entire races, it helps to be a part of the community. 

Photo by CloudyPixel on Unsplash

How It Impacts Lives

Racial Identity impacts all different aspects of racism from pregnancy outcomes and mass incarceration to education disparity and police brutality. But to best explain why racial identity matters, it is essential to understand how it affects lives. The play and movie, “American Son,” addresses the issue with admirable accuracy.

In the movie, the son, Jamal, has a white father and a black mother. Jamal lives in a majority white neighborhood, went to a majority white school, and hangs out with white kids. On paper, Jamal could easily be mistaken as white.

The Two Realities

From growing up in a white community, Jamal incurred two different realities. In this reality, his white friends make comments like “you’re not that black” or “you’re the whitest black person,” thus diminishing his association with the black community. 

These comments may seem like nothing but sarcastic and innocent jokes. But it wreaks havoc inside the minds of those who struggle with racial identity by denying their sense of association.

The other reality reminds Jamal that he is most definitely not white. 

When Jamal walks past the mirror, he’s reminded he’s black.

When he sees a boy that looks like him mercilessly murdered on television, he’s reminded he’s black. 

When the government asks what his race is, he’s reminded he’s black. 

All his life, he is told that he is black. 

When people make comments like those above, it goes against what the world tells him. It makes them feel isolated from any community. Lack of community means no one to console with and no one to relate to. 

Photo by Amir Geshani on Unsplash

What’s Important

It is vital that we, as a society, take this issue seriously. It is essential to ingrain the proper ideas into children’s minds. Treasure your child’s racial identity. It could be small to you, but to them, it can mean the whole world. 

Race was designed as a prejudiced form of identification to enable oppression. It is not the determiner of who someone must be to fit that mold. 

In fact, there is no mold. What you make think a black person must be, or what an Asian person must be, is merely what society prejudicially decided Asians and black people must be. Not what and who they indeed are.

It may be difficult, but for change to come, it is crucial that you challenge what the world tells you. 

“Things are not always as they seem.”