A Simultaneous, 'Constantly Silenced' Movement

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

As #BlackLivesMatter has snowballed into a potent force in activism, it's also become a bigger umbrella. Nolan Hack is a black activist who’s become involved with the social justice fight for the visibility of Native Americans. We first corresponded by accident on Twitter, where his bio includes both #BlackLivesMatter and #NativePeopleAreStillHere.

I asked him to follow up. His email illustrates a noteworthy interweaving of Native and black activism, shining off of one another without distracting from their primary aims. With Nolan’s permission, I thought you’d like to check out some of the context of his note, which might add even more texture to the ongoing conversation around the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

I spent some time researching the stats and claims Nolan cited in the lightly edited email below; you can follow the links I’ve added throughout to get a little more background.

I'm actually not Native. I'm black. But I am fighting for Native people (as well as my own) because their voice is so small and they are constantly silenced.

I've always considered myself to be well versed as far as U.S. and Native history but until recently I didn't know how much I didn't know. I knew America inflicted a genocide on Native people but I had no idea how devastating that genocide was.

One in 3 Native women are raped in their lifetime. Native kids have PTSD rates as high as Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

Native children are kidnapped from their homes and placed in the care of white families. Sometimes the kids never see their birth parents again.

As a black man I have been aware of what this nation is still doing to my people. The death by cop situation tears me up inside. But what's crazy is Native people are killed by cops on average more than we are.

One of the most heartbreaking stories was a woman by the name of Sarah Lee Circle Bear. She had two kids and was pregnant. She was jailed for a bond violation. She died in prison after she was in visible pain and was complaining to jail officers because of serious discomfort.

There are over 1,000 missing or murdered Native women in the U.S. and Canada.

Here I’ll jump in, just to clarify: in 2014, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said a review of police files had found more than 1,000 cases of murdered aboriginal women dating back 30 years, according to the Toronto Star. That figure seemed to reflect only Canada’s stats.

Meanwhile, Lauren Chief Elk, co-founder of the Save Wiyabi Project, which independently mapped disappearances of indigenous women in the U.S. and Canada, told Al Jazeera America last year her project had tracked more than 1,000 deaths and disappearances since 2012. (I reached out to the organization to find out the status of the crowdsourced map more than a week ago, but haven’t heard back; the group’s Facebook page indicates the map URL should be http://missingsisters.crowdmap.com/, but that map is either offline or publicly inaccessible.)

So it’s not totally clear to me whether the 1,000 figure refers to Canada alone or the U.S. and Canada together, or in what time frame. The confusion there is probably part of the problem; 2014 was the first time the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had compiled that data across police forces up north.

Meanwhile, when the U.S. Department of Justice made tribal communities a priority (on paper, at least) in 2009, improving access to crime databases was outlined as a key goal. According to an agency update in December, that was meant to boost autonomy for tribal leaders in law enforcement. “It is our belief, informed by experience, that challenges faced by tribes are generally best met by tribal solutions,” Tracy Toulou, director of the Office of Tribal Justice, said before a Senate committee.

Though Toulou acknowledged “astonishingly high rates of violence” in tribal communities, I wasn’t able to find specific numbers on the DOJ’s site about murdered and missing women.

Back to Nolan’s email:

And sometimes Native girls and women are lost to sex trafficking.

The hell Native people have to go through is unfathomable. 100 million of their people have died since Europeans came to this North and South America. Sadly that number is still growing.