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This Land is Your Land: Indigenous Communities and Law Enforcement

When examining the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color, it is crucial that we delve into the troubled and complex past of policing and indigenous communities. Indigenous populations are subject to high rates of suicide, food deserts, less accessible broadband, and police brutality and mistreatment. Indigenous peoples also exhibit depression and post-traumatic stress disorder more than twice as often as the average white American. The complicated and grim history of treatment of indigenous communities presents a unique set of challenges when trying to navigate the relationship between communities and law enforcement.

Police brutality, by definition, is the abuse of authority by the unwarranted infliction of excessive force by on-duty law enforcement. A study conducted in 2001 found that 30 percent of Indigenous Americans believed that law enforcement was trustworthy. When undergoing police training, police officers receive a minimal amount of psychiatric training. As many rural areas do not have mobile crisis teams to help individuals with their mental health or to de-escalate situations in which someone is threatening suicide or violence, law enforcement officers ultimately discern whether individuals go into treatment or into the criminal justice system. In the first half of 2016, one fourth of people who were killed by law enforcement were experiencing mental health crises. Half of this group were Indigenous Americans.

From 2015 to 2020, the Washington Post found that Indigenous Americans were killed by police at a rate three times that of white people. The average age regardless of race in the United States to be killed by law enforcement is 34 years old. For Indigenous Americans, it is 31 years old.

Rates of incarceration for Indigenous Americans is also high: indigenous men are admitted to prisons four times more than white men, and indigenous women are incarcerated six times the rate of white women. Research also shows that from 2010 to 2015, the number of indigenous individuals incarcerated in federal prisons rose 27 percent. Perhaps the most stunning statistic about indigenous Americans and incarceration is that despite making up barely one percent of the youth population, indigenous youths make up nearly two-thirds of youth in secure juvenile facilities. Of these youths, about 39 percent get transferred to adult prisons.

Why are we not hearing more about the plight of indigenous people at the hands of the law enforcement system? Why are Americans not gathering in the streets chanting “Indigenous Lives Matter?” Put plainly, unlike other groups indigenous Americans often live together on reservations, lack connections to nationwide media or diverse networks. As such, these trends are allowed to persist. If we care about the treatment of BIPOC people by law enforcement, we need to include indigenous communities.


Woodard, Stephanie (October 2016). "THE MOVEMENT FOR NATIVE LIVES". In These Times Chicago. ProQuest 1823388680

Taylor, Terrance (Summer 2001). "Coppin' an attitude: Attitudinal differences among juveniles toward police". Journal of Criminal Justice. 29 (4): 295–305. doi:10.1016/S0047-2352(01)00089-7

Hartney, Christopher; Vuong, Linh (March 2009). "Created Equal: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the US Criminal 2 Justice System" (PDF). National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Belli, Brita. “Racial Disparity in Police Shootings Unchanged over 5 Years.” YaleNews, 12 Apr. 2021,

“Native Lives Matter - Romero Institute.” Lakota People's Law Project,

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1 Comment

Dudley Sharp
Feb 11, 2022


Somehow you left out the rate of violent crimes committed by indigenous people.

Rather important.

That rate usually explains the incarceration rate, as well as the interaction with police rate.

For example:

Race, ethnicity and crime statistics.

For the White–Black comparisons, the Black level is 12.7 times greater than the White level for homicide, 15.6 times greater for robbery, 6.7 times greater for rape, and 4.5 times greater for aggravated assault. For the Hispanic- White comparison, the Hispanic level is 4.0 times greater than the White level for homicide, 3.8 times greater for robbery, 2.8 times greater for rape, and 2.3 times greater for aggravated assault. For the Hispanic–Black comparison, the Black level is 3.1 times greater than the Hispanic level…

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