NY Times Returns to the Topic of Violence on Reservations

3 minute read

Earlier this year the New York Times published an article highlighting the crime rates on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, today they’ve got another one:

The federal government has cut the size of its police force in Indian country, reduced financing for law enforcement and begun fewer investigations of violent felony crime, even as rates of murder and rape there have increased to more than 20 times the national average, according to data.

It only gets worse from there. Yet the times leaves some rather important things out. Take this passage from the beginning of the article:

As one illustration of the profound increase in violence in recent years — despite generally declining crime in much of the rest of the nation — F.B.I. crime data reports that the number of reported rapes on the Navajo reservation in the Southwest in the last several years has eclipsed those in nine of America’s 20 largest cities, even though there are only 180,000 people on the reservation.

The reservation’s 374 reported rapes in 2009, for example, outpaced even the total for Detroit, for decades among the nation’s most violent cities, which had 335 rapes that year.

That’s depressing, and anyone who follows Native issues knows violence against women on the reservations is a serious problem. However, what’s the root of the problem and what’s the solution? The Times doesn’t bother answering those questions so why don’t we.

First, while many Native women are raped by other Natives, the Times completely ignores the fact that a large portion of Native women are raped by non-Natives who either live on the reservation or in the local area. Thanks to complicated juridicial issues, tribal policemen and courts are hampered when it comes to who they can arrest and what crimes they can prosecute. As Indian Country Today notes, criminals regularly exploit the ineffective system to continue a cycle of violence as they know more often than not they stand a good chance of not getting caught.

So how do we solve the issue? Yes money and resources are good and contribute, but an even better thing would be increased sovereignty for tribes to prosecute crimes that happen in their jurisdiction without having to rely on ineffective and absent federal prosecutors. Strengthening laws such as the Violence Against Women Act would go a long way to protecting native Women, but alas the law is blocked in Congress.

All of this is depressing, so it’s best to end this with a quote from Willow Pingree, a 19 year-old on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming who wrote this is response to the last New York Times piece on violence on reservations:

The smell of fry bread and burgers, the laughter of friends and family reminiscing about good old times, the sound of music and the sight of people dressed in regalia, dancing inside an arbor while spectators watch from bleachers around the big arena. You’d find all of this at the Annual Eastern Shoshone Indian Days, or the Northern Arapaho Celebration powwow on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.

As you walk around the outside of the dance arbor, you’d see crowds of people walking around you, sitting against wooden Articles built along the outer rim of the powwow arbor: people sitting around a big circular drum, beating on it together in one rhythm and singing together in harmony. As the singers continue blasting their voices to the sky, the dancers slide and sway to the heartbeat of the people, the powerful sound of the drum. Surrounding them, the rolling hills, the sage brush covering the beautiful prairies, the awe-inspiring view of the towering Wind River Mountains.

This is my home, and it has been the home of my Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho people long before my generation.

No matter what negative things we face every day, nothing can break our spirit. We will not give up the war to save our culture or our languages, the war that all Native people in America have been fighting for since 1492. I will fight to ensure the survival of our cultures and languages for the rest of my days on this Earth.