Sarah Hernandez, Ph.D. & Raymond Foxworth. Ph.D.

Sicangu Lakota, Navajo, respectively


By Dr. Sarah Hernandez (Sicangu Lakota) and Dr. Raymond Foxworth, (Navajo)

Following the tragic murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, protests and demonstrations emerged across the U.S. with renewed and forceful demands for justice, an end to racial violence, and the creation of more just policies to combat the structural inequalities that have repressed and disadvantaged historically excluded and marginalized groups. In summer 2020, Native people across the country stood alongside Black communities, both in urban and rural areas, to hold Black Lives Matter marches and call together for an end to police violence against Black people.

From the view of Native America, the use of state violence against marginalized peoples is not new. People in Native communities have been the victims of state-sanctioned violence since the founding of the U.S. government and its federal policies that have continually sought to exterminate, remove, and reorganize Native nations. These efforts were aimed at taking Native lands and resources, exterminating their identities and ways of political, social, and economic organization.

Today, there is some national and international attention focused on the historical wrongs perpetuated against Indigenous peoples. In Native communities, there are increasing calls for justice, the return of Native lands, and the repatriation of Native bodies and sacred objects. Often, however, these calls for justice have been shallow, rarely examining the root causes of colonialism.

The first step toward addressing these injustices is to critically interrogate the underlying systems of power that repress and oppress Native people and communities, such as the Doctrine of Discovery, capitalism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and extractivism, to name but a few.

In this collection of essays, we hear from multiple experts on the root causes of Native injustice. It is important to note, however, that exposing the root causes of colonialism is only one step toward healing and repairing our tribal nations. As Diné scholar Jennifer Denetdale points out in her essay, “Justice for Native peoples will not be delivered by the settler state, which always seeks to eliminate Indigenous nations and their people.” Instead, Native justice must be addressed by tribes and tribal citizens on the ground, engaged in grassroots struggles for local justice.

What does Native justice look like for our people and communities?

We invited 16 Native scholars and intellectuals to tackle this important question. These individuals represent a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and examine how different tribes, nations, bands, pueblos, and villages challenge injustice in their communities. Contributors explore what justice looks like, both in the past and at present, to the Oceti Sakowin, Anishinaabek, Diné, Pueblo, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives, to name but a few tribal nations represented.

Although the methods and motivations look different for each tribal nation as they strive to meet the needs of their people and communities, a recurring theme among these essays is that Native justice must be grounded in the knowledge and traditions that have guided our people since time immemorial. In his essay, Timothy Vasko asserts: “Every Indigenous society has already developed sophisticated answers to these questions, and we should start there.”

Our language, our culture, our traditions, and ceremonies have always been our greatest source of strength. As Native people, we have an intimate connection to the land “that has been handed down for eons, not just a few hundred years, but eons,” emphasizes Lakota elder Charmaine White Face. It is not surprising, then, that many of the contributors in these 13 essays on Native justice rely on ancestral knowledge and rich, intellectual traditions to imagine a more just society for their tribal nations.

Overcoming centuries of injustice and oppression is not easy. It will be a long and ongoing process, one that will require much discussion and sharing of knowledge. Therefore, these essays should be viewed as a starting point, a way to explore and consider possible frameworks and approaches for the future. These important conversations are an initial, but critical, step toward Native justice.