This is something I’ve been saying quite a lot lately with the recent Harper apology for residential schools. Sure, government regulated residential schools might have closed, but they’ve been replaced with the systematic apprehension of our people forced to become prisoners yet again for reacting to centuries of abuse.
As part of their eight-part series on Crime and Punishment, this Sunday’s Toronto Star had a full front-page spread on Prisons Poisoning Natives.
Just to review the statistics:
3.8% of the Canadian population is Aboriginal
We make up almost 20% of the prison population
33% of our youth are currently incarcerated
I recently took part in a county jail and state prison panel in the United States where, for some reason, when we were discussing “minority” representation, no one knew that Native American youth are incarcerated 2.5 times more than White youth* (some studies show as many as 40% of our youth are ending up in jail).
How much more can we handle? We’re still reeling from 500 years of colonization, and people expect that we should have bucked up and solved it all ourselves in the last 50 (not to mention the fact that colonization is still ongoing, you can look at the abhorrent resource extraction going on in Inuit territory for that).http://www.shamelessmag.com/blog/2008/07/prisons-are-the-new-residential-schools/
For starters, I titled it "Prisons are the new residential schools" because each of their goal is very similar: punish people and anilhilate culture for being Native. To even begin to fathom or know why people (and so many Aboriginal people in this case) end up in prison, is to understand the realities a lot of us are coming from. Over 90% of Aboriginal people today are affected by residential schools on some level, so many of us are descendants of survivors, or have family members, or simply face modern-day colonization to the extreme day in and day out. This includes poverty, sexual abuse, racism, and the list goes on. Only if you look at the stats on a per capita basis, it's even more frightening since there aren't that many of us in comparison to the rest of the Canadian population to begin with. It is still incredibly painful.
The same things happened in residential school, mind you.
We've had money thrown at us to supposedly form some sort of healing process for all of this, but what it has turned into is this re-hurting and re-victimization process, only this time it's against each other.
So is the answer really to throw us in jail continuously after all is said and done? Myself personally having worked in youth detention centres this very year and trying to answer back to these youth who wonder how they even ended up here, I just don't believe that harsher punishment is the answer. Are we also not forgetting the innate racism and prejudice that permeates the law enforcement system and judicial systems? In Minneapolis for example, Native Americans are pulled over 9 times more than any other race. For what?! Driving while "Indian"?
And let's also remember the number of political and activist prisoners there are in jail, who rightfully stood up to protect the land that is being threatened away from us every day (Shawn Brant, Bob Lovelace anyone?)