State Violence Against Native Americans Syllabus

Mah-Hi-Vist Goodblanket, Christina Tahhahwah, John T. Williams, Nicholas “Sul” Concha, Corey Kanosh, Benjamin Whiteshield, Christopher J. Capps, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Loreal Juana Barnell Tsingine, and Paul Castaway are just some of the Native Americans who have recently been killed by police. Indeed, Native Americans are the race most likely to be killed by law enforcement. Yet these stories are ignored in mainstream media. Violence against Native women is an epidemic: one in three Native women will be raped in her life time, and Native women are murdered at a rate ten times the national average. Yet this violence is often not known outside of Native communities. Over and over again, violence against Native Americans is rendered invisible. This syllabus was formed to help fill this absence.

Even if ignored in mainstream social culture, Native Americans are always organizing and advocating around issues that impact them.  Settler-colonialism - an oppression unique to indigenous peoples - connects all of these issues. This syllabus focuses specifically on violence and recognizes the role of settler-colonialism and systemic racism.

Wait! What is “settler colonialism”? How is it different from other forms of colonialism? What is the significance of using this term over others? Settler colonialism is a form of colonialism in which the colonizers seek land, not just resources. Thus, the elimination of the indigenous people on the land is required for the colonizers to replace them. Indigenous people must “disappear” in order for the project of settler-colonialism to be fulfilled; literally (e.g.: murder or removal from land), culturally (e.g.: making their languages or religions illegal), and within the public mind (how often do we see Native Americans in mainstream media and consciousness?). Examples are the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

This syllabus is arranged topically, and in addition to touching on issues such as police violence and violence against women, we provide a historical and political framework. Why are there such high levels of violence impacting Native communities? What laws prevent tribal communities from protecting their own citizens? How are contemporary violences woven with histories of colonialism, racism, and heterosexism?

We acknowledge this is not the full spectrum of available resources and readings. As much as possible, we have tried to choose resources available for free online. However, there are quite a few critical books that we have included on the list that you can find at your local library or bookstore. Additionally, it should be noted that though the website in general privileges the work of marginalized peoples, this syllabus contains the work of both indigenous and non-indigenous writers. Not every reader will agree with everything on this list; if you don't like something, move on to the next one.

Please note that this is meant to be a starting point of the conversation point. The goal of this syllabus is to engage people who are beginning to discuss these issues; this is not for your graduate school seminar. If you have suggestions on other items to include (especially videos, poetry, or art), please let us know! Thank you to those who have assisted in collecting these resources.

We are in strong support and solidarity with Native Americans as they work to lift their communities from violence and bring about justice.  We hope these resources inspire you to get involved. Support Native lives. Decolonize. Know Our History. Know Our Struggle. Feel Our Resilience.  

We are in support and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and encourage you to also check out the Black Lives Matter Syllabus website, by whom we were inspired. Thank you for your leadership on these issues.

This syllabus was compiled and written by Abaki Beck (Blackfeet & Red River Metis). It was last edited October 10, 2016.


Legal Framework:

Structural Background on Violence Against and Within Native Communities: