Hannah is a first year student in the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College.
Every year, the President of the United States will pardon a turkey on or around Thanksgiving. The dad jokes that President Obama used to tell to the lucky turkey are something I personally miss often. The ceremony is generally met with laughter and approval from the general public as we see our president take a step away from their desk and do something lighthearted.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s cute. As a non-meat eater, I hope that turkey goes on to live a long and happy life. But I think it’s time to change up the tradition a bit. Rather than having our president step away for some lighthearted turkey pardoning, I think it’s time we tell our presidents to step into their Executive Power sized shoes and start pardoning people instead of turkeys.
The Bureau of Justice reported that Native Americans are 38% more likely to be incarcerated than the national average. AIAN are also more likely to be killed by police than any other racial group. According to the Bureau of Justice, the population of American Indian and Alaska Natives (AIAN) in jail has doubled between 1999 to 2014, which comes out to an average incarceration rate increase of 4.3% per year. Comparatively, the rate of incarceration of individuals of all other races combined raised only 1.4% per year.
The National Council on Crime and Delinquency reports that Native American youth are 30% more likely to be referred to juvenile courts, while white youth are more likely to have their charges dropped completely. Additionally, 71% of AIAN incarcerated are under the age of 39, while only 53.9% of all combined races incarcerated are under the age of 40.
When considering gender, a report compiled by the Lakota People’s Law Project found that AIAN men are four times more likely to be incarcerated than white men, and AIAN women are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white women. Additionally, of the violent crimes committed against Native American women, 88% of them are done by non-Native Americans.
Why are AIAN people incarcerated at such a high rate? And why is it increasing so much from year to year? And why are so many of them so young? The number of ways that the United States Government has suppressed and oppressed AIAN people throughout history are numerous, and even if I tried to list the ways, it would in no way be a comprehensive list. But over incarceration of AIAN are at the top of the list. So this Thankgiving, let’s cut the cute turkey pardoning crap and demand some real change from our government.