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Dakota pipeline protests

The past, present, and future stories of Native and Black Americans are interconnected and intersectional.

Only two weeks ago, we witnessed the unsettling images of private cops pepper-spraying and siccing dogs on Native activists and their children, who were peacefully protesting the construction of the Dakota Pipeline. These activists unified across nations and tribes to prevent yet another attempt at environmental warfare from white capitalist America. They took a united stand against corporate greed to protect land that has always been rightfully theirs. 

Although they protested peacefully, their collective presence was powerful enough to incite violence. Being peaceful and unarmed didn’t matter, and in the history of marginalized and colonized people, it rarely does. How can we ever forget this iconic image?

Dogs attacking protestors in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.

Dogs attacking protestors in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.

When you’re a person of color in this country, your fundamental existence is enough to inspire acts of hate. This is a shared reality that Native and Black Americans know all too well. We will never be free to thrive and exist while a white supremacist structure still stands, but what’s puzzling is that although we have a shared history of collective trauma and struggle, we rarely organize together.

Related: Meet the Women at the Heart of the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests

When considering state-sanctioned police violence, we often say Black Lives Matter, but how often do we speak up for Native lives? Every week, sometimes every day, we witness the public execution of an unarmed black man, woman or child, and it rips our hearts open every single time.

It’s an inescapable fact that Black people are legally murdered at alarming rates. Even though we’re just 13 percent of the population, we make up 26 percent of all police killings. In spite of this, Black Americans do not experience the highest rates of police murders, Native Americans do. Native Americans make up 0.8 percent of the population, but they make up 1.9 percent of police killings. This means that more than double the ratio of the Native American population is getting killed by cops. Native Americans are also over-represented in prisons, but when we discuss mass incarceration as a national conversation, their struggle is omitted from the conversation. Their mass execution is hidden in plain sight.

Both Black and Native Americans are subjected to grave injustices inflicted upon our bodies, families and communities on a daily basis, so why are we not advocating for our Native comrades? By not speaking out about injustices in the Native American community, we remain complicit in their oppression, as well as our own. We see the slogan Black Lives Matter frequently on social media, but Native American activists have been rallying, too. Why are the injustices inflicted upon them underestimated and ignored?

The past, present, and future stories of Native and Black Americans are interconnected and intersectional. Black and Native Lives not only matter, but have created the foundation of this country. Let’s advocate and uplift our Native people at this time. They ain’t heavy; they’re our brothers and sisters.


Heather was born in Chicago and raised in Pasadena, California and proudly claims Oakland as her adopted home. She has a B.A. in African-American Studies from Smith College (proud Smithie), and a Masters in Education Leadership from New York University. Heather's spent the past decade working in the field of educational equity and advocacy. She currently teaches Child and Adolescent Development at San Francisco State University and manages a blog called What's Happening Black Oakland? She also contributes to Blavity, a blog for black millennials. Heather's committed to writing interesting and relevant stories that aren't being covered by the mainstream media, while straying away from the single story that is usually imposed on people of color. In her free time she enjoys traveling and going to live shows.

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