AIS Statement on Black Lives Matter

American Indian Studies at UWM stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. From its beginnings following the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, Black Lives Matter has fought tirelessly for collective equality and restorative justice. It has withstood and continues to withstand a continual onslaught of misrepresentations by people seeking to delegitimize its goals and leadership. It has succeeded in bringing to the national conscience such problems of as police brutality, voting restrictions, structural racism in educational institutions, and economic inequality. In the aftermath of the heartbreaking death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter provided the leadership and principles based on love and inclusiveness to mobilize people across the country and indeed the world against police violence and racial injustices.

Indigenous people in the United States live both on the lands of their tribal nations and on lands claimed by the United States. They share numerous struggles with Black Americans – police militarization and violence, criminal sentencing disparities, ballot access, environmental racism, racial inequality and misrepresentation, and many other issues. Indigenous peoples and Black Americans have been allies in these struggles. During the protests at the Standing Rock Reservation against oil pipelines threatening the clean water and health of the Hunkpapa people, the national Black Lives Matter issued a statement expressing support for Indigenous peoples and Black Lives Matter chapters from Toronto and Minneapolis joined Indigenous peoples at the camps. In Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd, the members of the American Indian Movement and other Indigenous peoples marched alongside Black Lives Movement and their other allies against systemic police misconduct and injustice. In fact, a main reason for the formation of AIM in 1968 was to address the problem of systemic violence and police brutality among Indigenous peoples living in Minneapolis.

For decades, Indigenous peoples have opposed representations of Indigenous peoples by sports teams that use dehumanizing mascots and logos. These representations communicate that Indigenous peoples possess only a narrow range of human characteristics based on war and violence, rather than possessing the full range of human characteristics that also include rational thinking, diversity, family, community, and peace. Indigenous activists and allies have made significant progress in persuading some schools to change their mascots and logos. In the past months, due in large measure to the work of Black Lives Matter to educate Americans about racial injustice, a groundswell of Americans from all walks of life, including professional athletes, have criticized the use of these kinds of representations in sports teams. This shift in public opinion is a primary reason why a professional football team in Washington, D.C. and a professional baseball team in Cleveland, Ohio changed their infamous logos and eliminated their team names.

We are grateful to Black Lives Matter for its leadership, its principles, and especially the courage of its members in showing this nation the true meaning of its most cherished creeds. We are honored to stand in support of them.