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'Silent Victims,’ by Barbara Perry

In “Silent Victims: Hate Crimes Against Native Americans,” Barbara Perry presents a compact and detailed review of how colonization, stereotyping, discriminatory and oppressive practices continue to legitimize a pattern of hatred of and violence against indigenous peoples, to the mainstream populations in the northern Plains, Great Lakes and Southwest, continuing hate and violent incidents against indigenous peoples.

Based on interviews with 278 American Indians over four years, Perry’s extension of the scope of hate crime beyond judicial statutes presents a pervasive set of conditions that has accumulated in effect and continues as an unmentioned part of everyday life for Native people, refueling the fires of prejudice and violence, whether they emanate from individuals or anti-Indian organizations formed to counteract assertions of treaty and other rights.

The last chapter suggests ways (from the interviewees and from previous studies) in which Native communities can be empowered to intervene. Perry, a professor of Criminology, Justice and Policy Studies at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology states that she wrote this book because scholarship, commission and crime data do not reflect the quality, individual nature, or embedded threats of violence expressed to her by some of her Native students when she was teaching at Northern Arizona State University.

In these ways, the book is a unique contribution to the literature on this topic. The last chapter comes up short, however, in specificity and length compared to the diligence shown in the preceding seven. This last chapter left this reviewer thinking about a statement Elder Don Cardinal once made about getting through a ten day fast at 60 degrees below zero.

 “Focus on the solution, not the problem.”

Perry’s delineation of the problem, however, has provided a solid foundation that opens the door for anyone who chooses to follow up. Her emphasis on attempting to put a personal face on the victims of hate incidences in Indian country, although hampered by the anonymity required by her study, sends a clear message that there is a plethora of even greater detail needed in any reporting of the orchestration of both covert and overt violence against the original people of the world. She makes this global inclusion only in the closing sentence of the book, but the reader feels that Perry could have kept speaking for another one-hundred and forty pages, if the format had allowed.

Perry leaves no stone unturned in her analysis of hate crime. Hate crime is more than unsystematic bigotry. Perry writes, “As such, it is a mechanism of power, intended to reaffirm the precarious hierarchies that characterize a given social order.”

She refrains from stating a hypothesis. Instead she states that she seeks to answer the following: Whether Native American victimization is isolated, periodic or ongoing; what is the nature and impact of this victimization; who are the actors and where does it occur; what is the context of the acts; and what is the relationship between ethnoviolence and exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, and cultural imperialism.

She also seeks to answer what is the American Indian perception of the community climate; what motivates these crimes; what does Native activism play in motivating hate crimes; what discourages reporting of hate crimes; and what do American Indians feel is necessary to minimize the impact and the incidences of hate crime.

Perry’s intention is to inform public policy:

“Many of the conflicts underlying the violence that occurs emerge in the context of land and resource disputes thus interfering with Native American’s abilities to pursue their traditional way of life. … In the absence of empirical data to characterize anti-Native violence, the Native American communities are not in a position to deal with ethnoviolence. Effective policy depends on data indicating who the perpetrators are, why Native Americans underreport victimization or where victimization occurs, for example.”

Perry establishes the ongoing nature of hate crime against Native people from the Indian Wars to boarding schools and sterilizations to predatory lending, assaults, stereotypical images and property damage.

In regard to the actors, however, she tends to apply categorizations as amorphous as those used by studies she is critical of. Perpetrators such as government officials, the BIA, the FBI, anti-Indian organizations, and colonial authorities warrant further identification.

She presents the context of hate crime in terms of the Marxist ideal of exploitation: the transfer of the product of labor from the laborer to the capitalist. In addition the effects of forcing of American Indians into the labor market are examined, along with exploitive hiring and employment discrimination.

Marginalization Perry defines as the restricting of capacities of a group that leaves them on the political, economic and social fringes. This is reflected in exclusion by the media, in the labor market, and isolation of reservations where Perry says Indians are kept in their place.

Disempowerment is an outcome of exclusion. It is also, according to Perry, an outcome of the federal trust relationship whereby Nations are considered dependent wards, weakening their right to self-determination. Lack of representation at the level of local politics, animosity of local law enforcement, and organized responses to assertions of sovereignty also add to the message that anti-Indian violence will not be punished.

Perry presents cultural imperialism as the typifying of values and experiences of the dominant group as the norm, while others are rendered invisible or deviant, lending permission to hate since imperialism implies that Native people are not worthy of respect. While this is not a new concept, her take on the capitalist underpinnings of the Euroamerican Christian religion begins to border on something interesting.

A clear and intensive delineation of the development of hate crime as a component of the broader effort to eradicate North American Indians, “Silent Victims” adds some food for thought on the old and new causes of racism against American Indians. Perry’s original thoughts sometimes lose their precision when stretched over the framework of previous studies, which is unfortunately mandated by academic formulas.

Yet her revitalization of the issue of forgotten Native victims of hate crimes illustrates how pressing her interviewees’ calls for challenging stereotypes, educating school children in Native history, promoting community awareness through intercultural events and providing formal racist treatment programs are. Many of the people she interviewed have drawn a confrontational line in the sand on an individual and activist basis, Legislation, she says, is too narrow of a response.

If Perry can engender answers to her call for “a collective, rather than localized, mobilization of political will. … to demand enforcement of hate-crime and civil-rights legislation, to educate against bigotry, to engage in campaigns against the institutions and mythologies that shape ethnoviolence,” with a “broader agenda toward Native sovereignty,” then this book will be as valuable to fostering solutions as it is to delineating the problem of hate crimes in Indian country.