Several recent cases of extreme violence on the Navajo Reservation, which have propelled an anti-violence response in that Nation, represent a growing trend that is by no means unique to Navajo or even to Indian country.
But certainly Indian country suffers from the problem. Violence seems more acute, more common these days; it seems to come from a younger sector of the population, who in turn inflict it upon their peers.
At Navajo, it was quadruple murder that included the killing of a grandmother and her 9-year-old granddaughter last fall. Then, too, a woman shot three of her young children. It was a strong shock to the wider Navajo community as these kinds of incidents, particularly when they come in multiples, tend to gather attention. Nevertheless, these kinds of incidents point to serious problems, including potential breakdown in social cohesion, with which all communities must grapple.
Tribal peoples, in particular, buffeted by history and still at the margins of the social economy that surrounds us, are prone to take it out on each other.
According to a 1999 report from the Justice Department Bureau of Justice Statistics, American Indians are the victims of violent crimes at more than twice the rate of all U.S. residents.
Covering the years 1992 through 1996, the report found that the average annual rate of violent acts among Indians (including Alaska Natives and Aleuts) was 124 per 1,000 residents ages 12 years and older. This figure compared with 61 violent victimizations per 1,000 blacks, 49 per 1,000 whites and 29 per 1,000 Asians. Interestingly, American Indians are more likely to experience interracial violence. The BJS study also reported that alcohol was a major factor in violent crimes of and against American Indians, a problem for all tribes.
It is good to see the Navajo Nation invigorate its anti-violence forces. It is hard to over-emphasize the importance for all nations to put time and resources to the teaching of better and more gentle and loving parenting skills among our young parents. There is a great deal of impatience with very young children. The stress of poverty takes a big toll, but the horror of violent traumas experienced in the early formative years inflicts its biggest toll among our peoples. As some of those damaged youngsters reach adolescence, too often as untaught teenage young men and women, they begin searching for their role in the world by looking in the wrong places.
Several American Indian nations are now seeing the growth of gangs. A wanton and more brutal violence ? preying on the old and infirm, our elders, for instance ? is afoot. In many of our own young, the search is very often for identity, for a proper understanding of how to be a human being. Often, our young do not have the opportunity to search for themselves, based on the principles of our cultures and on the general global principles of universal respect and human values.
No greater historical reward will be bestowed upon a nation than when it vigorously pursues the proper education of its young to good social values. Persistent and respectful communication, as seen more and more through talking circles where young people can express themselves and share their burdens, fears, angers, is critically important. Enlisting the elders to be with the young is always beneficial.
In this respect we encourage young American Indians to begin their search by striving to achieve two highly valued character attributes: capacity and humility. Capacity pertains to the development of life-skills that are practical and useful to one's family, community and nation. Achieving capacity is simply accomplished by the sincere application of effort, in any given area of interest, over time. Education and experience are pathways to capacity. Humility is the essential element that binds the people and best assists and activates the collective power of good minds. Indian country's best leaders have always placed the interests of their peoples first, expressing the best visions of their people with words that resonate with cultural relevance and humanity and mutual affirmation.
Within family and community, anger only fuels dysfunction, untold pain and confusion. Alcohol is the best fuel of anger; it makes it burn most brutally. A major contributor in all social violence, alcohol abuse is always a central focus of attention in health and recovery from a violent life. Not only alcohol, but also unbridled and misdirected ambition, the preferred drug of those who actively seek to wield power or use violence, are mind- and behavior-altering drugs that do nothing more than shatter lives and bring dishonor to our peoples.