What happened to Loreal Tsingine? Just another Native woman killed by police

Loreal Tsingine leaves behind a nine-year-old daughter

On March 27, 27-year-old Loreal Juana Barnell-Tsingine, a petite Navajo woman, was shot five times by a police officer in Winslow, Arizona. Loreal Tsingine is the fourth Native American woman to be killed by police this year. In January, in Washington State, Jacqueline Salyers was killed under disputed circumstances. In February, in Alaska, police shot and killed Patricia Kruger. In the same month, in Arizona, Sherrisa Homer was killed by police. Last year, police did not kill any Native American women. This year, it’s fast becoming the new normal. Of 277 people killed this year by police, 6 are Native Americans. That means Native Americans, at 1.57 deaths per million, top the charts on police killings. Again, of those six, four were women.

The killing of Loreal Tsingine took place in broad daylight. Police heard that a “Native woman” was shoplifting at a convenience store. According to police, Loreal Tsingine “fit the description.” They say they tried to arrest her, she resisted, she showed them a pair of scissors, and so a police officer fired at least five shots into her body. She fell to the street. A passerby rushed up to offer help: “I told the officer, `I know CPR, I can help her,’ but he told me step back, sir, and he pushed me.” According to local Navajo leaders, Loreal Tsingine died there and then, and was left on the sidewalk for hours.

Locally and nationally, Native American communities and their supporters are organizing under the banner #JusticeforLoreal and, once again, #NativeWomenMatter. On Saturday, Loreal Tsingine’s family joined with The Red Nation to hold a vigil. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said, “We as a nation demand justice.” Loreal Tsingine’s family said, “She was loved by so many. There are no words to describe the pain in our hearts.” And Red Nation organizer Melanie Yazzie explained, “She was executed in broad daylight. This officer did this because he knew he could do it with impunity.”

Part of the impunity is the widespread national silence. Have you heard of Loreal Tsingine’s death? Did you know that this year has already exceeded last year in police killings of Native women, and it’s only April? How many Native women have to lie dead, for hours, on the streets before their lives and deaths become newsworthy?

As Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye explained, “We hear about these types of shootings happening across the country.” Do we? #JusticeforLoreal

(Photo Credit 1: 12news)

Sarah Lee Circle Bear died in agony, screaming and begging for care

Sarah Lee Circle Bear

On July 6, Sarah Lee Circle Bear was “found” unconscious in a holding cell in Brown County Jail in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Women’s bodies keep being “found” in jails across the United States. Police are killing Native American women, such as Christina Tahhahwah, at a staggering rate. Overrepresented in prisons and jails, Native Americans are beyond overrepresented in jail mortality rates. They are the dumped and “found”. Sarah Lee Circle Bear’s death is typical as is the excruciating pain and suffering she was forced to endure as she died in agony, screaming and begging for care.

Sarah Lee Circle Bear was 24 years old, a Lakota woman, the mother of two children, aged one and two. She was picked up for a bond violation, which is to say for not much. According to other prisoners, before being transferred to a holding cell, Sarah Lee Circle Bear told her jailers that she was suffering excruciating pain. The staff told her to “knock it off” and “quit faking”. Inmates called to the staff to help her. The staff came, picked Sarah Lee Circle Bear up off the floor, dragged her out of the cell, and transferred to a holding cell. Later, they “found” Sarah Lee Circle Bear “unresponsive.” Her family is now seeking justice.

Prisoners, and especially those in jails, die in agony, begging and screaming for care. From 2000 through 2012, close to 13,000 people died in local jails. The State lists “cause of death” but never includes the State among those. Sarah Lee Circle Bear died in agony, screaming and begging for help. Her fellow prisoners screamed as well.

This is Chuneice Patterson’s story. A prisoner in the Onondaga County Justice Center, in Syracuse, New York, Chuneice Patterson died, November 2, 2009, of ectopic pregnancy. She spent hours in agony begging for care. No one came. Amy Lynn Cowling died, in December 2010, in excruciating pain in the Gregg County Jail, in Texas. From coast to coast and border to border, a national community has built with the shrieks of women in jail, dying in excruciating pain and suffering, screaming and begging for care. No one comes or, worse, they come and drag her away. The dead who are “found” are “unresponsive”? It’s the other way around.

What happened to Sarah Lee Circle Bear? Nothing much. All part of the plan. Just another Native American woman dead in a jail somewhere in the United States.

(Photo Credit: Terrance Circle Bear, Sr. / Indian Country Today)

Canada’s Highway, Prisons, Foster Homes, and Schools of Tears

The Ashley Smith inquest continues. Ashley Smith was a 19-year-old woman prisoner who troubled the government of Canada too much with her constant acting out and suicide attempts, and so, finally, was allowed to commit suicide while seven guards stood and watched.

The guards, four women and three men, have now testified. They all say their hands were tied; they were only following orders. They’re very sorry, even anguished, for how Ashley Smith died. They know they failed her, they know the State failed her. They were misinformed. They were told Ashley’s problems were “behavioral not mental.” Behavioral not mental is code for in control of one’s actions. When the madwoman in the attic is a 19-year-old in solitary confinement, somehow she becomes `sane.’ The guards say they knew something was wrong, but the doctors had told them otherwise. It was a victory of military discipline over human and common sense.

Some ask, “How does an 18-year-old end up doing serious time in a federal prison for throwing crab apples at a postman?” Others wonder if Ashley Smith’s death was suicide or murder. Did Ashley Smith die or was she killed?

The Ashley Smith inquest continues, and Ashley Smith is still dead.

Here’s another question. Is Ashley Smith’s experience an isolated one? How does Canada treat its troublesome children? Three current reports suggest that the treatment of Ashley Smith is more common public policy than exceptional horror.

One study documents “ongoing police failures to protect indigenous women and girls” in Northern British Columbia. This “failure to protect” includes gang rape, torture, abduction, and a whole menu of violence. This “failure to protect” has contributed to the construction of what many call the Highway of Tears, as has the national government’s `failure’ to care about the lives of indigenous women and girls. That’s not failure. That’s refusal, and it’s an aggressive public policy, not an omission or lack of action.

A second study follows a 13-year-old Aboriginal child from cradle to cage. Taken from his parents at an early age, he was tossed from one foster home to another. Most of them were abusive environments. The one foster parent who actually cared and tried to take care of the boy couldn’t get help from the State, and so had to give the child up. When the boy turned eight, and was in a residential facility, the staff started disciplining him by calling in the police. And so began his life of being Tasered, followed by time in prison.

His story is a common one. In British Columbia, of children and youth `in care’ more enter into the juvenile criminal justice system than graduate from high school. One in six youth in care have been in youth custody. Close to one-third of the youth in the juvenile justice system is Aboriginal, which pretty much accords with the adult prisons. As above, so below. That’s equality in a prison State; that’s public policy.

An unpublished study reports that more than 3000 Aboriginal children died in Indian residential schools. Children died of disease, malnutrition, and accidents. Children froze to death. From the 1870s to the 1990s, 150,000 First Nations children were forced through the meat grinder of “civilizing” instruction, and at least 2% of them died in house. The names of 500 of the 3000 dead are still unknown. What is known is that in 1917, the Department of Indian Affairs stopped reporting the deaths and death rates of Aboriginal students in residential `care’: “It was obviously a policy not to report them.”

In each instance, from the 3000 Aboriginal children to the one Aboriginal child to hundreds of missing Aboriginal women and girls to Ashley Smith, the State responded with silence, followed by denial.

The Highway of Tears is not a road to nowhere. It leads to the Prisons of Tears, to the Foster Homes of Tears, to the Schools of Tears. Ashley Smith’s suffering is part of the brutal disposal of children in a world in which care is forced to surrender to the business of security as usual.


(Photo Credit: cbc.ca/highwayoftears.ca)

Woman is the first environment


Canada’s Globe and Mail asks, “What’s behind the explosion of native activism?” Their answer? “Young people.” As usual, the answer hides as much as it reveals.

The explosion of Native activism, organizing, and sheer presence across Canada, has been ignited and inspired by Chief Theresa Spence and by the four women founders of Idle No More — Jessica Gordon, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean. These five women are not behind the explosion. They are the explosion.

At the same time, the fire that continues is indeed made up of young Native people, specifically, young Native women. The Globe and Mail focus on Erica Lee, a former student of Sheelah McLean, and Tala Tootoosis, a Facebook friend of Nina Wilson’s, suggests as much.

Young Native women have always been organizing. One example would be Jessica Yee Danforth, who describes herself as a “multiracial Indigenous hip-hop feminist reproductive justice freedom fighter!” Founder and Executive Director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, Yee Danforth is also the editor of Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the academic industrial complex of feminism, and a maker, shaker, and movement builder.

In 2011, on her way to the UN Climate Change Conference COP 17, Yee commented, “Climate change, for us, is a central issue because it has to do with what’s going on in our lands and our territories. And the way that we think about climate change is very broad. …When things impact our land and our air, they simultaneously impact our people and what’s going on in our communities. And for us, we understand that if we’re going to be talking about environmental issues of any sort, that woman in fact is the first environment. …What climate change is doing is not allowing our women to have healthy pregnancies. It is creating situations where there’s more violence in our communities, because of industry, for example. …We’re talking about issues of genocide. We’re talking about issues of survival of our peoples. And I know that we’re going to have some uncomfortable conversations even with organizers in our own communities this week, who just want to see this as a land-only issue or as an air-only issue and not understand that women being the first environment or the simultaneous, intersecting effects are really critical.”

What does this have to do with the current explosion of `raw energy’? Everything. Women are the first environment. Native women, young Native women and Native women elders, have always known this. When Jess Housty, a young Heiltsuk woman Idle No More organizer, explains, “I believe it’s in the best interests of people who care about the environment to support this,” she is invoking woman as the first environment. When Innu elder Marie Louise Andre Mackenzie explains, “I will always protect my land and my language,” she too understands, and teaches, women as the first environment. The Native women who researched and gathered stories of the hundreds upon hundreds of Aboriginal women and girls “missing” across Canada, and buried and lost in Canadian national policy. When those Native women refused to let their sisters go, refused to treat them as less than nothing, they understood, and insisted, that woman is the first environment.

These Native feminisms and feminists continually engaged and continually write deeper maps as they deepen and broaden the world. Behind the explosion of Native activism lies centuries of Native women’s resistance and emancipatory organizing and mobilizing. Right now, daily, across Canada and beyond, Native women, and in particular young Native women, are lighting the flame and taking it forward. Woman is the first environment. Remember that.


(Photo Credit: Rabble)

Regret haunts the world

Regret is in the air this week. You might say, regret is the name of the game and, even more, the game of the name. From Geneva to the Gushungo Dairy Estate, in Zimbabwe, to Guinea, it’s been a week of declarations of regret.

On Monday, in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, thousands gathered in peaceful, and courageous, protest, to demonstrate their opposition to the military dictatorship of Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who seized power in a military coup last December. Reports suggest that as many as 157 people were killed by soldiers who opened fire on them. Survivors and witnesses also reported, “A number of women taking part in the demonstration were stripped naked and sexually assaulted by security forces”. This has been described as “most shocking to the wearied citizens in this predominantly Muslim nation” who were “`profoundly traumatized’ by what had happened to the women in the stadium”.

The government of neighboring Liberia, a country that knows something about militarized sexual violence, issued a statement: ““The government of the Republic of Liberia has expressed grave concern at the events unfolding in neighboring Republic of Guinea, and has learned with profound regrets of the deaths of over 90 persons during a demonstration in Conakry on Monday, September 28, 2009”.

From Conakry, “Guinea’s military junta leader has expressed regret over the bloodshed in the clash between the opposition and security forces in the capital Conakry, Radio Senegal reported on Tuesday.” Death merits “merits” regret. Rape and sexual violence are clothed in silence, deep and profound.

In the same week, it was revealed that Nestlé had been purchasing dairy products from the Gushungo Dairy Estate, in the Mazowe Valley, about 20 kilometers north of Harare, a dairy farm recently taken over by Grace Mugabe. Once this was discovered, other connections were revealed. For example, DeLaval: “DeLaval, a leading equipment firm based in Sweden, is part of the giant Tetra Laval group owned by the Rausing dynasty”. They had sold a ton, actually tons, of equipment to Gushungo. Their response: “.Jörgen Haglind, a spokesman for Tetra Laval, said: “Tetra Laval was not previously aware of this transaction and we can only regret that the control functions within DeLaval have failed as this transaction should never have been approved.””  On Tuesday, “Delaval’s international spokesperson and vice-president of marketing and communications, Benoit Passard, said….”We regret that this has happened. We first made contact with the SA Dairy Association and then a long list of investors. The Mugabe name was never mentioned. This has come as a surprise to us and we would never have done business with them had we known this was who we were dealing with.””

Tuesday was a big day for expressions of regret. On Thursday, Nestlé Zimbabwe “ditched” Gushungo, without any expression of regret but rather an explanation of market forces. Perhaps those would include the threatened global boycott. We’ll never know. By Thursday, the government of Guinea was no longer expressing regret for anything, but rather claiming outside agitators and other nefarious forces were at work in Monday’s demonstration.

What is regret? “To remember, think of (something lost), with distress or longing; to feel (or express) sorrow for the loss of (a person or thing)…. To grieve at, feel mental distress on account of (some event, fact, action, etc.).” Regret is lamentation, grief, sorrow. Regret is loss.

In Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Andrea Smith, Cherokee scholar, feminist, rape crisis counselor, activist, woman, tells a story of regret: “`Assimilation’ into white society …only increased Native women’s vulnerability to violence. For instance, when the Cherokee nation was forcibly relocated to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears in the nineteenth century, soldiers targeted for sexual violence Cherokee women who spoke English and had attended mission schools….They were routinely gang-raped causing one missionary to the Cherokee, Daniel Butrick, to regret that any Cherokee had ever been taught English.”

As Smith records for Native women in the United States, as the women of Guinea and Zimbabwe understand deeply, as women in Sweden and Switzerland might know as well when they consider DeLaval and Nestlé as elements of their own well being and comfort, sexual violence is a State policy. It is not an exceptional event, but rather is woven into the very fiber of State security and national development. Ask the Sudanese women refugees in eastern Chad, who have no place to hide from or escape the daily sexual violence.

The United Nations Security Council this week voted to request the appointment of a special representative to address sexual violence in armed conflict zones. After the vote, “Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon … immediately following the text’s adoption…. expressed regret that previous responses to sexual violence had not been able to stem the scourge.”

Were the Security General to express regret, or the leader of Guinea, or the corporate representatives, or the clergy, or anyone in public office or private spaces, for sexual violence, it would have to be more than a simple pro forma apology. The one expressing regret must perform and demonstrate grief, lamentation, sorrow, must understand and teach a lesson of loss. Until then, regret haunts the world … profoundly.

(Photo Credit: Rhizome)