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Stereotype of the Month Entry

From Indian Country Today, 7/18/01:

'Indian prison gang' claim exposes racial profiling
by Brenda Norrell
Today Staff

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona prison officials claim American Indian gangs are operating within the prison systems, but American Indian spiritual advisors say the claim exposes racial profiling in prisons and coincides with a movement for American Indian religious freedom rights.

"Just because they see two or three Indians hanging around together, right away they classify them as a gang," said Jose Matus, Yaqui spiritual leader and human rights advocate.

"If they see anyone with feathers and tattoos they say, 'He must be in an Indian gang.'"

Matus said the claim that a notorious American Indian gang, the Warrior Society, is operating in prisons is proof of racial profiling by prison officials who create distinctions by segregating groups.

Lenny Foster, Navajo project director for the Navajo Nation Corrections Project, is a spiritual advisor for inmates and advocate of Native American religious freedom rights in Arizona and nationwide.

Foster said he has never seen evidence of American Indian gangs during his visits to 96 state and federal prisons to assist with ceremonies and negotiate for religious rights.

"That is the first time I've seen that in the news. I don't know what they mean by that."

Prison officials claim feathers on tattoos streaming from a warrior shield are the gang's symbol. However, Foster said, "Eagles and feathers are common in Native art."

Foster said what actually is going on within prisons are increased demands for American Indian religious freedom rights.

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