Artwork for “Carceral Liberation? A Native American Prison Art Show”
Art credit: Kyle Jones

Native American Embodiment in Carceral Contexts

Tria Blu Wakpa, World Arts and Cultures/Dance, UCLA

Today, Native American adults and youth are overrepresented in detention centers and receive some of the harshest treatment from state and federal carceral institutions. The disproportionate imprisonment and sentencing of Indigenous peoples are inextricably connected to settler colonialism and its attempts to establish and maintain legitimacy on Native lands. Because Indigenous peoples’ very presence as citizens of Native nations undermines U.S. authority, settler colonial institutions—such prisons—have sought to control Indigenous bodies and mobilities. Conversely, Native peoples have critically and creatively navigated these impositions for their freedom and futurities. Yet, there is a dearth of discussion and resources about Indigenous incarceration.

This project consists of two, interlocking works, “Carceral Liberation? A Native American Prison Art Show” and “Carceral Liberation? The History and Politics of Native American Incarceration,” which is a documentary. For this project, Professor Blu Wakpa will partner with Indigenous peoples and organizations while drawing on the theoretical contributions of her previous and forthcoming publications and book manuscript. She offers the paradoxical term “carceral liberation” to highlight the phenomenon that many Native peoples gain, often for the first time, the ability to participate in Indigenous cultural practices offered in detention centers—which are otherwise unavailable to them in educational settings and the larger community—by sacrificing their physical freedom.

Through the prison art show and documentary about Native incarceration, Professor Blu Wakpa will work in collaboration with Indigenous peoples and organizations to raise awareness about the enduring injustices that settler colonial constructions and confinement cause. Visibility is a pivotal tactic of resistance, as settler colonial discourses often attempt to eclipse Native peoples through exclusion and/or misrepresentation. Moreover, recognition is often a precursor for social change.