**TRIGGER WARNING: Rape, other forms of sexual violence**
Here in Minneapolis, a growing number of Native American women wear red shawls to powwows to honor survivors of sexual violence. The shawls, a traditional symbol of nurturing, flow toward the earth. The women seem cloaked in blood. People hush. Everyone rises, not only in respect, for we are jolted into personal memories and griefs. Men and children hold hands, acknowledging the outward spiral of the violations women suffer.
The Justice Department reports that one in three Native women is raped over her lifetime, while other sources report that many Native women are too demoralized to report rape. Perhaps this is because federal prosecutors decline to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse cases, according to the Government Accountability Office. Further tearing at the social fabric of communities, a Native woman battered by her non-Native husband has no recourse for justice in tribal courts, even if both live on reservation ground. More than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts.
The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center says this gap in the law has attracted non-Indian habitual sexual predators to tribal areas. Alexandra Pierce, author of a 2009 report on sexual violence against Indian women in Minnesota, has found that there rapes on upstate reservations increase during hunting season. A non-Indian can drive up from the cities and be home in five hours. The tribal police can’t arrest him.
To protect Native women, tribal authorities must be able to apprehend, charge and try rapists — regardless of race. Tribal courts had such jurisdiction until 1978, when the Supreme Court ruled that they did not have inherent jurisdiction to try non-Indians without specific authorization from Congress. The Senate bill would restore limited jurisdiction over non-Indians suspected of perpetrating sex crimes, but even this unnerves some officials. “You’ve got to have a jury that is a reflection of society as a whole, and on an Indian reservation, it’s going to be made up of Indians, right?” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “So the non-Indian doesn’t get a fair trial.”
Leaving aside the fact that most Native defendants tried in the United States face Indian-free juries, and disregarding the fulsome notion that Native people can’t be impartial jurists, Mr. Grassley got his facts wrong. Most reservations have substantial non-Indian populations, and Native families are often mixed. The Senate version guarantees non-Indians the right to effective counsel and trial by an impartial jury.
What seems like dry legislation can leave Native women at the mercy of their predators or provide a slim margin of hope for justice. As a Cheyenne proverb goes, a nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.
Q: How would you characterize your activism? In my mind, I think of you as a Lakota reproductive justice rockstar. Is that accurate? Why or why not?
A: I would characterize my activism as bringing awareness about the injustices and atrocities that Indigenous women (which also boils down to all women) have faced historically, as well as currently. Specifically I feel it’s necessary to have my focus of discussions about Native women as I’ve always felt left out of mainstream media and culture because I am a native woman.
Q: What are one or two pressing issues that you wish people were paying more attention to? Why?
A: I wish more people were paying attention to the Violence Against Women Act with provisions for tribal women, immigrants, and LGBT communities. I also wish more people paid attention to the exploitation of lands the world over, as it is a direct exploitation and assault against women’s bodies.
Q: What do you love about South Dakota?
A: I love the land in South Dakota. We have a vast prairie, with one of the largest natural prairie eco-systems in the world; the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. I love listening to the Western Meadowlark, with its cheerful song that celebrates the summers on the prairie. I love seeing various birds of prey on any given day, sitting alongside the road or flying high in the sky, searching for their meal. I love the Red-Tail Hawk’s piercing song. I love the prairie sunsets with various colors of pastels streaming across a never ending sky over a sea of golden grass. I love the summer time in South Dakota.
**TRIGGER WARNING: Gendered violence, sexual violence, colonialism/colonizaton, abuse**
Many of the strategies to address violence have further strengthened broad systems of colonial power, which are themselves inherently violent. We continue to appeal to the Canadian legal system to address physical violence, calling for more policing or better laws, while knowing this system is set up to oppress, rather than help, us. The same colonial mentality that created the Indian Act to privilege the rights of men over women, and instituted residential schools to break down our family systems, serves as the foundation for the Canadian legal system. Surely we must engage with this powerful system, but appealing to law alone will not stop the violence.
So how do we begin to change norms around gendered violence without reinforcing its roots in colonial power? As we strategize, we must be careful not to reproduce the systems and ideologies that colonialism has introduced. Sexist, racist and homophobic ideas have been internalized at many levels, but colonialism’s stealthy ways make them hard to recognize.
As an example, one consequence of developing broad public awareness about the prevalence of violence against Indigenous women has been the privileging of some women’s voices over others. Moving from Vancouver’s downtown east side to offices in Ottawa and other urban centers across Turtle Island, efforts to name gendered violence have shifted from grassroots discussions to slick poster campaigns. In these moves, certain voices have been left behind, enacting a form of silencing that I believe is in crucial need of reparation. Rather than calling on our sisters in the sex trade to speak for themselves, others are asked to speak on their behalf. We must ask ourselves how colonial values continue to shape whose voices are seen as legitimate, while working to center the voices of the most marginalized women in our communities rather than only those of us with a colonial education.
So colonial violence can be understood as more than just interpersonal abuse – it is inherent in the systems that have shaped how we define ourselves and relate to one another as Indigenous people. It should go without saying that healing from violence requires rebuilding our individual and collective strength rather than reinforcing the power of the state. By centering local Indigenous knowledge in our understandings of leadership, honor, strength and love, we can redefine ‘power’ as well as ‘violence’. This requires relearning our stories and our cultural teaching in order to raise up the girls in our communities and respect them as leaders, mothers, warriors and knowledge keepers.
There just aren’t even words for how messed up all of this is. At the very least Shantelle should’ve had the right to share or not share this information with her classmates on her own time and in a way she feels comfortable with. Big ups to Shantelle and what sounds like a very supportive mother bringing in the ACLU and letting people know this isn’t okay.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Mexico filed a lawsuit last week behalf of Shantelle Hicks, 15, who was initially kicked out of middle school and then publicly humiliated at an assembly by the school director because she was pregnant.
“It was so embarrassing to have all the other kids staring at me as I walked into the gymnasium,” Hicks said in a statement released by the ACLU. “I didn’t want the whole school to know I was pregnant because it’s not their business, and it wasn’t right for my teachers to single me out.”
Hicks attends Wingate Elementary School, a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school, and is currently in the eighth grade. She discovered she was pregnant approximately three weeks before the assembly, and she and her mother told the director of the middle school and two other staff members. They initially responded by kicking her out of school. The ACLU of New Mexico sent a demand letter to the school, informing them that it is illegal to deny a student access to education because of pregnancy status. Wingate readmitted Hicks after four missed days of instruction.
Approximately two weeks later the director of the middle school and another staff member had Hicks stand before the entire middle school at an assembly and announced that she was pregnant. Until that point, no one other than Hicks’ sister knew that she was pregnant.
“Too often, pregnant students face significant barriers or outright discrimination in school,” said Galen Sherwin, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Instead, schools should give pregnant and parenting students the support they need to help them succeed, for both themselves and for their children.”
and PLEASE don’t lose site of the fact that this is a *boarding school*. which means that while this sort of thing probably does happen at public schools—there is a *historical relationship* with pregnant native students and native sexuality and boarding school violence and *genocide* that absolutely can NOT be overlooked here…in other words, this isn’t “slut shaming”—except in how slut shaming is connected to *genocide*.