The Barrette Project, Honoring Native Women Survivors of Sexual Violence by, the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition


She became a survivor at a very young age. Her sexual assault took place when she was only a toddler and has continued throughout her life, by family members and strangers.

 The most recent incident that happened, she found the strength to go to the hospital and report the crime to the police. Somehow there is no record of her assault. 

I am proud to say that has not stopped her from living and being strong for herself and her family, I am very honored to have her as one of my children. I made this barrette for my daughter.  (Black represents hurt and suffering. Turquoise represents healing surrounding the sacred four directions.)

            A Theme that Cannot be Ignored

While I was assisting with actions at standing rock and engaging with many different nations, one statement continued to be chanted and led in prayer, “Mother Earth, we must not keep raping Mother Earth!” I could not help but find the irony in the phrase. I do not say this lightly or disrespectfully, but I was aware of the extremely high, and disproportionately reported rate of sexual assault among Native women.

I sat with a Native woman at the great fire on Standing Rock, a part of the Rosebud Reservation in North Dakota during the evening prayers, and we began talking after the last sage and juniper bow were placed in the fire. She was a Lakota woman that drives down from Fargo every weekend to bring supplies. I found her many stories fascinating and beautiful. After visiting for hours, I noticed her eyes welling up when she spoke of her family and why they weren’t with her at the camp. She explained to me that for the last 10 years she had been part of a search program to find missing Native women. The last woman that was found was her niece; raped, beaten, and left in a culvert to die from the elements.  With this woman and her brave and loving heart grew the need to focus on a major scourge on humanity, the unmistakable epidemic of sexual violence against Native women.

With the colonization of the United States of America, a remarkable correlation resulted between the European settlers and an increase in sexual abuse towards Native women. In her book Injustice in Indian CountryAmy Casselman dispells the myth of rape being a common occurrence in the Native woman’s life. Instead, Casselman explains that before the European settlers arrived, rape was rare and the Native communities used their own justice systems to swiftly address the perpetrator and restore a balanced system in the tribe or nation.

According to Amnesty International  violence against Indigenous women is one of the most pervasive human rights abuses.…. Indigenous peoples in the USA face deeply entrenched marginalization – the result of a long history of systemic and pervasive abuse and persecution. Sexual violence against Indigenous women today is informed and conditioned by this legacy of widespread and egregious human rights abuses. American Indians experience sexual assault 2.5 times more than all other races, and one in three Indian women reports having been raped during her lifetime. There are many reasons for these statistics which will be thoroughly explored in the upcoming posts, but one glaring reason still remains: “Indian country is the only place where race becomes a de jure factor in criminal prosecution.” — Amy Casselman. In other words, Non-Native men are rarely arrested and even rarer to be prosecuted for sexual assault while on reservation land. A tangle of laws and statutes formed to “protect the Native American, and the sovereignty of their land” has worked in absolute contrast to victimize the Native women further.

Tribal courts can’t try non-Native individuals, which means white people can commit crimes on Native American land—including sexual assault—with virtually zero repercussions. Jessica Rizzo



Photos by, Amy Casselman



Protected Tribal Lands?

nodapl-smallUnderstanding Tribal Governments

The Congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with Indian the tribes
Article 1, Section 8 United States Constitution

Indian Nations have always been considered as distinct, independent political communities, retaining their original natural rights, as the undisputed possessors of the soil The very term  nation  so generally applied to them, means  a people distinct from others.
Chief Justice John Marshall United States Supreme Court Worcester v. Georgia
31 US (6 Pet.) 515, 561 (1832)

The utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians; their land and property shall never be taken away from them without their consent but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to time be made, for preventing wrong to them
Article Three
Northwest Ordinance of 1789


During the years of 1774 until 1832, treaties were devised between individual sovereign American Indian nations and the United States. These agreements negotiated to create borders and prescribe conditions of behavior between the parties, (primarily the United States government assigning the laws).  The settlement was agreed upon by both sides and signed into law until 1871 when the House of Representatives abolished the act of entering into treaties with the Native Americans. March 3, 1871 the Indian Appropriations Act was established in replacement of the prior agreements with the attached rider, U.S. Code 25. Thus, the Indian Appropriations Act formed a new era in Federal-tribal relations. The Act ended the forming of treaties with tribes as so called, sovereign nations.

Thus, the continued fallacy to help the natives becomes the control of the natives and their resources. This begins with the term “treaty” implying a contract between sovereign independent nations. However, natives were held in a permanent position of inequality and dependence, not as, or allowed to be negotiators. The inequality is the basis for the ongoing battles for the first nations to control their lands, rights, and tribal sovereignty.
The precursor to the Indian Appropriation Act of 1871, was the 1851 Indian Appropriations Act, which gave birth to the premise of reservations and placing the Indians on these lands. The U.S. government used the guise of protection to place the Indians on reservations.

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According to Shawn Regan, in 5 Ways the  Government Keeps Native American’s in Poverty,  Chief Justice John Marshall decreed the relationship between Indians and the government as “resembling that of a ward to his guardian.” With this statement, Marshall established the federal trust doctrine, which assigns the government as the trustee of Indian affairs. That trusteeship continues today, but it has not served Indians well.  Underlying this doctrine is the notion that tribes are not capable of owning or managing their lands. The government is the legal owner of all land and assets in Indian Country and is required to manage them for the benefit of Indians.

The design of these articles has done nothing more than create a tight hold on the Indian’s land and resources while creating a sovereign nation, which is anything but sovereign. As the 21st Century swept in, so did the protection of assets and resources. The more E.P.A. restrictions that have been enacted, so to are the “grabbing up” of land and eminent domain of the property. Long in the history of the Native American’s has there been mass movement of Indian’s from one geographical area to another. This is solely dependent on what was discovered and desired on the sovereign Indian tribal grounds. As the government needs the resources, the reservations are re-appropritated to a less desirable area.

Going forward in the next post, the natural resources and the extortion and mis-handling of the Indian’s lands, rights and resources will be further analyzed. The political climate is primed for more misappropriation of resources and devastating effects on the Indian’s and their lands.


Civil Rights Issues Facing Indian Nations, (First People)

This blog is designed for all people who wish to seek education, understanding and gain further knowledge to the multi-faceted problems facing the First Nations in America. Furthermore, this blog post is to create a positive forum to promote the dispelling of stereotypes and foster activism to create change for the millions of marginalized First People.

According to Julian Brave NoiseCat, the Native Issues Fellow at The Huffington Post in his article, These are the problems you do not hear enough about (2015), there are currently 567 tribes, or as the Indigenous prefer, “nations” including 229 Alaska Native communities, presently recognized by the federal government. In Canada, there are 600 First Nations identified, The Bureau of Indian Affairs — the federal oversight agency created to maintain relationships with indigenous communities — is also evaluating the need for incorporating Hawaii. Every federally recognized tribe is a nation unto itself — sovereign, self-determining and self-governing — and supposedly maintains a reciprocating government-to-government relationship with the United States. Also, the rights of all indigenous peoples, including Native Hawaiians, have been affirmed in a 2007 United Nations declaration. Each native nation has a distinct history, language, and culture. While many face concerns that are unique to their government, state, or region, certain issues are universal to all native populations and have intersectional characteristics making the issues eve more layered. There will be issues, and problems explored across all sections of these nations in the future blogs.

The preliminary questions that will be addressed in the future posts are:

  1.  How do the Native’s draw awareness to, and advocate to change the federal government stripping their land away?
  2.  What can be done to mitigate and limit the exploitation of natural resources on their sovereign land that is threatening their communities?
  3.  How is violence against their women and children being dealt with?
  4.  What can be done to correct their failing educational system?
  5.  What can be done to close the gap on health disparities, including substance abuse and unfortunately the unforeseen, “un-intended” problems that arise from these health issues?

The videos, articles, books, and photos are a small step towards understanding the history and formation of oppression facing the Indian’s today. It is also a segway into the coming month’s blogs on Oceti Sakowin or Standing Rock. The blog postings will be many, for the issue is foremost in the news and in the hearts of those who stand with the many Nations fighting for the right to their treaty land as well as the adverse effects the North Dakota Access Pipeline crossing under their water supply will create now and for generations to come.

Web Sources:

How Independent Are Native American Reservations?

The above video discusses the notion of independence for the Indian’s and how sovereignty is more an enigma than a reality

Standing Rock Protest Documentary by Levitate Media 3rd September 2016

Discusses the multitude of factors leading to the protests at Standing Rock.

 Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know Podcast: Why are People Protesting at North Dakota?

Published on Nov 17, 2016

A Podcast that explains the media blackout and political underpinnings involved with the Standing Rock and the North Dakota Access Pipeline.

Glenn, E. J., & Rafert, S. (2009). The Native Americans. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press.

A book that chronicles the Native Americans from 950 B.C. to 2008 to establish the foundation for the colonialism and oppression that is now present in contemporary times. 

LaDuke, W. (2016). The Beginning is Near:  The Deep North, Evictions and Pipeline Deadlines. Special to News From Indian Country and Everybody Else. Retrieved from:
An in-depth look at the impact the big oil companies are having on the Lakota Tribes as well as the future of the native lands and resources.
Tinker, G. E. (2008). American Indian Liberation: A theology of sovereignty. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
A look at the theories about sovereignty and how they were enacted to control the resources of the Indian’s while also confining the physicality of the Indian’s to reservations.