VICTIMIZATION OF WOMEN IN INDIAN COUNTRY

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

                     S.S.C. 

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

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Photos by, Amy Casselman

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