Saturday, August 2, 2008

Violence and sexual abuse against Native women

It seems like I've been reading an awful lot in the news about violence and sexual assault against Native women lately. What's more, it's more than just reporting that it's a pretty serious problem. As a Native woman, it is absolutely not news that we have the highest rates of sexual assault and abuse than any other group in the country. Alaska Native women even higher. What IS great news is that it is being addressed, and from what I see, in many different ways.

The first time I heard the statistic - 1 in 3 Native women would be sexually abused in their life - I was a little surprised. Not because it seemed like a high rate - I would have actually thought it was higher. As a "survivor" myself, it comes as a surprise when I meet a Native woman who has not been abused. It seems much rarer an occurence than it should.

What's more, many of the reports out there suggest that the rate of Native men abusing Native women is much higher than they would have thought. With such a low relative population of Native people in the U.S., the number of non-Natives attacking Natives should be pretty high. But researchers are finding that the strong majority of attacks against Native women are by Native men.

The fact that I am a "survivor" is not the difficult part to talk about - what is difficult to say in public is that we are so strongly victimized by our own. I am reminded of what Sen. Obama said recently about Black men being fathers, or any time someone within the community publicly addresses problems of that community. They are called betrayers, Uncle Tom's, they have no pride, they are victimizing their own people.

I can honestly see some of the alarm in it. After all, there will - THERE WILL - be the person who reads the above who goes, "See, it's totally a Native problem. We have no responsibility to address it ourselves." Or worse, "See - they are savages." Without context, without history, without reason, people will dismiss the problem as something fairly typical of Native people.

There are reasons. There are lots of reasons this happens. For those that want to read about some specific reasons here in Alaska, I suggest Harold Napolean's book, "Yuuyaraq:The Way of the Human Being." Yes, there are very plausible reasons about why this is happening to Native women and children. But there are no excuses.

Some years ago, a professor of mine who worked for many years in the Bush was talking to me about a report I did on social problems in the Native community. He said, "Big change is going to happen in the villages, and it's the Native women that are going to lead the change."

In some regard, this is true. There is change, it is happening already, and attitudes are beginning that long, slow swing into a much healthier place. And though women will certainly be a part of this change, we cannot do it without the men. This is not a retro-attitude - this is a truth.


Some of the recent bits in the news:

Incredible injustice for indigenous women op-ed from Indian Country Today. This is actually an older article that won an award for Native journalism that was recently publised again. It mentions some of the ways that women used to be (not so long ago) honored in Native culture.

Maze of Injustice report from Amnesty International (cited in the Indian Country Today article.)

Attorney in Bethel goes after sexual assualt crimes - from the Tundra Drums (Jul. 31 edition). A new D.A. for the region is really targeting the high number of assaults in the region (worst in the state, from a state which is worst in the country). Good for him.

NPR reports on the Tribal Law and Order Act introduced last week. This recently introduced bill specifically addresses violence against Native women.

Our Bodies, Our Blog post "Warped World for Native American Women Seeking Justice." The title speaks for itself. reports on the Adam Walsh Act hearings in July, which addresses requirements for sex offender registry and protecting children against abuse more. Although it is not specifically addressing problems in Native communities, it has been in the news lately because of some difficulty the tribes are having getting the system set up (mostly lack of funding and support).

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