When I was a little girl, I thought I was the only one. I thought I was different, and not in a good way. I had assumed that the things that I saw, the things that were done to me….were normal. I remember I would pray for a “normal” life, one where my mom wasn’t being hurt, where she didn’t have pain and could just be Mom- Superwoman, fixer of all. It wasn’t until I became a little older that I was brave enough to tell my friend. It happened to her too. A small group of us at what you would call a “slumber party” (but we were way too cool for that), started sharing. There were five of us. One by one, we went around and each of us had been violated. Still, I believed that I was different. I thought that people HAD to know how messed up I really was, how I was dirty, and not good enough. Through the work of a wonderful advocate, I was shown that I wasn’t messed up. I wasn’t dirty. All of the traumas I survived was not my shame to carry.
The reason that I’m sharing a small part of my story is to show you how tragically common it is for Native women to be perpetrated on, whether it’s domestic or sexual violence. 1 in 3 native women will experience violence in their lifetime and the majority of those criminal acts will be committed by a non-Native perpetrator. For decades, we (Tribal nations) have not had the authority to protect our women, and for decades, we’ve had non-Native perpetrators know this and go so far as to call the police for their partner. In that time, we’ve had Native Woman Warriors and our allies working to protect our women.
On March 7, President Obama signed the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) into law. It included Tribal provisions 904 and 905. They give Tribes the jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native offenders. All the tears, prayers, and frustrations paid off because this was a victory for ALL women.
Some of you may recall a conversation Congressman Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and I had March 26, 2013, where he spoke very openly against the Tribal Provisions and in fact threatened violence to Spirit Lake Nation’s Tribal Council (three of which were women). He also stated that as a non-Native man, he did not feel safe stepping foot onto a reservation because of the newly passed Tribal Provisions and how ‘unconstitutional’ he thought the provisions were. He was not the only elected official to share this sentiment. Tribal Sovereignty is what it almost always comes down to- Oliphant vs. the Suquamish Indian Tribe– the federal case that said Tribes do not have jurisdiction to try or punish non-Native offenders on their own lands. Even Cramer asked me, “Well what is it that you want? Do you want your sovereignty? Or do you want our help? You can’t have them both.”
Why can’t we? We deserve both.
While VAWA closed the Oliphant loophole, this hard fought battle is not over. It’s never over. We must NEVER forget the stories, the faces, the names of our women who have suffered and especially those who have died. We must always honor them and do what we can to protect our sisters, mothers, daughters, nieces, and children. As a celebration of the passage of VAWA 2013, the stories of women and men who helped make it happen, are being told through a play, Sliver of a Full Moon, of which I’ve been asked to be a part of. The stories are very real. The women have names: Lisa Brunner, Deborah Parker, Billie Jo Rich, Diane Millich. They share their stories and again remind us why the Tribal Provisions are so important. Their words will make you cry and get angry, but they will also make you thankful for the warriors who have fought tirelessly to get us where we are now.
Sliver of a Full Moon, a portrayal of the resistance and celebration surrounding the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act with provisions for Native women, will premier at the Women Are Sacred Conference, June 11, 6:30-8:30 PM, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, 11000 Broadway SE, Albuquerque, NM.
Catch the play via livestream at: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/138275/events/2158097