“One in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime, and six in ten will be physically assaulted.” (Using the Declaration to End Violence Against Native Women 1). Data like that is disturbing and astronomical, but people cannot turn away from this atrociousness and hope that the matter will eventually sort itself out. This course covered ample content related to Indigenous women including their struggles, triumphs, ways of understanding, and movements. Two of the topics went hand-in-hand and demanded the attention and response: violence against Indigenous women and their reaction to it. A week was spent covering violence in Indigenous communities, but this assignment was the perfect opportunity to further explore this topic. Whether the media chooses to acknowledge the truth or not, the fact remains that sexual violence towards Indigenous women and girls across the globe is prevalent. The horrors of the violent crimes again Indigenous women are matched by their fierce, but quiet strength that is displayed as they fight the uphill battle for justice and peace. Although hostility and sexual assault towards Indigenous women date back to early settlement days when they were used as forms of subjugation or annexation, many factors are still present today and contribute to overwhelming statistics. Local political systems and law reinforcement have done precious little to combat the atrocious acts, but unexpected champions have arisen on behalf of Indigenous women: themselves. Recently, Indigenous women have united together and found a voice powerful enough to start drawing attention to the discrimination and abuse.
There are several causes that play directly into modern-day violence towards Indigenous women. One factor that contributes to violence towards Indigenous women in Canada is “social and economic marginalization…along with a history of government policies that have torn apart Indigenous families and communities…” (Stolen Sisters 2). This issue has resulted in many Indigenous women being placed into treacherous situations such as poverty and homelessness which can lead to undesirable vocations like prostitution. Some discriminatory views are also products of the colonization-centered mindset which recognizes Indigenous men and women alike as being less than first-class citizens. That mentality plagues many of those who administer the criminal justice system, including judges, prosecutors, and police. They often embrace the ubiquitous opinion that “women are responsible for violence committed against them or that they deserve to be punished for non-conforming behavior.” (Stolen Sisters 7). The fact that the previous two factors exist leaves Indigenous women further vulnerable to future crimes. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous men see an opportunity when the law is not being enforced sufficiently, and therefore the number of attacks against Indigenous women only continues to rise. The lack of police intervention only minimizes the validity of the violent acts committed against Indigenous women, creating an influx in crimes.
Indigenous women are not standing idly by, however, while their sisters suffer daily. Tamra Truett Jerue, Director for the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center and Tribal Administrator and Director of Social Services for the Anvik Village Tribal Council, is one of those women. In her response to increasing crimes of Alaskan Indigenous women— “Alaska Native women are subjected to the highest rate of forcible sexual assault in the United States; one in two experience sexual or physical violence in her lifetime”—she exposed the discriminatory legal system that plagues the state. “The painful truth of the matter is,” Jerue explains, “that although Alaska Native women have the same human rights as all other people, our women are protected less and denied access to meaningful remedies just because they are indigenous and are being assaulted in Alaska Native villages.” (Anvik Village Tribal Council 1). She, like many other Indigenous female leaders, believes much of the issue (and therefore solution) lies within the local government and its daily scuffles with Indigenous peoples. If they were acknowledged as sovereign and allowed to self-govern, they would be better prepared to address the violent crimes. More Indigenous women getting involved in government and activism at local levels will only strengthen their voices and help put an end to the violent acts.
Violence towards Indigenous women is historically linked to war and the “conquer and assimilate” mindsets that plague many colonizers. Indigenous women have stepped up in response and begun to address war itself and the detrimental impacts it has on Indigenous life. Leaders in this movement believe they are instrumental in fighting for alternatives to capitalism and colonialism. According to Maria Suarez, a Costa Rican feminist journalist and human rights activist, “violence against women is and remains a cornerstone for all other kinds of violence used to subjugate.” (Gies 1). Capitalism is the brother to colonialism, and both patriarchal systems seek to devalue Indigenous women because they only view them as a commodity. This mindset causes its followers to justify violence towards Indigenous women as a structural aspect of the system. In America, a state ripe with capitalistic mentalities, “crimes go unprosecuted, as documented in a federal report showing that, from 2005-2009, U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute 50% of all Indian country matters referred to them, 67% of which involved sexual abuse and related matters.” (Using the Declaration to End Violence Against Native Women 1). Unfortunately, this theme reoccurs all over the world because colonizers have dug their roots into every corner of the globe. Regardless of these struggles, Indigenous women from all over the word have come together to address the problems within their communities, for “their resistance is key to their own survival, the defense of their territory and communities, and the protection of the land and natural resources.” (Gies 1).
There is still much to be done. In North America alone, “although the 566 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native nations have inherent sovereign authority over their territories and people, their ability to protect Native women from violence and to provide them with meaningful remedies has been unjustly limited by U.S. domestic law and policy.” (Using the Declaration to End Violence Against Native Women 1). These systems might be a wreck, but that is not stopping Indigenous women from contributing to, organizing, working to liberate their communities. Pam Palmater, Mi’kmaw Nation lawyer, professor, and vocal activist against Canada’s state-sanctioned violence and refusal to address missing and murder women cases, believes “Indigenous women on the front lines remind all countries that you don’t need to be elected in a state system to be a leader and defend and protect lands and waters for future generations, and that is what our women are doing.” (Gies 1). Leadership through unity is the key, and these Indigenous leaders are out on the frontlines daily protesting the systems that have attacked Indigenous women for generations. These acts of violence are structural, not accidental, and the resistance of these women demands not only justice and protection for their bodies, but also for their land, sovereignty, and future generations.
Anvik Village Tribal Council. Social Services. Indigenous Women’s Movements to End Violence
Against American Indian, Alaska Native, and Aboriginal Women. Indian Law Resource Center. Indian Law Resource Center, 22 Mar. 2016. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
Gies, Heather. “Facing Violence, Resistance Is Survival for Indigenous Women.” The Hampton
Institute. The Hampton Institute, 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 01 May 2017.
“Using the Declaration to End Violence Against Native Women.” Indian Law Resource Center.
Indian Law Resource Center, 1 Feb. 2012. Web. 01 May 2017.
“Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous
Women in Canada.” Amnesty International Report (2004): 1-37. Web. 10 Feb. 2017. <http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/women-s-rights/violence-againstwomen/maze-of-injustice>.