Lauren Chief Elk speaks of the brutal sexual violence crushing Native American communities
Something is very wrong here. My peers feel it, I feel it, and it’s not going away. Those of us in the Native American community know we are being targeted—and as I read about sexualized violence against civilians in war zones, I can’t help but draw parallels to the brutality against Native women.
Violence against us is at astronomical levels; it is a plague. This is not hyperbole and this not a distortion of numbers. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs described the plight of Native American women as a human rights crisis. Amnesty International called it an epidemic. Amnesty reports that our women are 2.5 times more likely to be stalked than any other population; the murder rate with respect to Native women is 10 times the national average. Most disconcerting is that Native women report that the perpetrators of more than 85 percent of sexualized assaults against them are non-Native men, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In fact, rape and abuse in our community have always stemmed from outsiders. It is well documented through oral traditions, stories, and cultural beliefs that prior to the European invasion, sexualized and domestic violence was not accepted and virtually did not exist in indigenous society. In “Decolonizing Rape Law: A Native Feminist Synthesis of Safety and Sovereignty,” Native scholar and activist Sarah Deer states that rape was once “extremely rare in tribal communities. Arguably, the imposition of colonial systems of power and control has resulted in Native women being the most victimized group of people in the United States.”
Scholar Lisa Poupart at the University of Wisconsin notes that the “traditional spiritual world views that organized daily tribal life prohibited harm by individuals against other beings. To harm another being was akin to committing the same violation against the spirit world.” Through the process of colonization, women were subjugated to a type of pain they had never previously known. That pain has reverberated through generations and has carried over to present day.
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–Photo: A billboard on the author’s reservation in Fort Belknap, Montana. Scholars say sexualized and domestic violence are products of colonialism. (Lauren Chief Elk)