CW: Sexual harassment and assault.
Additional note: this is written from my female cis-hetero perspective. There are so many more layers and stories from our LGBT relatives. But those aren’t my stories, and I don’t want to misrepresent them. I can only speak to and from my experiences. As always, if you’d like to write a guest post, send me an email.
We all know the stories. We hold the stories.
I, like most women, read the recent Harvey Weinstein expose with dreaded recognition. I heard in the voices and the stories of the women he abused the voices and stories of my own friends. I heard my own voice and my own stories. I had to read it in small parts. Flipping back to other tabs, answering emails, clicking back. I read with my stomach clenched, my thoughts full of fear and anger. Power and vulnerability. Protection of power. Patriarchy. Consequences for victims but never abusers. The cycle repeats.
For years I’ve been thinking of how to approach this topic on the blog. It’s something that comes up so much in my friend circles, constant sessions of story swapping and commiserating and “omg him too?!” that happen whenever a table full of Native women get together. But there’s the fear of retribution, the fear of embarrassment, and the fear of airing the community’s dirty laundry. We struggle so much to be more than stereotypes. There’s a fear that if we talk about these issues, we fall back on any progress we’ve made.
But the stories nag at me. I think about my friends’ strong, beautiful faces and bodies, and I think about the shit they’ve been put through by some of your faves in Indian Country. The men we uphold as examples, as our “famous Indians,” our important leaders to be admired. The ones who have “made it.” The actors, the musicians, the athletes, the activists, the writers, the DJs, the politicians, the government workers, the business owners, the motivational speakers, the professors. I’ve heard so many stories. From heartbreaking, terrifying stories, to mundane, run-of-the-mill sexual harassment stories–the ones that should be horrifying but happen so often we’ve become numb.
The women’s whisper network in Indian Country is strong. We look out for each other. I’ve been pulled into offices by female mentors to be told who to stay away from and never be alone with at the next NAISA. I’ve been texted by friends who see where I’m going to be speaking to warn me about particular men at that institution. I got an email from a female follower once after I went after a prominent male Native on twitter to warn me that he was dangerous irl as well. We have elaborate dances we do to avoid abusers at conferences, at powwows, at Indian Markets, and at community events. We dip and dodge and sometimes still have to stand cautiously next to or end up on a conference call with the ones who hurt us or hurt our loved ones. We offer weak smiles and nods because we don’t want others to know in the moment. But we know who the womanizers are. We know which ones harm women. Yet we can’t speak up.
We’ve protected the ones that mainstream society has deemed “worthy.” My own stories include the young superstar athlete who sent unsolicited d*ck pics to many of us on snapchat. The now tribal attorney I turned down for a date who made my life hell for years by trying to prove I wasn’t Native. The married musician and self professed feminist who kept telling me to drink more at an after party, tried to get me to come back to his hotel room, and brought me to a corner under friendly pretenses only to try and make out with me. The head of a Native organization who was so brazen after an Ivy League conference he cornered my friend and tried to force her to kiss him, and five minutes later stuck his hand down the back of my jeans to grope me during a group photo–his wedding ring glinting in the flash, and my two Native male friends standing nearby, oblivious. There are other stories I’m not ready to tell. Then there are the smaller things. The ways Native men don’t treat us the way we deserve in relationships. The ways they use and throw away and move on to the next and the next. The ways we aren’t respected. The ways they know there’s always another option. The ways we don’t get the same credit or celebration for our work. The ways we’re often passed over for a male voice and a male perspective.
I often see on Instagram the next beautiful young woman swept up by the last harmful man and want to tell her, want to scream about the ways he hurt my friend, but I can’t. I see the men get awards, get speaking gigs, get starring roles, get tenure, get published, get fawning praise online, and I can’t do anything to stop it. I watch them talk about the need to respect and protect Native women, tweet out about #MMIW, proudly proclaim they come from matriarchal societies, and the rage boils inside me. I hold so many stories, but they’re not all mine to tell. This also isn’t new. These same conversations happened during AIM days. We know those stories too.
But I do know that we tell ourselves its ok. That they change. That it wasn’t that bad. That maybe we’re overreacting. That we have so few representations in the mainstream we don’t want to hurt their reputations. That they do “good work.” That it’s historical trauma and not their fault. That they are active in their ceremonies. That their partner is so amazing we don’t want to hurt her. That we fear the consequences of speaking out. That we might lose our jobs. That we might lose opportunities. That we might be pushed out of the communities that give us strength and joy. That we will be made to feel it was our fault. That we won’t be believed. That we don’t want others to feel the sadness we do at the loss of another role model.
We know the statistics, that one in three of our women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. We also are often quick to fall back on the statistic that 70% of these assaults are committed by non-Native men. But that still means 30% come from within our communities. And these are only the reported numbers. Imagine how many more go unreported.
We need to talk about it. I just don’t know how.
Of course not all Native men. Of course I know many thoughtful, kind, truly respectful Indigenous men. But many of those men are also complicit in this system. They know these other men, they share spaces and beers and panels and even ceremonies with them, and they also know the stories of their friends, their sisters, their partners–yet they say nothing. And if you read this post and are worried one of these stories I hold is about you, then it’s time to start examining yourself and your behavior. Our Native men need to step up and address and fix this. It’s not on us, and it’s not just me. Ask any woman in your life.
So I have no happy resolution or call to action. I just know that we have our own Harvey Weinsteins, and that reading those stories today made my own stories I keep bubble and burn and finally have to come out. We need to do better. Native women deserve better.
A few resources:
Strong Hearts Native Domestic Violence Helpline: 1−844-762-8483
Strong Hearts website list of resources: http://www.strongheartshelpline.org/resources/
Strong Hearts list of how to identify abuse: http://www.strongheartshelpline.org/abuse/