I sat in my apartment in a daze today, thinking about the poor babies in Connecticut, and how many families’ lives were irreversibly changed. I kept thinking about my mom, a second grade teacher in California, and how her only responsibility as a teacher for 23 beautiful 7 year olds should be to help her students create, learn, and grow, not to protect them from an armed shooter, or even have to think about such a thing. When you look at the statistics, and see that eleven of the 20 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the United States–it points to a deeper problem. We live in a culture of violence, and it needs to stop.
Watching the incredible collective action occurring in Canada through the Idle No More movement over the last few days, I’ve become increasingly angry. I’m angry that Indigenous peoples in the US and Canada are in a position that we’ve been forced to march en mass, go on hunger strikes, and blockade roads just to get our voices heard–and that the national and international media is all but ignoring it. Our Native brothers and sisters to the north are fighting against a history of maltreatment and ongoing attacks against Native rights and sovereignty through acts of congress, and have turned to collective action as a means to give voice to the movement.
And I’m angry that here in the US, the Violence Against Women Act is about to expire any minute now, and GOP hold outs like John Boehner and Eric Cantor are keeping the bill from moving forward solely due to the tribal provisions that would protect Native women on reservations.
These are forms of violence. Systemic, real, deep and hateful violence. Violence against our land, our people, and our cultures. The United States and Canada were both founded on violence against and genocide of Native peoples. These nations would not exist were it not for the systematic and government sanctioned attempts of eradication of the Indigenous peoples of these lands. Though we espouse founding values of freedom and liberty, that freedom and liberty came at the cost of millions of Indigenous lives. Is it any wonder that even now, hundreds of years later, we still live in a culture of violence?
The Violence Against Women Act provisions that are holding up the bill are provisions that allow for the prosecution of Non-Indian perpetrators on Indian land within tribal court systems. The current laws state that crimes involving non-Indians are treated as federal cases. But in 2011, the federal government declined to pursue charges in 65% of domestic violence cases on reservations. Clearly this. is. unacceptable. 1 in 3 Native women have been raped or sexually assaulted, a rate 2.5 times higher than the national average, and of those crimes, 80% of them involve a non-Native assailant. This excellent Salon article discusses how these loopholes protect rapists on reservations, because they “know they can get away with it.”
What are Boehner and Cantor saying by not passing VAWA because of tribal provisions? That Native women don’t matter. That they are second-class citizens, who deserve less protection and less justice than their non-Native counterparts.
I fight against negative representations of Native people everyday on this blog, and these issues are tied up in this fight. Victoria Secret sending a headdressed bikini clad model down the runway, pocahotties on halloween, Blair Waldorf on gossip girl dressing up like an Indian stripper–these images paint Native women as sex objects, as sexual fantasies, as something to be conquered and owned. Yes, other women are highly sexualized by the media, but the problem is that there are no other representations of Native women to counteract these. The overwhelming majority of images of Native women we see are the sexualized “Indian Princess.”
So I’m tired, I’m upset, and I’m angry. I’m tired of being invisible, of Native rights being ignored, of ongoing and systemic violence going unchecked. I know my thoughts aren’t well formed, and my arguments might not be completely airtight, but we need to stand up. The connections are clear to me, though I know I haven’t found the exact and proper words to lay it out–yet.
27 people lost their lives today in a needless and horrible act, and for me it became the catalyst for me to start forming thoughts about something bigger. Violence isn’t just individual violent acts, it is much more. Violence is defined by the world health organization as the:
“Intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against a person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.”
That, by definition, is how the US and Canada have acted towards Indigenous Peoples. We live in an ongoing colonial state that has been defined by violence against Native peoples. And it needs to stop.
You can start by calling Boehner and Cantor and urging them to pass VAWA:
- Speaker Boehner’s 202-225-0600 or 202-225-6205 and
- House Majority Leader Cantor’s office 202-225-2815 or 202-225-4000
This is just the beginning. I feel that this is an important and real time for Native rights, and we will need to stand together in this fight. I’ve often worried that in my fight against negative representations I haven’t given readers images to replace the stereotyped and negative images. So let’s hope that we can replace those images with powerful and strong Native women and men who aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in.
Am I totally missing the mark? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments.
Other ways to stay involved:
Follow the #idlenomore tag on twitter for up to date info on the movement
Read more about the VAWA act
Post and share more information in the comments