Archives For violence against Native women

(Photo courtesy of Save Wįyąbi Project, who are doing truly amazing work)

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

Neon Indian is a hipster-indie band that has been gaining some notoriety as of late. They performed on Jimmy Fallon, and have been making the music festival circuit as well. Though the name annoys me, I hadn’t actually associated them with any cultural appropriation, since nothing I’ve read about the band references anything Native. I figured maybe they were talking about the other kind of Indian. Their name actually comes from (if you believe teh blogz) a make-believe band front man Alan Palomo (who is Latino) had in high school

So, even if the name wasn’t a direct reference, and the band has avoided Native stereotypes (send me images if you find otherwise), you can’t control your fans (Clearly, as we saw with the Blackhawks and Flyers fans last week).

The fans in that picture above crashed the Neon Indian stage at the music festival Bonaroo (more music festivals and headdresses, of course), wearing headdresses, feathers, and pasties on their bare breasts. According to hipster runoff, this is how it went down:

And it got even stranger during a riveting, bulked-up version of “Deadbeat Summer,” when a crew of scantily-clad ladies wearing homemade feather headdresses (two of whom were fully topless with colorfully painted boobs) bounded onto the stage, seemingly by design, and cavorted around aimlessly, jiggling to the wistful musings about sunlit streets and a starlit abyss. Depending on your vantage point, it was either hilarious or pathetic, but Palomo just laughed and shrugged.

Apparently the girls jumped up there on their own, and it wasn’t actually part of the set at all.

Here’s another image of the girls:

 (image source)

Yes, the headdresses are wrong. But what gets me even more is the topless/feather pasties part. There’s a legacy and history there that many people don’t know or understand.

Native women have been highly sexualized throughout history and in pop culture. There are any number of examples I can pull from, the “Indian Princess” stereotype is everwhere–think the story of Pocahontas, or Tiger Lily in Peter Pan, or Cher in her “half breed” video, or the land ‘o’ lakes girl, seriously almost any image of a Native woman that you’ve seen in popular culture. We’re either sexy squaws (the most offensive term out there), wise grandmas, or overweight ogres. But the pervasive “sexy squaw” is the most dangerous, especially when you know the basic facts about sexual violence against Native women:

  • 1 in 3 Native women will be raped in their lifetime 
  • 70% of sexual violence against Native women is committed by non-Natives

This Amnesty International study details, at great length, the gruesome truth about sexual violence in Indian Country.  Also, recently, Vanguard (a show on current TV) did a special called “Rape on the Reservation”. The show is about 45 minutes long, but so powerful, and so heartbreaking. Please watch it if you have time, even the intro is enough to shock you back to reality:

Now can you see why my heart breaks and I feel sick every time I see an image of a naked or scantily clad woman in a headdress? This is not just about cultural appropriation. This is about a serious, scary, and continuing legacy of violence against women in Indian Country. These girls probably thought they were just being “counter-culture” or “edgy,” but by perpetuating the stereotypes of Native women as sexual objects, they are aiding and continuing the cycle of violence.

Earlier:

But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?

Educating non-Natives at Lightning in a Bottle

The Hipster Headdress Abounds at Coachella

Headdresses and Music Festivals go together like PB and…Racism?

“The Sexiest Rain Dance Ever” 

(Thanks Ben and Virtue for sending me the pics)