Indian Women Still Feel Genocide
Empowering The Hoop Program Manager
By Sam Hurst,
Rapid City Journal columnist
August 8, 2005
No one likes to talk about the genocide. It was so long ago. What does it have to do with us? That's the way a century washes over the horror. Those who conduct the slaughter will always tell you, "We had to do it." There's always a good reason. Land. Buffalo hides.Manifest destiny. God made us do it.
Then the passage of time rubs off the rough edges. By the third and fourth generation, no one remembers. No one is taught.
About a decade ago, my sister developed an interest in genealogy and for Christmas the family received a report on the Hursts ofTennessee, by way of the Shenandoah Valley, by way of SherwoodForest. There, staring me in the face, across the centuries, was a photograph of John Hurst, black as charcoal, one of several family slaves. Of course! How could it be otherwise? That was the culture, the economy of the South. Every Southerner is complicit. We have just forgotten ... willfully, arrogantly, forgotten.
In the 12 years I have lived in South Dakota, I have met dozens of people who proudly boast that they are fourth-generation homesteaders. But no one has ever admitted to me that their families participated in the genocide. "What does it have to do with us?"
I am haunted by a passage in a little book, "The Badlands Fox," by Margaret Lemley Warren. She wrote about the adventures of her father, Pete, who ranched along the Cheyenne River at the end of the 19th century. He told her stories of the early days.
"We went over and stirred them (Indians) up and a lot of our fellows laid in at thehead of a gulch ... and they chased us down Corral Draw ... RileyMiller was a dead shot, and he just killed them Indians as fast as he could shoot ... We killed about seventy-five of them. Riley Miller and Frank Lockhart went back there and got some pack horses and brought out seven loads of guns, shirts, war bonnets, ghost shirts and things. Riley took 'em to Chicago and started a museum. He made a barrel of money out of it."
I am haunted by this passage because my ranch stares across the Cheyenne River at Corral Draw.
There are a hundred ways that the terror of the genocide continues to ripple through our lives, but none is more explosive than the cruel, hard fact that we beat and rape Indian women as if they were utterly without value. Consider these numbers:
-- Fifty percent of Indian women in America will be beaten in their lifetime. That is twice the percentage of white and black and hispanic women. I find this statistic impossible to believe. I talk to a counselor at the Sacred Circle resource center in RapidCity. "Could this possibly be true at Pine Ridge, or Rosebud, or North Rapid?" She shrugs. "Statistics are hard to gather on the reservations. Women are taught to keep their mouths shut. But I was beaten, and I don't know hardly any women who haven't been."
-- Indian women are raped at twice the rate of all other races.
-- Seventy percent of the violence against Indian women is committedby non-Indian spouses or boyfriends or acquaintances.
-- One in four pregnant Indian women is beaten.
-- Two-thirds of all Indian boys between 11 and 20 arrested formurder, killing the man who assaulted their mother.
Is the problem poverty? Yes.
Is the problem alcohol and drug abuse? Yes
Lousy law enforcement? Yes.
A lack of shelters and court protections for native women? Yes.
Is the problem a deeply ingrained sexism in American culture that blames the victims? Yes.
But at its root, the problem is that 500 years of genocide and colonization have made Indian women invisible.The reservations are isolated, and we easily drift into a dismissive disinterest, as if this is a problem in Bangladesh, or Botswana - far, far away. It's their problem.
That's why it is so important to remember the genocide. It matters ... today, right now, to all of us. Next month Congress will vote to re-authorize the Violence AgainstWomen Act, and for the first time (thanks largely to the work ofSouth Dakota Indian women), the law will create a tribal division within the Justice Department to manage programs for Native women, increase funding for shelters, an inter-tribal sex offender registry, a protection order registry, better training for law enforcement and expand counseling for men.
But make no mistake. There is no silver bullet solution to the problem. Ask a woman who has worked in the movement against violence and she will tell you that the best place to start is for the whole communityto adopt a zero tolerance for violence against women. Women are sacred. There is no excuse for hitting a woman, not one, not ever.
We will begin to make headway when the men in our community enforce this code with each other ... before the police are called.
I have a more simple way of looking at the problem. When every womanin the community becomes my daughter or sister. When the violence against them is violence against me, we will begin to put the legacy of the genocide behind us.
Sam Hurst is a Rapid City filmmaker.
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