Congressional Republicans headed by Eric Cantor are stalling on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Senate has already passed a bill that increases protection for Native, LGBT and undocumented immigrant women.
of our sisters.
We have already seen and heard during the last election season what many Republicans think about rape. The unconscionable knuckle dragging on VAWA is yet another example.
But too many of us are still not aware of and fighting for the group of women who are the most likely to be raped, assaulted or murdered.
This is ugly. It is time we as a nation stop ignoring ugly.
Don’t look away. Please read on.
How in the hell can we make what is invisible visible?
The most invisible group in our country are Native Americans. Even more invisible is what is happening to Native American and Alaska Native women.
We are not powerless to act. We can raise our voices to demand justice and protection for our sisters.
The Indian Law Resource Center, has been fighting for a stronger VAWA which will increase protections for Native women. They have an online petition.
You can contact your representative in Congress.
In 2010 President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, in an emotional ceremony. He was introduced by Lisa Marie Ayotte, who broke down as she described her rape and assault on the Rosebud Reservation while her two little girls hid. The president strode out to comfort her as she spoke through her tears.
He stated in his remarks:
“it is unconscionable that crime rates in Indian Country are more than twice the national average and up to 20 times the national average on some reservations. And all of you believe, like I do, that when one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes, that is an assault on our national conscience; it is an affront to our shared humanity; it is something that we cannot allow to continue.”
We must not only take action, we must also shred the veils of history and make what is now hidden visible.
We need to understand that the rape of native women is part of the foundation of our nation.
I recommend Conquest
by Andrea Smith as an important book to start with.
A recognized Native American scholar and co-founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
, the largest grassroots, multiracial feminist organization in the country, Andrea Smith (Cherokee) is an emerging leader in progressive political circles. In Conquest, Smith places Native American women at the center of her analysis of sexual violence, challenging both conventional definitions of the term and conventional responses to the problem.
Beginning with the impact of the abuses inflicted on Native American children at state-sanctioned boarding schools from the 1880s to the 1980s, Smith adroitly expands our conception of violence to include environmental racism, population control and the widespread appropriation of Indian cultural practices by whites and other non-natives. Smith deftly connects these and other examples of historical and contemporary colonialism to the high rates of violence against Native American women—the most likely women in the United States to die of poverty-related illnesses, be victims of rape and suffer partner abuse.
Native American author Louise Erdrich
has just received the National Book Award
for fiction for The Round House
. While driving to school last week, I got to hear her discuss the book
, which deals with rape, and though this is fiction, she made it clear that it is rooted in the facts about what is happening to native women, and how it affects their families.
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.
While searching for additional material to use to teach this history in my women’s studies classes, I was googling using terms like “squaw rape” and came across some of the following.
Radical feminist Andrea Dworkin
had written a scathing critique of the video game Custer’s Revenge
in “Letter From a War Zone”
Racist violation is actively promoted in pornography; and the abuse has pornography’s distinctive dynamic—an annihilating sadism, the brutality and contempt taken wholesale from the pornography itself. The pornographic video game “Custer’s Revenge” generated many gang rapes of Native American women. In the game, men try to capture a “squaw,” tie her to a tree, and rape her. In the sexually explicit game, the penis goes in and out, in and out. One victim of the “game” said: “When I was first asked to testify I resisted some because the memories are so painful and so recent. I am here because of my four-year-old daughter and other Indian children… I was attacked by two white men and from the beginning they let me know they hated my people … And they let me know that the rape of a ‘squaw’ by white men was practically honored by white society. In fact, it had been made into a video game called ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ [sic]. They held me down and as one was running the tip of his knife across my face and throat he said, ‘Do you want to play Custer’s Last Stand ? It’s great, you lose but you don’t care, do you? You like a little pain, don’t you, squaw?’ They both laughed and then he said, ‘There is a lot of cock in Custer’s Last Stand. You should be grateful, squaw, that All-American boys like us want you. Maybe we will tie you to a tree and start a fire around you.”’
I was repulsed by the report that the “game” had sold 80,000 copies. Digging more deeply into “squaw rape,” I found historical citations (thank you Yasuragi for transcribing them) from texts which documented some of the earliest contact between invading conquerors and indigenous people.
Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America
Southern California: An Island on the Land
A third category of sexual interaction evolved when whites invaded native territory and claimed the right to control the sexuality of individual women of a whole culture. In the nineteenth century, this pattern was typically one of American dominance over Indians and Mexicans, but it had antecedents in the Spanish treatment of Indians in the Southwest. One means by which Spaniards had subjugated local Indians was rape. As a Spanish man explained, “only with lascivious treatment are Indian women conquered.” Seventeenth-century Pueblo Indians had petitioned the Spanish government because soldiers so often forced Indian women to have sex. Some Indians also complained against the Catholic clergy, and at least one priest was accused of raping Indian servants. In a different form of sexual imperialism, the Catholic church tried to force Indians to give up their sexual practices. For example, the church opposed polygamy, and friars physically punished Pueblos who continued this custom. The Spanish also attempted to suppress the cross-dressing berdaches among those Indians who were brought under the influence of the missions.
When white Americans became the conquerors in western territories, they too claimed sexual access to native women and tried to obliterate Indian and Mexican sexual customs. Warfare with western Indian tribes justified, for white soldiers, the rape of Indian women. During the Bear Flag Revolt in California, John C. Frémont ordered a Mexican prisoner to deliver her young Indian maid to the officers’ barracks. “By resorting to artifices,” Rosalia Vallego de Lessee recalled, “I managed to save the unhappy girl from the fate decreed to her by the lawless band.” Other Indian women were less fortunate. After winning a battle in 1869, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer allegedly invited his officers to “avail themselves of the services of a captured squaw,” while he selected a Cheyenne woman named Monasetah for himself. The absence of Anglo women at frontier military garrisons encouraged enlisted men to seduce or bribe Indians to become prostitutes. Some army officers were known to keep “favorite squaws,” or mistresses, and several were court-martialed for their involvements with Mexican or Indian prostitutes.
In the predominantly male mining areas of California, where local Indian tribes had been decimated by disease and impoverishment, sexual contact between white men and Indian women usually took the form of rape, and sometimes paid prostitution. Miners seeking temporary sexual outlets assumed the availability of local Indian women. The fact that most of these women did not cover their breasts gave miners the false impression that they had no modesty or were promiscuous. Miners also knew that they could act with impunity, since white men could not be convicted of rape, or of any crime, based on the testimony of an Indian. Together, these white stereotypes and legal privileges made Indian women highly vulnerable to sexual attack. In 1850, for example, three Indian women were “bedevilled and tormented” by white men. Some white miners offered food or money to buy Indian women’s sexual favors, but as a California newspaper reported in 1858, if men failed to “obtain a squaw by fair means, [they would] not hesitate to use foul.” White men were known “to drag off” Indian women as if they were literally fair game. As one settler recorded after a hunting trip, he had bagged, “all told, two grizzlys, one Antelope and a digger squaw este noche.” Indians resisted white men’s assaults, either through retaliatory raids or individual effort. During a California military expedition in 1850, a settler approached “a comely squaw hidden in the brush” and tried to force her to go with him; the woman’s response left him “more glad to escape with his life from the clutch of a she bear, than he was to get away from her.” Other women fled to the mountains to escape pursuit by drunken white men in search of sexual partners. For those unable to avoid the assaults, the birth of a mixed-blood child often resulted.
Under the impact of the Anglo invasion, the whole fabric of Indian life, already weakened by the Mission system, completely disintegrated. While the toll of disease had been heavy enough under Mission-Mexican rule, it became still heavier after the arrival of the Americans. American settlers invaded the remaining rancherias, or native villages, teaching the men to gamble and to steal, and teaching the women, as Hugo Reid put it, “to be worse than they were.” After 1848 prostitution became an established trade for Indian women in California. The old Spanish custom of raping Indian “squaws” became an established Yankee practice. The family life of the Indians was completely disrupted. According to the indefatigable Dr. Cook, some 12,000 Indian women became the concubines of white settlers. As the half-breed population increased, the half-breeds were automatically assigned to the Indian nether world and became the objects of a special loathing and disdain. Defeated in his initial resistance, his passion for revenge frustrated, the Indian was forced back, as Dr. Cook states, “to a silent, ineradicable, suppressed animosity, against all things American which was not forgotten long after other wrongs had passed into oblivion.” It was this undercurrent of resentment which precluded even the thought of assimilation.
As a woman of color who is the product of a bi-centennial of breeding farms during slavery, this history is not new to me.
The callous use of woman, and particularly women of color, is ongoing. This obscene history is evident today, in our laws and in our political processes. It is not exclusive to males, since I doubt any of us can forget the cold-blooded policies of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin which denied Alaska Native women rape kits.
Native citizens of South Dakota have not forgotten Jacinta Eagle Deer, who brought charges against William Janklow for raping her on the Rosebud Reservation when she was a 15-year-old babysitter for his children. William “Wild Bill” Janklow went on to become governor. Eagle Deer is dead and so is he. We may never uncover the truth about “Wild Bill.”
But there is one truth that is self-evident.
The rapes continue. The violence against Native women continues.
Republicans in Congress have made their position clear.
It is now time for us to make our voices heard.
As of Dec 6, there has been some progress towards a compromise between the Senate and the House, according to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women
Stand up and be counted before more of our sisters are knocked down and violated.Do something!
ACTION ALERT: Congressman Issa has given us a path forward that allows VAWA to protect Native victims. But Republican leadership needs to hear from you. Urge them to accept this compromise and pass a VAWA that protects all victims.
Please call Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor and tell them …
A final VAWA that does not protect Native women and does not hold perpetrators accountable is unacceptable. Urge them to support the Issa compromise on Tribal provisions (H.R. 6625) and include that in VAWA so that VAWA can move forward to protect all victims.
Speaker Boehner: 202.225.6205
Leader Cantor: 202.225.2815