y Rocío Hernández
Carol Williams has carried a deep pain in her heart. When she was young, The Native American Fallon resident saw her mother, Julie Mae Potts Williams, die because of domestic violence. After she was married, Williams found herself in an abusive relationship.
Since William saw her mother en- dure abuse at the hands of her father, Williams assumed violent behavior was common in families. Her former husband was sometimes left Williams’ face purple and disfigured with cuts. Today, Williams can look past that and still feel beautiful.
“I’m a survivor of domestic violence, emotional, physical, mental and sexual,” Williams said. “I am OK.”
In a Center for Disease Control and Prevention study conducted in 2008, 39 percent of Native women self-identified as victims of intimate partner violence. The U.S. Department of Justice has found that Native American women’s attackers are more likely to be white than Native American and Alaska Natives.
Christine Braunworth, an intern for the intertribal higher education program for the Center for Student Cultural Diversity, hosted the event title Stop Violence Against Women at the University of Nevada, Reno on Tuesday, April 21. The event held in partnerships with the Native American Student Organization, Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and the Fallon Pauite Shosone Tribe sought to bring domestic violence issues that exist in Native American communities to light.
In her senior year at UNR, Braunworth thought it especially important that the students and faculty were aware of how domestic violence affects peoples’ lives.
In recent years, there have been significant strides in the United States to protect Native American women. President Barack Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in 2013. The act gives tribal police officer s the authority to arrest non-Native people that commit acts of violence within the reservation, a power they did not have before.
“Indian Country has some of the highest rates of domestic abuse in America,” Obama said during the act’s signing. “And one of the reasons is that when Native American women are abused on tribal lands by an attacker who is not Native American, the attacker is immune from prosecution by tribal courts… That ends. Tribal governments have an inherent right to protect their people, and all women deserve the right to live free from fear.”
Ralph Burns has observed that in his culture, women are revered because they are givers of life. Burns said that men were never taught to hurt to their partners and wives. He has heard some men believe violent acts against women make them manlier.
Burns grew up on stories that condemned violence and taught him to respect women. He told the audience a story of two friends; a skunk and a raccoon. On a fishing trip, the skunk grew jealous of the raccoon’s fish pile, which was significantly greater than his own. In his rage, the skunk kicked the raccoon’s fish.
The act led to a fight. As a result, the skunk fell into the fire. The story condemns violence even if a person feels it’s legitimized, because it can create regrettable consequences.
Braunworth felt that it was important for someone to talk about Native American history told through stories.
“I think going back to culture, I think it helps [find] your identity and who you are,” Braunworth said.
Like Burns, Braunworth refused to believe that violence against women as a part of early Native American culture.
“I think that stems back to the destruction of the original cultures and the way they were intended originally,” Braunworth said. “Even deeper than that, there is a lot of historical trauma across the board.”
The event’s keynote speaker, Lakota Harden focused her talk on the hardships that Native American communities have suffered throughout history. Many wounds have been inflicted on her people through government initiatives such as Indian boarding schools. She suspects that the trauma might be a reason for the emergence of violence now found within reservations.
In her presentation, speaker Clarice Charlie-Hubbard, the director of the Family Violence Program at the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, dispelled the notion that it is easy to leave harmful situations. Charlie-Hubbard said that people often believe that there are plenty of resources and shelters for women who are in abusive relationship. When women stay, people can be quick to assume that it is because the victim enjoys being mistreated and is “stupid.”
Instead, Charlie-Hubbard informed the audience that often times, women are compelled to endure domestic violence for reasons that include their kids, fear, lack of financial independence and threats.
Braunworth hopes that everyone that attended realizes that violence against Native American women is a problem that still persists in today’s society and there is more that can be done to help victims escape these situations.
Rocío Hernández can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter @rociohdz19.