Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month. While we celebrate the diverse and vibrant cultures of indigenous peoples in the Americas, it is also important that we take a look at the way a history of marginalization has uniquely impacted Native Americans’ experiences with domestic and sexual violence. Here are the facts:

  • Native Americans ages 12 and older experience an average of 5,900 sexual assaults each year.
  • Native Americans are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault than all other races in the United States.
  • More than one in three Native American women are raped in their lifetimes.
  • 39% of Native American women are victims of domestic violence
  • Most of the intimate partner violence against Native American women are perpetrated by non-Native men.

These startling statistics are a breach of social equity and are reflective of a complex accumulation of multi-generational oppression. A history of genocide, dehumanization, forced assimilation, and land seizure disrupted cultural norms and implanted seeds of trauma that were passed down from generation to generation. Adding to this trauma are the structural barriers that make access to supportive services difficult. Many Native American reservations are located in remote and isolated regions of the country, making it hard for law enforcement, social services, and other supports to even reach survivors and perpetrators. Furthermore, as a result of the 1978 Oliphant vs. Suquamish Supreme Court Decision, tribal courts did not have the legal authority to prosecute non-Native people who committed crimes. Because much of the sexual and domestic violence experienced by Native Americans was perpetrated by non-Natives, many such crimes saw no legal consequences. These are just a few reasons that contribute to the alarming rates at which Native Americans experience sexual and domestic violence.

We are inspired by the continual efforts of Native American leaders to push for the social and legal reforms necessary to bring about justice. Leaders like Tsi-Cy-Altsa (Deborah Parker), whose advocacy supported the re-authorization of #VAWA and its inclusion of protections for Native Americans; Susan Balbas, Co-founder and Executive Director of a Native American women and girls’ empowerment organization called The Na’ah Illahee Fund; and Peggy Bird, Darlene Correa, and Genne James who co-founded the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. Their work continues to galvanize us.

There is so much more work needed to repair the harms that have been done to Native American communities for centuries, but we remain hopeful that it can be done. To learn more about sexual violence and domestic violence in Native American communities, we recommend watching Rape on the Reservation, a documentary about sexual assault on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Some additional resources can be found at the following sites:

The Strong Hearts Native Helpline: a culturally-appropriate, anonymous, confidential service dedicated to serving Native American survivors of domestic violence and concerned family members and friends. Call 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) Mondays through Fridays from 10am to 6:30pm EST.

National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center: seeks to enhance the capacity of American Indian and Alaska Native (Native) tribes, Native Hawaiians, and Tribal and Native Hawaiian organizations to respond to domestic violence

Coalition to Stop Violence against Native Women: a New Mexico-based organization that aims to end violence against Native women and children through policy advocacy, training, technical assistance, and support.

Mending the Sacred Hoop: a Native-owned and operated non-profit organization in Minnesota that works to end violence against Native women including domestic and sexual violence, dating violence, sex trafficking, and stalking

Montana DOJ Office of Victim Services: works collaboratively with leaders and survivors on Native American reservations across Montana to provide culturally responsive supports for domestic violence survivors by issuing Hope Cards.

Sexual Assault in Indian Country: a publication by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center that provides a historical context for understanding the nature of sexual violence among Native American communities

Injustice in Indian Country: a book by Amy Casselman Hontalas that examines the intersections of race, gender, and federal policy and portrays violence against Native women in a colonial context

Maze of Injustice: a report by Amnesty International that frames the epidemic of sexual violence against Native American women in a human rights lens.