Women’s Healing Circle Relapse Prevention Group

by Sarah Sense-Wilson

The Tulalip Tribes Family Services Women’s Healing Circle –Relapse Prevention Treatment Group, is a cultural based approach to supporting Native women in their efforts to address relapse prevention within the context of community, family and individual. The Women’s Healing Circle meets twice a week (10:00am-12noon) Tuesdays/Thursdays for 6 weeks at TFS. We include Native perspective, worldview and culture specific exercises and activities which build on strengths, and supports a holistic approach for wellness and health. Our Women’s Healing Circle group is designed to incorporate traditional universal Native values and beliefs for enhancing identity and fostering healthy relationships. You must be enrolled in TFS chemical dependency treatment program for participation in Women’s Healing Circle group. Please contact TFS for more information at 360-716-4400


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Alaska Native tribes no longer have to register restraining orders with state

By Matt Buxton, Newsminer.com

FAIRBANKS — Alaska Native tribes will no longer have to jump through extra hoops to have their domestic violence restraining orders enforced by the state.

A legal opinion issued by Alaska Attorney General Craig Richards ruled Alaska law was out of line with the federal Violence Against Women Act, clearing the way for a direct link between tribal courts and state troopers.

“This opinion provides clear direction to officers on the ground as well as the victims they seek to protect,” Richards said in a news release. “There should now be no doubt that these protection orders must be enforced.”

The legal opinion found an Alaska law requiring tribal court-issued restraining orders be registered with courts before they could be enforced was superseded by federal Violence Against Women Act.

The Violence Against Women Act specifically says protective orders issued by Alaska Native tribes, other tribes and other governments do not need to be registered to be enforced.

“The State should not enforce or apply the provisions of state law that conflict with VAWA,” the opinion said, “and should investigate and prosecute violations of tribal and foreign protection orders that meet the full faith and credit requirements set forth in VAWA.”

Tanana Chiefs Conference President Victor Joseph applauded the decision, saying it will help curb domestic violence and empower tribes.

“This will no doubt add to the protection of our Native women and children in our villages,” he said. “It is one less step victims will have to take in order to get the protection from law enforcement that they deserve. It is also a step in the right direction needed to lower the high rates of domestic violence as recognized by the Indian Law & Order Commission’s report.”

The protective orders must still comply with the guidelines set out in the Violence Against Women Act. Those include the tribe having the appropriate jurisdiction over the issue and provide due process.

The protection orders must be for “the protection of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, or stalking,” according to the federal law.

The order still encourages the tribes to register protection orders with the state court system.

“While not required for enforcement, registration of tribal and foreign protection orders helps officers to protect and serve the public,” the order explains.

The opinion was requested by Department of Public Safety Commissioner Gary Folger.

The jurisdiction of tribal courts is likely to continue to be an important issue in Alaska in coming years.

North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill has introduced a bill that would give tribal courts jurisdiction over misdemeanor crimes. He said it not only lessens the cost for the state to enforce misdemeanor laws in rural Alaska, but importantly is a better tool to address problems in rural Alaska than the traditional court system.

“The tribal courts are using a restorative justice model that really suits many small villages,” he said. “To be fair, there are some that do it well and some that are not doing it as well as others, but the reality is something has got to happen in the rural communities to allow people to hold each other accountable.”

Granting tribes greater jurisdiction over criminal and civil issues has been a prickly issue for many legislators and administrations, but Coghill said there’s a compromise that can and should be struck.

“We have such a diversity in Alaska,” he said, “and if you can’t find a way to work in those diverse conditions, I think we’ve failed.”

Next week the Tanana Chiefs Conference will be hosting its annual Tribal Court Development Conference in Fairbanks.

For Native Women, High Price of Rape Goes Untold

The Cherokee Nation has begun an advertising campaign to encourage native women to seek help.Credit: Photo by Suzette Brewer
The Cherokee Nation has begun an advertising campaign to encourage native women to seek help.
Credit: Photo by Suzette Brewer

There’s no way to quantify the damage, but tribal leaders estimate it’s in the billions. “It happens every day in every native community; it’s that common,” says Jodi Gillette, former special assistant on Native American Affairs to the White House.

By Suzette Brewer, WeNews Correspondent

STILWELL, Okla. (WOMENSENEWS)– For six years Brendan Johnson served as U.S. attorney for the State of South Dakota.

During his time as federal prosecutor, Johnson says fully 100 percent of the women and girls engaged in the sex trafficking industry were victims of rape and-or sexual abuse earlier in their lives.

“We had an underage girl from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota who was picked up in Sioux Falls and wound up in a sex ring,” said Johnson, who is now in private practice, in a phone interview from his office in Sioux Falls, S.D. “She was a single mother and had not a penny to her name, which is very common. She didn’t want to rely on government assistance because of the fear that her child would be taken away. She had also been sexually abused prior to this. So the high economic impact of these situations is hard to accurately quantify, because of post-traumatic stress disorder and the related issues for girls who are vulnerable targets for these criminals.”

Tribal women are the most vulnerable group of women when it comes to rape; nearly three times as likely to suffer sexual assault than all other races in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice.

“It happens every day in every native community–it’s that common,” says Jodi Gillette, the former special assistant on Native American Affairs to the White House. “I know literally dozens of women who have told me at one point or another that they were raped or sexually abused, but no one talks about it because of the stigma. So they suffer in silence.”

Gillette, who now serves as a tribal policy advisor for the Sonosky Chambers law firm in Washington, D.C., recently testified at the U.S. Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva that even with recent passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the Violence Against Women Act of 2013, which closed jurisdictional gaps and allowed non-tribal perpetrators to be tried in tribal courts, much work remains to be done.

Basic Services a Struggle

“Many tribes struggle to provide basic victims services, necessary training and staff for courts and adequate mental health care,” said Gillette in a recent phone interview. “To this day, tribes still cannot prosecute non-Indians for child abuse, rape and other serious crimes against women and children and must rely on the federal authorities, who usually only prosecute the worst crimes. This leaves vulnerable many Indigenous women and children unprotected in their own homelands.”

Nearly one-third of tribal women, or approximately 875,000 nationwide, report being raped at some time in their lives. Two-thirds of their perpetrators are non-Indian, who until very recently could not be prosecuted in tribal court and are still unlikely to ever face formal charges for their crimes in state or federal court. This is due, in part, to the fact that–despite the recent expansions of tribal court to prosecute rape–many smaller and-or remote tribes either do not have their own tribal court systems and do not have the resources to establish one.

The scourge of rape in Indian country has impacted every single community among the nation’s 567 federally-recognized tribes, whose total population hovers around 5.2 million.

The costs–both emotional and financial–are staggering for communities already beset by poverty and its attendant social problems in geographically isolated regions.

The American College of Emergency Physicians, based in Irving, Texas, estimates that the tangible costs of rape–for both the victim and the society–are approximately $150,000 per victim. That amount covers a range of categories including expenses for justice and prosecution, physical and mental health issues for the woman and her family, social services including emergency response teams and shelters, loss of education, loss of wages and/or employment.

Emotional costs, including pain and suffering for the victim and her children, possible death of the victim, including suicide and others, are incalculable.

Native American writer Louise Erdrich, in her 2012 book “The Round House,” tells the story of Geraldine Coutts, an Ojibwe woman who has been raped on Indian land. After her attacker goes free because of jurisdictional issues on Indian reservations, her teenaged son sets out on a quest to seek justice for his mother, who has retreated to her bed, paralyzed by grief and trauma.

Though the story is fictional, Erdrich’s book accurately captures the terrible toll of rape for Native women

Tribal leaders estimate that the final tally is in the billions for native communities already strapped by poverty and lack of opportunity.

Overlapping Issues

The pervasive and pernicious nature of sexual assault and abuse overlaps with a variety of other serious issues within native communities.

“Sexual assault presents some of the greatest challenges in Indian country,” Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said in a recent email interview. “Because of the devastating impact that sexual assault can have on self-worth and self-esteem, we know that it may be a contributing factor to the epidemic of youth suicides. As we try to help tribal communities cope with a suicide crisis, it is imperative that we address each of the risk factors. For that reason, we have been working on better responding to the needs of survivors of sexual assault.”

Across the country, geographic isolation and jurisdictional complexities continue to be the biggest obstacles in both the prosecution and restitution of these crimes, particularly in Alaska, which has 229 tribes and is nearly three times larger than Texas.

The Northern Plains and the tribes of the Southwest are similarly situated, with tribal law enforcement and social service departments already bursting with overflowing caseloads and limited resources to prosecute. But with a growing sense of urgency, many tribes are redirecting as many resources as possible to address what is regarded as a human rights crisis in Indian communities.

The two largest tribes–the Cherokee Nation and Navajo Nation, for example–have dedicated agencies to assist their tribal members who are victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes. In 2013, the Cherokee Nation opened the One Fire Victims Service Office, which provides emergency advocate assistance to law enforcement, transitional housing and even legal assistance for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or dating violence.

Help Navigating the System

The Navajo Nation Victims Assistance Program also works closely with the three states within its boundaries–Arizona, New Mexico and Utah–to assist its tribal members with help in navigating the legal system, as well as completing applications for financial assistance for health-related expenses, costs of funerals, lost wages, eyewear, and Native healing ceremonies and traditional medicine people.

The smaller tribes, many of whom have poor economies and high unemployment, still struggle with the enormous legal, logistic and financial burdens of sexual assault in their communities.

For them, not much has changed over the years, in spite of new legislation and programs to help stem the violence against Native women.

Gillette recalls a high school friend from the 1980s whose case is one of the few that have ever gone to trial. She says her friend, who was from the Northern Plains, was skewered and portrayed as a “whore” on the stand after being gang-raped by a half-dozen white teenagers from a neighboring community, even though she was a virgin at the time of the assault. Nonetheless, her perpetrators went free while her friend felt punished for coming forward.

“They made an example of her,” said Gillette, who remains haunted by her friend’s case. “The message was clear, ‘This is what’s going to happen to you if you tell.’ And she was only 15 years old. In this day and age, you’d think we’re past that–but we’re not.”

Tester Begins Hearings on Sex Trafficking in Indian Country

Courtesy Sen. Jon Tester/FlickrAbout 100 people gathered for a listening session with Sen. Jon Tester on August 28 to discuss the increased trafficking of mostly young girls and women in Indian country.
Courtesy Sen. Jon Tester/Flickr
About 100 people gathered for a listening session with Sen. Jon Tester on August 28 to discuss the increased trafficking of mostly young girls and women in Indian country.


Suzette Brewer, 9/3/14, Indian Country Today


As the trafficking of Native women and girls becomes more prevalent in an expanding radius around the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, politicians and indigenous leaders are seeking to protect these young victims—and help the survivors heal.

“Human trafficking is a serious issue afflicting our region and much of Indian country. Tribes from Washington State to New York have felt its terrible impact,” said Montana Senator Jon Tester during opening remarks at a listening session he held at Ft. Peck Community College on August 28. “Montana and North Dakota have been especially hard-hit by increases in crime, including human trafficking, due to the explosive influx of people and resources following the oil and gas boom in the Bakken.”

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The listening session was aimed at gathering more information from tribal leaders and local law enforcement regarding the spike in sex trafficking of underage girls, as well as other related crimes that have increased since the oil boom began in the Bakken region. Also among the panelists at Thursday’s session was United States Attorney Mike Cotter, who appeared at the event to voice the growing alarm shared by he and his colleagues in Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming, about the exploding industry of human trafficking involving mostly Native girls aged 12 to 14 who are being sold for sex.

“If you look around the rural regions of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, you would not expect to find 12-14 year old girls sold for sex on the Internet, or lured by an adult for sex or forced into a life of servitude by predators to sell their bodies to strangers,” Cotter told the audience of about 100 tribal leaders, community members and law enforcement. “It is hard to imagine but it is here in our region, and this corruption occurs with too much frequency and is more prevalent than one would imagine.”

Cotter underscored the fact that human trafficking is a global, national and regional problem that has snared millions of men, women and children into being trafficked for labor and commercial sex. Situated on the energy-rich Williston Basin, the Bakken Oil Patch is located in North Dakota. Since the energy boom in that state began, crime rates in the multi-state region have also spiked, including sexual violence, domestic violence, multiple murders and an increase in the use of meth and other drugs.

“We’re dealing with drug cartels, we’re dealing with people who don’t come to the door with a shotgun, they come to the door with a sub-machine gun,” said Tester. “And it’s very different. A lot of law enforcement agencies have seen a real uptick in crime, but haven’t seen an uptick in police officers or staffing or training.”

Typically, traffickers target mostly young girls who average between 12 and 14 years in age and are usually from low-income homes where one or both parents are absent. Additionally, many of the girls are already victims of child abuse and neglect, and many are struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. In South Dakota alone, Tester said, at least half of the sex trafficking victims are Native girls. Many of the girls, he said, are lured during times of vulnerability, when they may be homeless or struggling in other ways.

RELATED: Native Girls Are Being Exploited and Destroyed at an Alarming Rate

Native School Girls Should Not Be for Sale on the Street

Tribal leaders across the region have also begun to feel the burden of the crime rates in their own communities, which are often underfunded, understaffed and ill-equipped to take on Mexican cartels, who they say have infiltrated the region and are well-organized and armed with heavy weaponry, including machine guns, which heretofore have been a rarity in the Northern Plains. The Fort Peck Indian Reservation, for example, is located approximately two and a half hours west of the Bakken region. Still, their tribal chairman said, his community is feeling the downside of the boom.

“Because of our proximity to the Bakken oil field, we are already seeing the negative effects of oil and gas development without any financial benefits,” Chairman Rusty Stafne of the Fort Peck Tribes of Montana, told the audience. “Washington has been quick to promote the exploitation of natural resources, but slow to provide the necessary funding for the increased demand on our services and infrastructure.”

“Adding to the problem is the lack of treatment available to survivors,” said Tester. “The survivors are often children or young adults from impoverished homes with broken family ties. Help for them is rarely available in the Native community—or even within a manageable drive.”

The negative impacts of the rise in crime is also being felt among tribes in South Dakota and Wyoming, both of whom have had an increase in the trafficking of their young girls.

“Energy development is bringing tremendous new opportunities to the region, but with the good comes the bad,” said Tester. “Many of the small towns on reservations and surrounding areas are being inundated with new businesses and more jobs, but also with infrastructure challenges and bad actors attracted to the profits and free-wheeling environment.”

Cotter said the Department of Justice launched the Human Trafficking Enhanced Enforcement Initiative in 2011. In 2012, the Montana U.S. Attorney’s office created the Montana Human Trafficking Task Force to confront the “complex, multi-dimensional crime of human trafficking, which includes sex crimes, violent crimes, immigration crimes, labor exploitation, fraud, money laundering and organized crime.

Among the attendees were Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall, Montana State Director of Indian Affairs Jason Smith, Roosevelt County Sheriff Freedom Crawford and Annie Daumiller of the Annie Casey Foundation.

“As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I am very aware of the economic and social challenges facing the tribes in the region. And it’s understandable that no tribe is prepared to deal with the rapid changes affecting the Bakken,” said Tester. “Tribal police departments lack the resources to investigate and detain human trafficking offenders, most of whom are non-Native. By no fault of their own, departments are often ill-equipped to root out the players in trafficking rings that can span reservation, state, and national boundaries.”

Tester added that even though the passage of the Violence Against Women Act had allowed tribes more authority to prosecute crimes committed on Indian reservations by non-Indians, “there is so much more to do.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/09/03/tester-begins-hearings-sex-trafficking-indian-country-156723?page=0%2C1


You are here Sen. Murkowski reverses position on ‘Alaska exception’ to domestic violence law

By Sari Horwitz, The Washington Post

The 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was heralded by President Barack Obama as a significant step for Native American women because it allows tribal courts to prosecute certain crimes of domestic violence committed by non-Native Americans and enforce civil protection orders against them.

Before the bill passed the Senate, however, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, added Section 910, known as the “Alaska exception,” that exempted Alaska Native tribes. Murkowski argued that her provision did not change the impact of the bill since even without it, the bill pertained only to “Indian country,” where tribes live on reservations and have their own court systems. As defined by federal law, there is almost no Indian country in Alaska.

Now, after pressure from Alaska Natives, Murkowski is reversing her position and trying to repeal the provision she inserted.

The senator’s change of mind is the subject of much debate in Alaska, with state officials saying that ending the exception won’t make any difference for Alaska Natives because it only applies to Indian country and the state already takes action to protect Native women and children. Tribes and the Justice Department, on the other hand, argue that repealing the provision will have a significant impact.

Associate Attorney General Tony West, who called for the repeal of the “Alaska exemption,” says that the state needs to enforce tribal civil protection orders in cases of domestic violence and that the legislative change would send a strong message about tribal authority.

“It’s important to send a very clear signal that tribal authority means something, that tribal authority is an important component to helping to protect Native women and Native children from violence,” said West, who testified in June before a hearing in Anchorage of the Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence. “Those civil protective orders can help to save lives.”

Murkowski’s provision, which was originally an amendment she co-sponsored with Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, in 2012, was supported by state officials. Begich has also changed his position since then.

Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty and Gary Folger, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, have said that Alaska is already enforcing civil protection orders issued by tribes to try to keep one person from stalking or committing abuse or violence against another person.

But Murkowski’s “Alaska exception” reopened a contentious debate surrounding criminal jurisdiction over Alaska Native villages, and it has created confusion among law enforcement officials.

Alaska Native women protested Murkowski’s exception, and the Indian Law and Order Commission called it “unconscionable.”

“Given that domestic violence and sexual assault may be a more severe public safety problem in Alaska Native communities than in any other tribal communities in the United States, this provision adds insult to injury,” the commission said.

Troy Eid, a former U.S. attorney and chairman of the commission, said that only one Alaska Native village has a women’s shelter. He and the other commissioners were stunned by what they heard in remote Alaska Native communities, he said.

“We went to villages where every woman told us they had been raped,” Eid said. “Every single woman.”

On her Facebook page last year, Murkowski wrote: “It hurts my heart that some Alaskans may think I do not fully support protecting Native women from violence with every fiber of my being.”

“In Alaska, we have one, and only one reservation: Metlakatla,” Murkowski wrote. “The other 228 tribes have been described by the U.S. Supreme Court as ‘tribes without territorial reach.’ The expansion of jurisdiction over non-members of a tribe is a controversial issue in our state, and what works in the Lower 48, won’t necessarily work here.”

Murkowski said she still has concerns about repealing the exemption but said in a statement: “We must turn the tide of the rates of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse in our state.”

NCAI Celebrates the One Year Anniversary of the Passage of VAWA 2013

Press release, National Congress of American Indians
Washington, DC – Today marks the one year anniversary of a great victory for tribal nations and Native women. On March 7, 2013, President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013). At the signing ceremony, the President underscored the “inherent right [of tribal governments] to protect their people.”
For the first time since the 1978 Oliphant decision, VAWA 2013 restored tribal authority to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence non-Indians who assault their Indian spouses or partners in Indian country. The law created a pilot project that enabled three tribes to begin exercising this authority last month.
Reflecting on the progress over the past year, NCAI President Brian Cladoosby remarked, “Today is a day to celebrate what we have achieved together and commit ourselves to ensure the ongoing success of this important law. It acknowledges that tribal nations are the best equipped to ensure public safety in our communities and provides the tools we need to protect Native women.”
“VAWA 2013 is a tremendous victory. I am grateful to those who have stepped up to take the lead in the implementation phase,” stated Terri Henry, Chairperson, Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Co-Chair of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women. “I want to congratulate the three tribes participating in the Pilot Project and remind everyone, we still have work to do.”
Juana Majel Dixon, Councilwoman, Pauma Band of Indians and Co-Chair of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women added, “To all our Native sisters throughout Indian Country, we have given a decade of our lives’ work—and this could not have been done without all of you. We hold a sacred trust as sovereign Native women to our people.”
NCAI Executive Director, Jackie Pata added, “VAWA 2013 does not mark the end of our efforts to combat domestic violence in Indian Country, it is an important step along the way. Tribal nations remain steadfast In the important work of protecting our Native women and securing our communities.”

Will Keystone XL Pipeline Pump Sexual Violence Into South Dakota?

The human devastation wrought by the economic energy boom in the Great Plains region may get worse for Native women. This nightmare, according to Keith Darling-Berkus has created a culture of misogyny in which sexual violence—including rape, sex trafficking and domestic assault—are normalized. It has been described as “a male-dominated dystopian nightmare.”

That description is especially ominous for Native women, who are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence than women of other races. The perpetrators of this violence are overwhelmingly non-Native.

Native advocates are predicting a similar fallout for women in South Dakota if the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline is approved. TransCanada plans to house pipeline construction workers in three rural man-camps located close to reservations in South Dakota. Each camp will house approximately 1,000 workers.

Both law enforcement officials and native and women’s rights advocates cite the emergence of these ‘man-camps’—temporary housing for transient workers—as major contributors to a rise in violence against all women wherever they are established.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney for South Dakota, Kevin Koliner, Native women comprise 40 percent of sex trafficking victims in the state.

Although some research links the recent oil boom to the emergence of a culture of misogyny in North Dakota, Native-women advocates maintain that the Great Plains of North and South Dakota present fertile ground for such a culture to take hold. They note, for instance, that South Dakota is considered by some men to be a sex tourism destination.

“They come in the fall for pheasant hunting season and in summer for the Sturgis Bike Rally,” says Susan Omanson, executive director of BeFree58 Ministries, a non-profit in Sioux Falls serving survivors of sex trafficking.

Sexual violence, including prostitution and trafficking, are firmly imbedded in the culture and economy of South Dakota .

“Pheasant hunting and the bike rally are economic sacred cows in South Dakota and few residents will dare criticize the industries for fear of losing that influx of cash,” notes Chamberlin, South Dakota-based journalist Maria Burch who has covered the area’s economy for several years. “Most folks around here have to work two or three jobs in order to make ends meet. The income from hunting is very important.”

Revenue from pheasant hunting and the Sturgis Bike Rally represent a significant portion of income for many residents. In Tripp County alone, a popular destination for pheasant hunting, hunters spent copy1.3 million in 2011, according to South Dakota Game Fish and Wildlife Agency. Overall, the state agency reports that hunting pumps $66 million into the state. According to a survey conducted by the Sturgis Rally Department, the overall economic impact of the annual motorcycle rally was over $800 million in 2012.

Although most hunters and bikers in the area are well-behaved, there is a dark side to both those activities, according to U. S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, who says, “Wherever you have a large gathering of men, you have a strong opportunity for prostitution and sex trafficking.”

Advocates for victims of trafficking and prostitution note that there is a strange allure in South Dakota for those looking to purchase commercial sex. “There is a wild west, lawless atmosphere that attracts some visitors to our state,” says Burch. “Not much has really been done to discourage that perception.”

Carmen O’Leary, executive director for the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains, adds that long-standing prejudice against Native people in the Dakotas contributes to a laissez-faire attitude by the public and law enforcement when it comes to pursuing perpetrators of sex crimes against Native women.

Not surprisingly, she says, the safety of Native women doesn’t figure very prominently in economic development projects in the region.

Although the proposed pipeline promises a huge economic boost for the state, South Dakota is totally unprepared for the hidden social and human costs, says Faith Spotted Eagle, Ihanktunwan (Yankton) and member of the Brave Heart Society. She and other pipeline opponents point to the impact of man camps and boomtown mentality on women in the Bakken oil region of North Dakota.

“The attitude [in the Dakotas] seems to be that the lives of a few Indian women are a small price to pay for economics,” says an advocate who asked not to be identified for fear of negative reaction from her board of directors.

In 2013, The Polaris Project, a non-profit organization combating sex trafficking, ranked South Dakota last in the U.S. in its efforts to enact a basic legal framework to combat trafficking.

Arrests for sex trafficking in South Dakota have overwhelmingly been prosecuted under the federal trafficking law. U.S. Attorney Johnson has made the prosecution of these crimes a priority. After an undercover operation during the 2013 Sturgis Bike Rally, his office prosecuted nine men for sex trafficking. Victims ranged from 12 to 15 years of age.

South Dakota passed a law specifically outlawing human trafficking in 2011. In Sioux Falls, one person has been charged under the state law so far, according to Sam Clemons, Public Information officer for the Sioux Falls Police Department. The dearth of law enforcement in much of rural South Dakota only adds to the problem, notes Burch. “Police are spread pretty thin out here,” she says. She thinks that encourages a sense of impunity in men looking to purchase sex. Burch says some of the patrons of the ultra-expensive hunting lodges come to the area with an outsized sense of entitlement.

Nancy Niles of the Oglala Lakota tribe and former resident of Sturgis agrees that tourism promoters often sell South Dakota with romanticized notions of the Wild West associated with the gold rush and pioneer days, where anything goes. “Prostitution at the rally has become normalized,” she says.

Niles lived in Sturgis for 25 years and raised her family there. During that time she says she watched her country town turn into a thick clot of leather and t-shirt shops, strip clubs and a main street that allows public drinking. Commercial sex workers are brought into the city for the rally, according to Niles.

“People got angry with me when I began to call attention to the prostitution that takes place during the rally,” she says. “People prefer to keep their heads in the sand in order to protect the economic injection that the rally brings.”

The hard-partying, anything-goes atmosphere creates a hostile environment for all women in the area.

Niles and her husband recently moved to Nebraska for their retirement. “I could no longer stand to let my taxes go to support this kind of activity,” she says.

Man camps versus tourism

The male tourists who can afford to stay at an upscale, all-inclusive hunting lodge or bring their bikes on extended visits to the bike rally represent a different demographic than those who will be drawn to work on the Keystone pipeline and live in man camps.

“A lot of these guys who come here to work and live in the man camps are on their last dime. They don’t have a whole lot to lose,” notes Sadie Young Bird, executive director of the Ft. Berthold Coalition Against Violence in North Dakota. Indeed, ABC News recently aired a story calling attention to the large increase of registered sex offenders who have relocated to the Bakken oil region.

Marla Bull Bear, executive director of the Native American Advocacy Program in Winner worries about the close proximity of the proposed man-camp in Colume, 10 miles from Winner. Winner is the town closest to the Rosebud Reservation and has a substantial Native population.

Bull Bear’s organization conducts activities designed to divert youth toward healthy traditional Native ways such as a horse camps and coming of age ceremonies.“ Due to poverty and family dysfunction, many of our youth are so vulnerable. They could present easy targets for sex traffickers,” she says.

“Youth in our groups tell us about girls who simply disappear and end up working in the commercial sex industry. Sex trafficking is already here,” she notes.

Jess Keesis, the mayor of Winner, knows first-hand about the rowdy tendencies of men who work in the oil fields, but he believes the camps that will house the pipeline workers will be different. “I’ve worked in the Alaska oil fields and seen oil booms–this won’t be anything like that,” he says.

According to Keesis, the pipeline construction will be far more short-lived than an oil boom and won’t have long-term negative effects on the community. He estimates that it will take about 14 months to complete the pipeline.

Faith Spotted Eagle, however, describes this attitude as terribly shortsighted. “If a woman is brutalized by a pipeline worker, you are talking about a lifetime of impact.”

She bemoans the sense of powerlessness expressed by communities that will be affected by the pipeline. “The average person thinks they can’t stand up to TransCanada. We have internalized this economic-predator thinking that resembles Stockholm syndrome. Since we feel powerless about corporations taking over our communities, we end up siding with these predators.”

For Spotted Eagle, women who suffer from the fallout of economies such as oil are more than unavoidable externalities. “These women have names; they are our sisters, our daughters, our mothers.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/01/27/will-keystone-xl-pipeline-pump-sexual-violence-south-dakota-153280

Native American women are being sold into the Sex Trade on ships along Lake Superior

Apparently the women are sold for “parties” on American ships. Picture via WikiCommons

August  26, 2013

By Dave Dean

Native women, children, and even babies are being trafficked in the sex trade on freighters crossing the Canada-US border on Lake Superior between Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Duluth, Minnesota.

Next month, Christine Stark—a student with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who is completing her master’s degree in social work—will complete an examination of the sex trade in Minnesota, in which she compiles anecdotal, firsthand accounts of Native women, particularly from northern reservations, being trafficked across state, provincial, and international lines to be forced into servitude in the sex industry on both sides of the border.

Stark’s paper stems from a report she co-wrote, published by the Indian Women’s Sexual AssaultCoalition in Duluth in 2011, entitled, “The Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota.” Through the process of researching and writing this report, Stark kept hearing stories of trafficking in the harbors and on the freighters of Duluth and Thunder Bay. The numerous stories and the gradual realization that this was an issue decades, perhaps centuries, in the making, compelled Stark to delve further into what exactly was taking place.

She decided to conduct an exploratory study, “simply because we have these stories circulating and we wanted to gather information and begin to understand what has happened and what currently is happening around the trafficking of Native American and First Nations women on the ships” said Stark, in an interview with the CBC Radio show Superior Morning. “Hearing from so many Native women over generations talking about the ‘boat whores,’ prostitution on the ships or the ‘parties on the ships,’ this is something that… was really entrenched in the Native community and we wanted to collect more specific information about it.”

Through her independent research and work with the Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition, Stark interviewed hundreds of Native women who have been through the trauma of the Lake Superior sex trade. The stories she’s compiled are evidence of an underground industry that’s thriving on the suffering of First Nations women, which is seemingly going unchecked and underreported.

In an article written for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Stark describes one disturbing anecdote of an Anishinaabe woman who had just left a shelter after being beaten by her pimp—who was a wealthy, white family man. He paid her bills, rent, and the essentials for her children, but on weekends, “brought up other white men from the cities for prostitution with Native women… he had her role play the racist ‘Indian maiden and European colonizer’ myth with him during sex.”

“The Duluth harbor is notorious among Native people as a site for the trafficking of Native women from northern reservations.” She continues, “in an ongoing project focused on the trafficking of Native women on ships in Duluth, it was found that the activity includes international transport of Native women and teens, including First Nations women and girls brought down from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to be sold on the ships… Native women, teen girls and boys, and even babies have been sold for sex on the ships.” Christine Stark’s complete research paper will be published in September.

The fact that these horrendous crimes are taking place right under the noses of North American authorities is obviously disturbing and somewhat surprising, considering we have a Conservative government that is oh-so-tough on the commercialization of human beings. However, the word trafficking can often be a blurry one.

I spoke with Kazia Pickard, the Director of Policy and Research with the Ontario Native Women’s Association based in Thunder Bay. Their organization has also been researching this issue. Kazia told me over email: “People assume that trafficking always takes place across international borders, however, the vast majority of people who are trafficked in Canada are indigenous women and girls from inside Canada and sometimes, as we’re now starting to understand, across the US border.”

In an earlier interview with the CBC, she also alluded to the possibility that there was trafficking taking place across borders in Southern Ontario as well. She made it clear to me that the image most people imagine when they think about “human trafficking” often isn’t accurate: “The majority of women who are trafficked in Canada are indigenous women and girls. So it’s not that you have people being trafficked across international borders in shipping containers or something like that.”

In most cases it’s a lot more subtle. “Women may say they [have been pulled into it by] a boyfriend, there have been some reports of family members recruiting women into the sex trade… so it doesn’t appear in this sensationalized way that we may [think it is].”

All that said, there are nearly 600 aboriginal women who are currently missing or believed to have been murdered in Canada, a number the RCMP—who are being accused of human rights abuses against aboriginal women on a monthly basishave publicly questioned.

And while it’s refreshing to hear Canadian Parliament members (particularly Conservative ones) such as Manitoba’s Joy Smith show some honest compassion, on the whole, the government’s attitude and response to protecting vulnerable Native women has been one of indifference. In July, the federal government dismissed calls made for an inquiry into missing or murdered Indian women by the provinces and territories’ premiers.

Christine Stark’s report is one that cannot be ignored. If the government is as serious as they claim to be about human trafficking, they can’t dismiss what’s taking place between Duluth and Thunder Bay the same way that they have regarding the 600 missing First Nations women. To ignore this issue would point to an obvious double standard when it comes to the treatment of Indian women, many of whom are clearly being taken advantage of.


Follow Dave on Twitter: @ddner

Freedom of Information Act Used To Push IHS To Offer Plan B Over the Counter

By Eisa Ulen, Indian Country Today Media Network

Mainstream Americans continue to battle over the availability of Plan B. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that the emergency contraception, sometimes known as the morning after pill, must be sold over the counter (OTC) to any woman age 15 and older who asks for it. A strong contingent of Americans, including activists, health care providers and at least one federal judge, have criticized the FDA, saying that Plan B should be available to any woman of any age who asks for it over the counter. The FDA has countered that younger women of child-bearing age cannot safely use Plan B without the assistance of a healthcare provider. As this public debate rages on, too few media outlets have reported on the barriers Native women of all ages have had trying to access Plan B. Until recently, even Native women well past their teen years have been unable to obtain Plan B as an OTC at Indian Health Service (IHS) Units throughout Indian country.

Plan B is the emergency contraceptive routinely given to women after rape has occurred. Because 1 in 3 Native women will be the victim of a sexual assault in her lifetime, the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center (NAWHERC) has worked to secure Native women’s legal right to Plan B, so that women on reservations can access this emergency contraceptive in the crucial first 24 hours after sexual contact has occurred, when the pill is most effective in preventing conception of the egg and sperm.

Charon Asetoyer
Charon Asetoyer

While the battle to make Plan B available over the counter to Native women at IHS units continues, progress has been made through the activism of NAWHERC. South Dakota-based Charon Asetoyer, CEO of the Native American Community Board, runs NAWHERC. In February of 2012, Asetoyer and Pamela Kingfisher published the NAWHERC Roundtable Report on the Accessibility of Plan B as an OTC within the Indian Health Service. This document exposed the inconsistencies between Native women’s legal right to Plan B, and the failure of IHS to provide this emergency contraception on demand and over the counter.

Indeed, given the fact that Native women experience rape at levels that are comparable to the rates of women living in war zones, NAWHERC identified the failure of IHS to make Plan B accessible over the counter as more than a legal issue. NAWHERC identified this failure to adequately protect Native women from conceiving a child following sexual assault as a human rights issue.

Much like the mainstream public debate regarding the availability of Plan B to younger American women, IHS has forced Native women of all ages to see a health care provider before they can access Plan B. Not only is this time- and cost-prohibitive for many women in Indian country, it too often demoralizes the woman seeking care. Asetoyer says she has heard of health care providers who, “in some cases, chastise a woman, blame her” for requesting a prescription for Plan B. No woman should have to answer questions about her use of birth control in order to access emergency contraception. As Asetoyer says, “that is extremely dehumanizing.”

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project, says, “Certainly, the devastatingly high rate of sexual assault among Native women makes access to emergency contraception all the more critical, but even if that were not the case the inability of Native women to obtain emergency contraception at IHS facilities would be a violation of their basic civil and human rights: Every woman should have the opportunity to prevent an unplanned pregnancy and to decide whether and when is the right time, for her, to become pregnant. Moreover, the United States government is under a distinct legal obligation to ensure that Native women have access to comprehensive health care.”

While the Roundtable Report was published last year, Asetoyer says that as far back as 2005 her organization started “working and organizing women” around the subjugation of Native women who attempt to access Plan B. “IHS was extremely resistant” to the efforts of NAWHERC to liberate Native women from this dehumanization, Asetoyer says. “They just do not like standardization of any kind.”

Despite that resistance, standardization is coming. The 2009 omnibus bill mandated standardization of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE nurses) within IHS. According to Asetoyer, $3 .5 million was allocated for the rigorous training required to be certified as a SANE nurse. These health care providers not only improve health outcomes for victims of sexual assault, they also aid law enforcement in prosecuting rapists. In addition, Asetoyer says the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act signed by President Obama standardized sexual assault policies and protocols within IHS.

However, more needed to be done. IHS was still not making Plan B available over the counter. Asetoyer says she and her colleagues “realized we had to continue to work” on the availability of Plan B within IHS. NAWHERC contacted leaders in the community of reproductive justice advocacy and asked if they would upload the Roundtable Report and share it electronically with their followers on one day in March 2012 that would be called Push the Button Day. NAWHERC contacted the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, the National Women’s Health Network, the National Black Women’s Health Project, the National Organization for Women, the Women of Color Network, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, among others. “They said yes,” Asetoyer says, and Push the Button Day was launched. Word about the realities of Native women “got out there, and it got out there fast, and it got out there not only in Indian Country but in the mainstream,” Asetoyer says. “People were shocked. They were appalled.”

In addition to disseminating information on Push the Button Day, Asetoyer and Kingfisher appeared with Dr. Susan V. Karol, chief medical officer for Indian Health Service, on the radio show Native America Calling. During the broadcast, Asetoyer says, Karol stated that emergency contraception was accessible at IHS units on-demand and “behind the counter.” (This term describes where the emergency contraception is physically placed and means women must ask the pharmacist for it.) But, as reported in ICTMN, Native women weren’t able to access Plan B without a prescription at all. “We really caught IHS not even knowing what was going on in their own service units out in the field.” (Read: Despite High Incidence of Rape, Women Denied Right to Plan B)

Asetoyer says that the story of Native women’s inability to access Plan B over the counter at IHS units started to appear in other media within 24 hours after the Native America Calling radio show aired.

As a follow-up with IHS, NAWHERC contacted Dr. Karol with a letter and asked her when emergency contraception would be available over the counter. Asetoyer says that, on May 21, 2012, her office received a response letter stating that IHS was finalizing policy to make Plan B available “behind the counter” and as an over the counter medication.

Frustrated that Native women could not access emergency contraception over the counter, while many college students in the mainstream were able to purchase it in an on-campus kiosk, Asetoyer began considering other options to pressure IHS. Asetoyer communicated with Senator Barbara Boxer of California and Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota. Senator Johnson contacted IHS, Asetoyer claims, and received a letter from the Indian Health Service that was similar to her own. Senator Boxer, Asetoyer says, has been “working very diligently on access to emergency contraception.”

When Seantor Boxer’s office was contacted and asked to provide an interview for this article, Boxer spokesperson Peter True issued this statement: “Senator Boxer supports efforts to ensure that women, including women who rely on the Indian Health Service, can get access to the healthcare they need, including emergency contraception. She will continue to work towards that goal.”

In her last letter of communication with IHS, Asetoyer says she explained that NAWHERC would have to seek legal remedies if IHS refused to make Plan B available over the counter. In February of this year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requested access to the policies IHS claimed it was working on to make EC available as an OTC.

Filed on behalf of NAWHERC under the Freedom of Information Act, this request spurred the IHS to action. “All of a sudden,” Asetoyer says, “IHS starts providing emergency contraception as an over the counter.”

“We decided, together with NAWHERC, to file the Freedom of Information Act because the government had been saying for too long that they were ‘working on’ a solution to this problem,” Kobi-Molinas says, “but no one was seeing any results.  The purpose of the FOIA is to put an end to this stonewalling and force the government to explain what, if anything, it has been doing to ensure Native women could access EC OTC at IHS facilities.”

Asetoyer says her office has surveyed service units since the Freedom of Information Act was filed and has determined that over 40 IHS units, “almost all,” now provide emergency contraception to women who ask for it over the counter. This victory, Asetoyer says, is “based on a directive they received from area offices.” Asetoyer claims that, in response to the Freedom of Information Act, IHS Director Dr. Yvette Roubideaux was personally making telephone calls to IHS offices in order to make Plan B available over the counter.

When asked to provide an interview for this article, the IHS provided this official statement: “Emergency contraception is available in IHS federally-run facilities.”

Kobi-Molina explains: “A Freedom of Information Act request is essentially a tool for government accountability and transparency. This Freedom of Information Act does not directly make emergency contraception available, but it shines a spotlight on what the government is (or is not) doing to deal with this problem, and that sort of information is invaluable to advocates—democracy doesn’t happen behind closed doors, so a Freedom of Information Act makes sure those doors stay open.”

Despite the victories achieved in making emergency contraception available over the counter, Asetoyer says verbal directives can be rescinded, and NAWHERC wants a permanent solution put in place through written IHS policies. NAWHERC also wants 100 percent compliance at all IHS service providers.

To help more Native women understand their legal rights regarding Plan B, as well as its function in a woman’s body, NAWHERC is engaged in what Asetoyer calls “training in the community.” She adds, “we want to continue the process of demystifying emergency contraception.” NAWHERC has developed an Emergency Contraception Tool Kit to let Native people know that it is contraception, not an abortive, and so does not terminate a pre-existing pregnancy.

“The Tool Kit is a pack of information that will explain emergency contra: What it is. How it works. Your right to it,” Asetoyer explains. With a pamphlet, poster, fact-sheet, and PSAs for local radio stations, this Tool Kit will enable NAWHERC to launch the next phase of the struggle to make Plan B available – the public information phase. While the Tool Kit is aimed at school counselors, shelter advocates, those who work with victims of assault, and other professionals who work with women and girls, it is also intended for moms and other women to share at the kitchen table.

Asetoyer believes her office is charged with the task of informing Native women in part because the IHS suffers from paternalism and “old practices, old attitudes” that are hard to change. Citing past IHS protocols, like the sterilization of women without their consent, and inserting Norplant and refusing to remove it on demand, Asetoyer says the IHS still has “that old mindset: They know what’s best for us.”

Asetoyer notes that these are institutional issues and says that some providers within IHS have wanted to give EC OTC, but decision makers within IHS have had older ideas. Asetoyer adds that all those years of not providing EC OTC have communicated to Native women, and men, that “we don’t have the capabilities to make these kinds of intelligent decisions for ourselves.” Providing EC OTC, Asetoyer says, means acknowledging that “women know what’s best for their own bodies, their own reproductive health.”

NAWHERC is charging forward with two aims: to spread the word about the availability of EC OTC within IHS and to make this new situation within IHS permanent. In addition to informing women, Asetoyer says “we need to get this into policy. The struggle is not over.”


Read more at https://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/05/13/freedom-information-act-used-push-ihs-offer-plan-b-over-counter-149323

Rape on the Reservation

By Louise Erdrich

Published: February 26, 2013
As featured in:
 The New York times Opinion Pages


TWO Republicans running for Congressional seats last year offered opinions on “legitimate rape” or God-approved conceptions during rape, tainting their party with misogyny. Their candidacies tanked. Words matter.

Having lost the votes of many women, Republicans now have the chance to recover some trust. The Senate last week voted resoundingly to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, the 1994 law that recognized crimes like rape, domestic abuse and stalking as matters of human rights.

But House Republicans, who are scheduled to take up the bill today and vote on it Thursday, have objected to provisions that would enhance protections for American Indians, undocumented immigrants and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, among other vulnerable populations.

Here in Minneapolis, a growing number of Native American women wear red shawls to powwows to honor survivors of sexual violence. The shawls, a traditional symbol of nurturing, flow toward the earth. The women seem cloaked in blood. People hush. Everyone rises, not only in respect, for we are jolted into personal memories and griefs. Men and children hold hands, acknowledging the outward spiral of the violations women suffer.

The Justice Department reports that one in three Native women is raped over her lifetime, while other sources report that many Native women are too demoralized to report rape.  Perhaps this is because federal prosecutors decline to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse cases, according to the Government Accountability Office. Further tearing at the social fabric of communities, a Native woman battered by her non-Native husband has no recourse for justice in tribal courts, even if both live on reservation ground. More than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts.

The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center says this gap in the law has attracted non-Indian habitual sexual predators to tribal areas. Alexandra Pierce, author of a 2009 report on sexual violence against Indian women in Minnesota, has found that there rapes on upstate reservations increase during hunting season. A non-Indian can drive up from the cities and be home in five hours. The tribal police can’t arrest him.

To protect Native women, tribal authorities must be able to apprehend, charge and try rapists — regardless of race. Tribal courts had such jurisdiction until 1978, when the Supreme Court ruled that they did not have inherent jurisdiction to try non-Indians without specific authorization from Congress. The Senate bill would restore limited jurisdiction over non-Indians suspected of perpetrating sex crimes, but even this unnerves some officials. “You’ve got to have a jury that is a reflection of society as a whole, and on an Indian reservation, it’s going to be made up of Indians, right?” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “So the non-Indian doesn’t get a fair trial.”

Leaving aside the fact that most Native defendants tried in the United States face Indian-free juries, and disregarding the fulsome notion that Native people can’t be impartial jurists, Mr. Grassley got his facts wrong. Most reservations have substantial non-Indian populations, and Native families are often mixed. The Senate version guarantees non-Indians the right to effective counsel and trial by an impartial jury.

Tribal judges know they must make impeccable decisions. They know that they are being watched closely and must defend their hard-won jurisdiction. Our courts and lawyers cherish every tool given by Congress. Nobody wants to blow it by convicting a non-Indian without overwhelming, unshakable evidence.

Since 1990, when Joseph R. Biden Jr., then a senator from Delaware, drafted the original legislation, the Violence Against Women Act has been parsed and pored over. During reauthorizations in 2000 and 2005, language on date rape and orders of protection was added. With each iteration, the act has become more effective, inclusive and powerful. Without it, the idea that some rape is “legitimate” could easily have been shrugged off by the electorate.

Some House Republicans maintain that Congress lacks the authority to subject non-Indians to criminal trials in tribal court, even though a Supreme Court opinion from 2004 suggests otherwise. Their version of the bill, as put forward by the majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, would add further twists to the dead-end maze Native American women walk when confronting sexual violence. John Dossett, general counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, said it would create “more off ramps for defendants by adding multiple levels of removal and appeal, including the right to sue tribes.” A compromise backed by two other Republicans, Darrell Issa of California and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, is vastly preferable to the Cantor version. It would offer a non-Indian defendant the right to request removal of his case to a federal court if his rights were violated.

What seems like dry legislation can leave Native women at the mercy of their predators or provide a slim margin of hope for justice. As a Cheyenne proverb goes, a nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.

If our hearts are on the ground, our country has failed us all. If we are safe, our country is safer. When the women in red shawls dance, they move with slow dignity, swaying gently, all ages, faces soft and eyes determined. Others join them, shaking hands to honor what they know, sharing it. We dance behind them and with them in the circle, often in tears, because at every gathering the red shawls increase, and the violence cuts deep.

Louise Erdrich is the author, most recently, of “The Round House.”