The United States government has been considered notorious for essentially stripping the culture of aboriginal citizens of the North America region, while forcing them to adapt to westernized ideologies.
Many steps, since the removal of First Nation people have been taken to help restore some of the culture loss, as well as restitution implementations with different reservations and tribes across the country. T
hough these steps are positive, they do not nearly equate to the degree of persecution that all First Nation people faced hundreds of years ago, and until this day, the repercussions of the actions taken by the federal government still resonate on reservations and Native American communities across the country.
This week, during Women on Wednesday (WOW), Sarah Deer, a professor of law at William Mitchell College, expressed an aspect of Native American life that some people don’t always see.
“It is as prevalent as some mothers saying to their daughters, not what to do if you are raped, but what to do when you are raped, because it is an inevitability,” Deer said.
Deer, along with the Women’s Center helped to show awareness of sexual assault and rape among First Nation women all across the country.
Professor Deer described the prevalence of sexual violence among Native American women by saying more women have been raped, than not. This issue stems back from the early roots of colonialism and the way the federal government treated Native Americans.
“I don’t think that the statistics that we have tell the true story,” Deer said. “I think they’re conservative estimates and I think that the majority of Native Women in this nation have been raped, or will be raped in their lifetime.”
Deer explained that many aboriginal tribes around the nation are considered matrilocal, meaning that the women of the tribes were at the center of the families in that tribe, whereas, in westernized colonialism, it is considered more patriarchal.
Deer says that some of these tribes that are considered matrilocal had very strict laws that combated violence against women and children, due to the rooted respect that tribes have for women, which is engrained in aboriginal culture. Deer said that westernized society has helped to strip that respect away due to the clash in ideology.
Furthermore, Deer explained another aspect that is hindering Native American communities, specifically Native American women, and that is all Native communities are not sovereign enough to make their own laws and hand out punishments that fit the crime.
Essentially, according to Deer, due to the lack in sovereignty, tribes are not able to create laws that help prevent such atrocities, making it very easy for someone to rape, and get away with it.
Deer said that giving aboriginal communities the ability to fully govern themselves will help to eliminate sexual violence against women, considering the strict laws that aboriginal tribes had in place before the North American region was colonized by the west.
“As the chair of the criminal justice department and as someone who has a PhD in justice studies, and as someone who has studied her entire career, criminal justice law, policy practice and theories about criminal justice and crime commission, it’s astounding to me that we don’t know more, and that there’s not documented conversation, information, evidence, even information about the topics and subjects that professor Deer is talking about,” said Mary Clifford, the chair of the Criminal Justice Department.
Much work is still being done at the grassroots level about this topic as Deer and her colleagues are at the forefront of this effort, however awareness still is not as strong as what Deer and others want it to be. Though the movement is still picking speed, Deer and other colleagues keep motivated by understanding what is truly at stake.
“It’s the survivors that are willing to break their silence and tell their stories that inspires me,” Deer said. “ It’s the young native women, the girls, I have a god daughter that lives in rural Alaska who’s 6 years old, and I don’t want her to be raped, and right now, the statistics are that she will be.”