At a very young age, I witnessed domestic violence in a public place, on a walk to a downtown area in the town I lived in then. It was my oldest sister’s husband; they had no children, so I was the surrogate child for them. I don’t remember exactly what lead to the hyper awareness, but at the age of about five or six, I remember that walk. I won’t ever forget it. I know that the adult with me said “don’t look back,” and of course, I did. I saw him hit her. Not in the arm, but in the face.
The marriage didn’t last. Over time, she met a Lakota veteran from the Marine Corps, a hardworking farm hand who worked every day to make their (our) lives better. He was a kind man and years later I joined the Marines because of the role model I had.
Recently, I saw a play by a Cherokee playwright, Mary Kathryn Nagle titled, “Sliver of a Full Moon” about Native American women activists whose efforts led to the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (called “VAWA”) in 2013. VAWA in 2013 has a new provision that restores jurisdiction to tribes over non- Native offenders who commit crimes against Native American women. What makes the play powerful are the stories of abuse and survival that Native women share.
The performance teaches the audience about tribal jurisdiction and Federal Indian Law. Federal Indian Law is the basis of Native American or American Indian Studies at most colleges and universities. The father of Native Studies is Vine Deloria Jr., a lawyer. His book, “Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto,” published in 1969 was the beginning. If you want to know anything having to do with Native American people in this country, you have to be familiar with Federal Indian Law. Or at least know the cases that are associated with key terms like jurisdiction on tribal lands. The key word again, is jurisdiction, and the play handles this complex legal term in ways that bring it to the level of women and children who are affected by laws that seem to favor everyone but them. It is a play that all Native women should see. It is a play that affects you at the level it is aimed at: as a Native American woman. One, who carries the Nation.
There is a warning, though, the play will bring up memories that may be ones associated with domestic violence that Native families are far too familiar with especially when alcohol or drugs are involved. For me, it brought up many questions, having to do with women as role models I had growing up with some of those experiences.
I remember my own mother saying her significant other (my dad) tried that once, when he was drunk, to strike her and she stopped him. My mother was a large woman who could break an apple in half with one movement of her strong hands. She told him, “I am not that kind of woman.” He never tried it again.
I had sisters whose marriages spanned many decades of my life, and often, those marriages didn’t last. I watched them, I listened, and I tried to learn. I remember once, when I was at a teacher’s workshop at Sicangu and on a long summer day, the teachers seemed to be falling asleep, so in my teaching monologue, I said, “My mom once told me, never marry a man you meet in a bar.” Suddenly the whole room erupted in laughter and everyone woke up. Many of the teachers were non-Native young women; at the end of the day, violence against women is colorless and pervasive.
VAWA will be reauthorized in 2018 and by that time, Native women in Alaska hope that they will be included in it as currently they are excluded (one exception). By that time, everyone hopes that full jurisdiction will be reinstated for all tribes in the lower 48 and inclusive of all 50 states. Until then we need to educate each other over what this means so that we can validate each other and move forward in strength. Remember, we are the ones that carry the nation.
(Contact Delphine Red Shirt at email@example.com)
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