Tag Archives: Native American

Acknowledging Columbus’ Painful Legacy

Totem Pole, Washington state

The Trail of Tears took place nearly 200 years ago, and thousands of Native Americans died during this forced migration. Yet, in the United States we don’t often reflect on this black mark in our history. We do annually reflect on the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the America’s in 1492. An arrival that marks the start of the European colonization of the continent, as well as the subsequent death and subjugation of indigenous people and the establishment of the Atlantic slave trade.

Today marks Columbus Day — a federal holiday since the 1930s. It wasn’t until I heard of Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States (published first in 1980) that I began to reconsider the American history I’d learned as a child (which painted Columbus as a curious explorer and civilizing cornerstone). The arrival of Columbus in the Bahamas marked a dramatic shift in our nation’s history, but whether it should be celebrated or not is a question in a growing debate. Some activists have sought to change the focus of the holiday towards, “Indigenous People’s Day.”

In observance of the colonization and genocide that followed Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, I’ve gathered a few stories worth checking out today.

1. On Columbus Day, Indigenous Urge Celebration of Native Culture and Teaching of Americas’ Genocide: Democracy Now filmed this segment in Fort Lewis College, which hosts a large Native American student population and an event today called, “Real History of the Americas.” Three women affiliated with the college talk about alternative histories, identity, and cultural trauma experienced by generations of Native Americans.

2. Stand on the Side of Love with Native Women: This blog posted a reminder today about the tenuous position of the Violence Against Women Act facing congress. It’s fitting on what some call “Indigenous People’s Day,” that we remember the disproportionate rates at which Native Women continue to experience sexual assault and violence. One in three Native Women is estimated to be raped in her life.

3. Columbus’ Legacy of Categorization: The Yale student paper published a really interesting column from a Native American student addressing his take on Columbus day and his own identity. He explains how he struggles when people ask him, “How Native are you?” This piece indicates where we still have room for improvement in addressing our history of colonialism and it’s insidious, lingering effects.

Christopher Columbus

4. Columbus Day Vs. Indigenous Peoples’ Day: How About Happy Immigration Day?: Mediaite addressed the conflict of whether or not today should be a holiday. Author Philip Bump dismisses some of the arguments for Indigenous People’s Day with the explanation “People are — and always have been — selfish jerks… Our forefathers were oppressed and were oppressors.” He suggests forgetting the controversy and celebrating the diverse fabric of America caused by immigration. It’s an interesting piece, but it feels dismissive for the sake of a rosy conclusion.

Regardless of the name of the holiday, it’s important for Americans to observe the reality of our history. Acknowledging historical trauma on the Columbus Day holiday provides national validation and healing for part of our tumultuous history and a voice for our Native American fellow citizens.

What are your thoughts on Columbus Day? Is it antiquated? Is it important to maintain?

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Delving into the issue of Sexual Assault in Native Populations

Last spring, Jacqui Callari-Robinson visited Sawyer County in Wisconsin, which hosts the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe and the Oakwood Haven shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence. She worked with a focus group of women to determine what services tribal communities needed to protect against these issues. Ten women of various tribes throughout the state participated and shared their own experiences.

All ten of the women were victims of sexual assault. They did not receive physical or emotional treatment, nor legal justice. Callari-Robinson holds onto this memory as she strives for full sexual assault response coverage throughout the state. I too grasped onto this story.

Callari-Robinson, the director of health services for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA), keeps an eye on all the SANE certified nurses and SART teams throughout the state. SANE stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, a national certification for nurses who conduct forensic exams and collect evidence from victims of sexual assault. The exams play a crucial role in the medical treatment of victims and subsequent cases against their perpetrators. Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART) consist of medical personnel, law enforcement, and advocates within a community who work together to help victims of assault.

Many of the eleven Native American tribes in Wisconsin do not have SANE nurses or SART programs on their reservations. Callari-Robinson forged relationships over the last 14 years with tribal community members and advocates to try to develop these programs.

My discussions with Callari-Robinson mark the beginning of my investigation into domestic violence and sexual assault programs in Indian country. A report from Amnesty International pulled me further into this issue. Maze of Injustice documents the high volume of indigenous American women who experience assault. This report came out in 2007, and the CDC confirmed in their 2010 Survey  that native women still experience assault more frequently than women of other races.

Why is this problem so pervasive in Native communities? Maze of Injustice reports that in our American history of colonialism rape became a tool of conquest placing Native women in a position vulnerable to abuse. And some Native Americans report that they inherited abuse practices from colonizers. Boarding schools which indoctrinated indigenous youths with a punitive system taught them to be ashamed of their culture. When these “reformed” Natives returned to their communities as adults, they brought punitive methods with them. C.J. Doxtater, an Oneida member and employee of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence shared this theory with me, and the anecdote that Native children who spoke their indigenous language were punished with pins in their tongue.

Many Native groups have sprung up in response to reports of high numbers of sexual and domestic abuse against Native American women and children including Mending the Sacred Hoop, a group based in Minnesota. They strive to disrupt the cycles of abuse that affect Native communities. Other groups addressing this issue include American Indians Against Abuse in Wisconsin and the national Indian Health Service. These groups work hard to address sexual assault and domestic violence on tribal land. Prevention of abuse remains a priority. And considering the focus group with ten out of ten women retaining the trauma and memory of abuse, these organizations work for healing and recovery on the individual and cultural level.

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Three Different Tribes, Three Different Systems

Image by Salvatore Vuono

Amanda Rockman stood back from the podium during her keynote address, as dictated by her nine-month-pregnant belly. Rockman spoke at the Coming Together of Peoples Conference, just seven years after she graduated from the UW Law School

“I can remember being in law school and thinking, ‘Jeeze, I really hope that’s me someday giving that keynote address,’” said Rockman. “[I thought] when I go, I’ll have long, grey hair.”

Rockman, despite her lack of grey hairs, plays an important role in the Ho-Chunk tribe as an associate trial judge. Rockman presented about the Ho-Chunk Healing to Wellness Court, a drug court operated by the tribal judiciary that provides an alternative to prison.

The wellness court offers a non-punitive treatment that works to “restore traditional values,” explained Rockman. The Ho-Chunk Nation consists of pockets of land throughout the state, but the Healing to Wellness program serves native and non-native offenders in Jackson County.

The court has special jurisdiction allotted by the legislature, and the program includes community service requirements, cultural activities, education, and rehabilitation services.

The Ho-Chunk tribe has assumed more judicial responsibility while also developing their tribal police force. As Wisconsin remains a Public Law 280 state, the tribe is not allowed to prosecute felonies. Rockman and other Native American law specialists strive for more sovereignty for law enforcement and prosecution.

The Menominee tribe in Wisconsin regained full criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanor and felony crimes. Anecdotes from the Menominee prosecutor at the conference, however, made it clear that tribes with criminal jurisdiction are still working out kinks in their judicial systems. They still have limits on the length of sentenced prison terms as well as ongoing struggles with funding and staff support within tribal legal systems.

The Lac Courte Oreilles tribal police are co-deputized with the Sawyer County police. The tribal police address misdemeanors on the reservation while the county takes on the rest. Because of this relationship the tribal and county police can also work together.

Tribal communities maintain a balance of cooperation with and independence from local law enforcement and jurisdiction, and each tribe faces unique issues. Each tribe has different revenue, and while many of them have casinos for community income, geographic location often affects the success of the casinos. Location, funding sources, and relationships with local law enforcement all affect how tribes are able to address crime on their reservations.

Ho-Chunk’s drug court illustrates a tribal judiciary working to better the tribe and surrounding community through rehabilitation. The Healing to Wellness Court allows the Ho-Chunk to address the addictions that drive repeat crimes, rather than repeatedly provide the same punishments to the same offenders.

As CJ Doxtater, Oneida member and advocate at Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, explained, “we don’t throw our people away.”

Rockman outlined all the logistics and challenges that face the growing Healing to Wellness Court and touched on the growing responsibility assumed by the Ho-Chunk judiciary and law enforcement. Despite the challenges, Rockman felt good about gaining sovereignty for the tribal nation and working to improve the community.

“I think it’s really important for Ho-Chunk people to have the ability to become a part of our society, as opposed to just shame and guilt,” said Rockman. “What I’ve seen from the participants has been nothing but hope.”

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Tribes Fight Violence Against Women

Enjoy News from the Margins’ first podcast! M. Brent Leonhard, tribal attorney and supporter of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), presented on the impact of VAWA on tribal sovereignty. He spoke at UW-Madison for the Indigenous Law Students Association’s Coming Together of Peoples Conference on March 23, 2012.

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