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.