“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” ― Audre Lorde
In My Secret is Safe with Your Secret, I wrote this:
We cannot talk about the disappearances of indigenous children and women without honestly addressing these incredibly painful things. For those unaware of the legacies wrought by the plundering of the continent’s first peoples, these things may seem like the distant past, far removed from any modern view or experience of the world. They are not. They are right here, right now and must be faced because the intentional disappearing of indigenous women and children are inextricably entwined within these layers.
Here, ‘these incredibly painful things’ is about our own individual sexual abuse. I left it at that because it seemed enough in the moment to let it sit there alone for a bit. Even more, after the swift blowback from Indian Country when The Mystery of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women was published, I was afraid to continue speaking aloud. However, after reading Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries, I feel emboldened again. Her powerful voice and courage has shored and renewed both of mine.
Not only is keeping ‘my secret safe with your secret’ something we need to address as individuals, internally and aloud, it must happen at the community level and it must occur in the ways that allow people to be heard and for responsibilities to be acknowledged.
It requires, within indigenous communities, acknowledging a shared responsibility for effectively addressing the sexual abuse of children, leadership’s role in the trafficking of young people, the current effects of historical trauma; not in a few decades, maybe figuring it out as we go along, but now. We can’t wait another generation and hope that things return to something resembling balance without purposeful and direct intervention. And that intervention must happen within the communities themselves, not be clouded or coerced by individual or institutionalized power structures that have historically preyed upon these same communities and currently continue to do so.
We need to speak our personal truths that include our own victimizations and, in addition, to dig deeper into how the silence around how that, over time, has contributed to the harm of others. How many times has our own silence and our own shame led to the judgment of others as ‘whore’ or suggestion that ‘she had it coming’? How many times have men and boys heard that come from a woman’s mouth and bought it as truth? How many times have we as individuals and a collective not believed our daughters, sons, nieces, or brothers, about teachers, preachers, neighbors, fathers and uncles? How often have we seen the signs but chosen to ignore them? How often have we claimed ‘he’s just a man’, ‘that’s how they are’, or called a man by another name if he wasn’t ‘manly’ enough, hadn’t exhibited traits associated with violence? How have these things contributed to young people making the active choice in walking away from family? How does the culture that accompanies fear, silence and unacknowledged betrayal, that we perpetuate, combine with lack of inner and external resources contribute to the ease of predators distorting hope for the future into pimp-slave relationships?
Personal story-telling isn’t isolated to Self, it’s bound up in immediate and extended family as well as the larger community. Community, in this discussion, means more than the more obvious. It means that of the ‘near-culture’, a chapter or neighborhood on a reservation for instance, and the larger dominant culture and power-structures within both. The truth-telling is a process that is important in and of itself but there is a shared responsibility in story-telling–one that also requires active listening and a willingness to hear that which (I hope) is hard on the heart. After hearing and responding to the stories, there must be action and it must come from a collective sense of responsibility, justice and deep compassion.
The telling and the hearing does not bring healing in and of itself. It is merely the start. It’s one of the reasons I scoffed at Senator Tester’s self-congratulatory email after I’d reached out for the sixth time about the Fuckery.
That is why I introduced the Studying the Missing and Murdered Indian Crisis Act (S. 336). This bipartisan bill would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a full investigation of how federal agencies respond to reports of missing and murdered Native Americans and recommend solutions based on their findings. It also directs the GAO to make recommendations on how to address economic, social, and other underlying factors that are fueling this crisis.
I wanted to shout “Bully for you! Want a gold star?!” in his ear and follow it with this: “Are you and your colleagues actually ready to hear, really hear, the truths that need to be spoken, and accept the responsibilities that come with it?” I wanted to say it in the Jack Nicholson tone that says, “The truth? You can’t handle the truth?”
The truth is that while there are individual responsibilities to be owned, they are enmeshed within local and federal government and religious policies that continue to perpetuate ‘out of sight out of mind’, ‘take what we want (treaties or ethics be damned)’, ‘kill the Indian but save the man (or his soul)’ and fuel the need for young people to seek escape from inner turmoil and communities that cannot provide options for therapeutic intervention, basic health and human services appropriate for those communities.
The federal government must be willing to be an active participant in learning how the past is directly influencing the present, how the violence begat in this country’s formation was a catalyst for the violence being suffered by indigenous women now, and be willing to help heal it in a meaningful way–government cheese isn’t healing (hell, it’s not even cheese) but the government can–and, in my opinion should–play a significant role in the healing of Nations. The truth requires current government actors, with their inherited greed, bias and privilege, not just acknowledge but apologize formally with words, funds for deep healing, and legislated (read enforceable) respect for physical, spatial and spiritual relationships with lands unceded and those agreed upon under duress and threat of death.
All of these things are so entwined together that no single thread can be separated. However, it’s not as difficult as our bureaucratized brains would like to think. Education, openness, honesty, compassion, righteous and safely expressed anger and grief, and apologies–those things of love– begin the process. In our individual homes and hearts, within local communities and the institutions that we’re each tied to.
Borrowing a phrase here, leaning into this, requires a broad scope that most American’s don’t yet seem to have the intellectual bandwidth or the curiosity enough to wholly engage in the process; it requires more than just data, it requires basic understandings of power structures, sociology, trauma, institutionalized violence and systemic oppression, resilience, restoration, medicine ways, love, and more. An expanded education on these things may not be necessary but a mind opened enough to trust that those things exist and are part of the world we share is.
If the, in any, government decides to get actively involved in eradicating sexual slavery that is knotted up in a historic past such as ours, it’s a long slow slog through bureaucracy. It will result in a report that may or may not provide the whole truth and may, may not provide resolution and may or may not be read.
However, while governments may try to chug along, other key players have the capacity to engage, even semi-heartedly, in a way that can create immediate and lasting change; to hear, to heal, to eliminate a scourge on humanity.
I have hope, though. I have hope.