Bear Chief: Abuse survivors must be able to tell their stories
By Ken Bear Chief
I wish we lived in a perfect world where every Indian child has felt loved, valued and accepted; and where they could have all been safe from harm and abuse by others. But, sadly this is not our history. Treaties were made and broken, we were confined to reservations, our traditional ways of life were taken away from us, and our independence was replaced by new laws, a new religion, and a new culture.
We may have all been of different tribes, languages, traditions, and our own religious beliefs and practices, but one thing binds us together, we all suffered the same holocaust, and genocidal events. At the residential schools every kindness, every act of aggression, control and dominance, was done in order to accomplish a goal, “to kill the Indian, and save the man.”
After more than 100 years of abuse at the residential schools, the history of that method is finally being exposed in all its ugliness. The historical telling of this period of Native American history has been told by the government and the religious orders given the task of accomplishing the integration of Indians into white society. There is also our own account of what happened to our people during those turbulent years and to the children who were taken from their families and sent to the residential schools.
What was stolen from the survivors of rape and molestation at the residential schools and missions was their sense of control and trust – in their world and in their relationships. The harm and loss was so great that in most cases abuse survivors were never fully able to trust or feel safe again. Survivors of sexual abuse not only have difficulty trusting others, but live their lives suffering from the effects of trauma caused by childhood abuse. This often created a spiral into a lifetime of abuse – emotional, sexual or physical, and they often suffered manifestations of abuse which include depression, anxiety, anger, fear, and substance abuse to name of few of these trauma traits.
What I have learned is that this has created a multi-generational cycle of abuse that affects our reservation communities to this day. We must recognize this fact, and begin a community healing to restore our balance and well-being by using our own traditional ways and by speaking openly about this so we can begin restoring our communities from within.
Recently, many victims of childhood abuse started coming forward and seeking justice for the physical and sexual abuses they suffered at the residential schools. There have been efforts to do this in the past with limited success and much failure. But now, they are being represented by Tamaki Law Offices of Yakima, Wash., and other law firms in the Northwest and in South Dakota who are knowledgeable and committed to their Native American clients.
Most childhood sexual abuses committed at the residential and boarding schools are unreported. The reasons for this are varied: Lack of support by the families of the victims or the community; the victims are unaware that they may still have a right to seek justice; there are deadlines to file claims before they become time barred; or that a state has changed its laws affecting the rights of victims as was done in South Dakota.
Even when victims of abuse come forward, reactions of others in Indian communities can exacerbate the harm. Most people are not comfortable with this reality. They would prefer to ignore or downplay its impact on the survivor, or feel this should remain in the past. Responses from friends and family range from silence, to placing inappropriate blame and responsibility on the victim, even accusing them of lying, or that they are causing embarrassment for the families and the community, resulting in wrongly placed self-blame by the victims which only adds to their pain.
Survivors of abuse need to be able to tell their story. Otherwise, subconsciously and cognitively their emotions are frozen in the past. Their lives were irreversibly changed due to the sexual, physical and emotional abuses they suffered at the mission schools. Either by coming forward in the legal process or by talking about it with others begins the healing process and they start to pull their lives together and create a new restored being. I believe self-worth can be restored after trauma. How we all share in the responsibility of helping our Native American brothers and sisters who were victims of abuse to heal is up to each of us individually. Ultimately, we must always remember what our elders taught us. Mine told me to treat one another, and ourselves, with respect and compassion.
Ken Bear Chief, Gros Ventre, Nooksack, Nez Perce, is a paralegal/victim liaison with Tamaki Law Offices of Yakima, Wash. Since 2008, he has been investigating clergy sexual abuse of Native Americans who attended the Catholic/Jesuit/Oblate operated residential schools during the period of 1940 – 1980, and has interviewed nearly 200 victims of abuse throughout reservations in Washington, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota.
This article was found at:
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