Original Article: Steph Montgomery, Romper | Mar. 2, 2018
On March 8, women around the world will celebrate International Women’s Day with marches, protests, days off from work, and social media posts about the status of women in 2018. But for those of us who want be intersectional, it’s important to recognize that Native women have unique histories, struggles, concerns, and stories that absolutely need our collective attention. That's why we may need a different approach to the day as a whole, so we can better support native moms on International Women's Day.
Romper spoke with a number of Native women to hear their thoughts about how we can better support Native moms. Like Cathi Warren, an adjunct professor of Native American Studies at University of Nebraska Omaha, member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, and mom. She wants people to remember that Native women have historically faced, and currently face, serious challenges and barriers. She tells Romper via email, "Indian Health Services tend to be funded 30 percent less than the U.S. prison system, and that service was part of our treaties. Native women also have the highest rates of domestic violence." Anna Gammel, 20-year-old mom and member of the Omaha tribe, tells Romper via email about her struggles growing up in a society that largely ignores or stereotypes Native culture. She writes, "I was once asked if I grew up in a teepee and was told that I'm not 'truly native' because my name was Anna and not something like Bear Claw."
Despite these and other challenges, though, Native women are also emerging leaders, fighting to raise awareness and change the world and absolutely deserve our acknowledgement and support. To find out more about their history, experiences, and how you can support Native moms on International Women's Day, read on.
Talk About Their Unique Struggles
When we discuss issues facing women — like sexual and domestic violence, poverty, workplace inequality, and access to health care — it's (apparently) easy to forget that they impact Native women, one of the most marginalized groups in the United States, to a greater degree than other groups. According to the American Association of University Women, the pay gap is also higher for Native women. While white women earn on average 77 percent of what white men earn, Native American women earn only 57 percent.
Shockingly, a U.S. National Institute of Justice Study showed that 84.3 percent of Native women will experience violence in their lifetime, including intimate partner violence (55.5 percent, compared to 34.5 percent of white women), and sexual violence (56.1 percent). They are also less likely to get help when they need it. As NPR reported, 36 percent of Native Americans in predominantly Native American communities don't call the police when they need help, and 50 percent say they or a member of their family have faced discrimination in the court system.
According to domesticshelters.org, until 2013 a loophole in federal law meant that non-native perpetrators (responsible for most crimes against Native women) were not arrested or prosecuted for crimes which took place on reservations. The Indian Law Resource Center reports that Native women and girls are being murdered and reported missing on reservations in high numbers, but that data is not being collected and little is being done to address the crisis.
Native American reservations also remain some of the poorest areas in the United States. According to U.S. Census Bureau, Todd County in South Dakota, located on the Rosebud Reservation, has the highest percentage of people living in poverty of all U.S. counties, at 48.6 percent. Other South Dakota counties, like Ziebach County, including both portions of the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Indian Reservations, and Oglala Lakota County in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, experience high rates of poverty with 43.7 percent and 40.7 percent of their respective populations living in poverty. Comparatively, the percentage of people living in poverty in the U.S., as a whole, is 14 percent. Let that sink in.
Stop Erasing Their History
As anyone who has a child in elementary school can tell you, the U.S. still has a serious problem with white-washing history, minimizing the impact of colonialism on Native people, and ignoring the mass killings and sexual assaults of Native Americans by the American government. You may not know, though, that our government also sought to erase Native culture through the child welfare system. Warren told Romper, "Native children were routinely taken away and put up for adoption at such high numbers that the U.S. enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978."
As Jacqueline Pata of the Raven/Sockeye Clan of the Tlingit Tribe, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, told Indian Country Today, when Native children are placed with white families it can have catastrophic impacts, resulting in higher rates of suicide, abuse, and a loss of their culture and community.
Gammel suggested that one way to combat this eraser of history to teach all kids about Native American history in schools, "I would like to schools to recognize native culture and history," Gammel says. "Growing up I really didn't know much about my history, until I went to a reservation school."
Honor Their Leadership
Despite these and other challenges, Native women are also strong as hell — like mom and activist Kandi Mossett of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arika tribe, who fought at the front lines of Standing Rock, speaking out against corporate and government control of native lands and water, and as reported by Medium, raising awareness about the growing problems of drugs and human trafficking, associated with the oil industry.
Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, has spent her career supporting Native moms and their children. Though the Native Youth Culture Camp program, she tries to ensure that Native youth stay connected to their communities and culture, even if they grow up elsewhere.
Work To Fix What's Broken
There are little things we all can do to fix a culture that has systemically invalidated the Indigenous peoples of this country. First, we can stop perpetuating stereotypes about Native people, and stop making jokes, costumes, fashion, home decor, or hair styles out of their traditional dress and culture. As Warren tells Romper, "Unfortunately, people still think that Native moms are incapable of raising kids, primarily because we don’t fit the status quo. Yes, drugs and alcohol are huge issues, but our history has worked against us. Native women are strong caregivers in spite of this."
We can also recognize that gains made for white women aren't necessarily felt by Native women, too, and when we have the opportunity we can work to enact policy that can change that. Native kids deserve a chance to grow up knowing who they are, and Native women deserve for the U.S. Government to start tracking and addressing violence against them.
Share Their Stories
Perhaps the easiest thing we can all do is share Native women's stories. When we think about the status of women on International Women's Day, let's not forget Native women, even those who have been largely forgotten. As Anja Simmone Nukele Littlecreek, a member of the Mvskoke tribe of Florida, told Romper via email, "It's a systematic issue. The media doesn't cover when we go missing, and when they do people bring up our mental illness and drug issues. This year a movie was released called 'Wind River,' where a Native girl is murdered on a rez, and they're claiming it's 'bringing awareness' but I honestly feel like it's almost snuff."
Likewise, when we celebrate successes, let's not forget the Native women who do amazing things and face impossible challenges as women, activists, professionals, and moms. Gammel writes, "since becoming a young mother, I've had my struggles. My cousin told me a quote that I now go by, 'Nita mothin-khe texi, washkon. Walk of life is difficult, try your best.'"