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Native women fight domestic violence

Victoria Gonzalez, 4, lights a candle in memory of domestic violence victims. (Photo by Richard Thomas)1 / 4
The crowd went to the roof of Trepanier Hall to release hot-air balloons, though due to high winds only two were launched. Attendees took the rest of the balloons home to release later. (Photo by Richard Thomas)2 / 4
Holding a tobacco pipe, Deb Crow Dog opens the meeting with a prayer. (Photo by Richard Thomas)3 / 4
Pictures of people who died in 2015 from domestic violence in Minnesota, or from intervening in such incidents, were projected on the screen.4 / 4

"I always thought the odds were against me," said a Native American woman who identified herself only as Miranda. She said she was neglected and abused starting at a young age. "My identity was taken since I was a kid," she said. "I didn't have anybody."

Her mother depended on a man to make her happy and the cycle continued when Miranda got a violent boyfriend. "I didn't know any better, I just thought this man loves me," she said. When she tried to leave him, he kidnapped and stabbed her. She retreated further into drugs, despite having children, and went through a series of abusive men. "I thought I needed a man to have value. I didn't know any better because that's what I was taught."

Last year she got out of prison and moved to Duluth for a new environment. She now has a job, her own apartment and the support of other Native women. She is due to get her kids back soon from foster care. "I'm not a victim anymore," she said.

Miranda spoke at "Behind Closed Doors," an annual event to raise awareness of domestic violence. It's held every year in October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The event took place Oct. 25 in Trepanier Hall, 204 W. Second St., sponsored by the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO). Mending the Sacred Hoop, an advocacy and support group, cosponsored the feast and forum.

The speakers linked domestic violence to other issues such as alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and mental illness. Deb Crow Dog, a counselor at Thunderbird/Wren House, said, "Sobriety and recovery is so worth it. I made a commitment when I was a young woman, when I was pregnant with my first child, I said, 'I never want my children to experience what I experienced growing up in an alcoholic family.' It was very painful, there was a lot of trauma, I had to learn how care for myself. So that's all part of it, learning how to care for ourselves so we can care for our children in a healthy manner."

Sarah Curtiss, program director of Men as Peacemakers, said, "Kindness doesn't always just mean being smiley and happy. But kindness means that we talk to each other, we see each other as human beings, and we hold each other accountable for things we are doing wrong."

She continued, "I do see some men in the room, and I'm happy to see that. When we're looking at this violence we're looking at it happening to mostly to women and mostly to children. But if just women and children could stop it we would have stopped it by now. So men, tonight I challenge you to join. I challenge you to get together ... There are things you can do in your community. There are things you can talk about to your sons and brothers, men in your inner circle, and have great impact.

"Instead of being just horrified we should be organized. Let's come together, let's see what we can do as a entire community to support survivors and stop this from happening, because that's where our strength is."

Patti Larsen, Sacred Hoop Tribal Coalition director, noted that more than half of Native American women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner, according to a study released this year by the National Institute of Justice. She asked the audience to "stand up when you see women out there experiencing violence."


Dabinoo 'Igan (domestic violence shelter) (218) 722-2247

Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse (800) 649-2921

Safe Haven (218) 728-6481

Men as Peacemakers (218) 727-1939