Commentary: October is nationally proclaimed as Domestic Violence Awareness Month and during this month, many of us in the work to end violence against women across the nation are busy trying to educate our communities to bring an end to this systemic crisis disproportionately impacting Indigenous communities across the country.
Most of our movement leaders come to this work with real-life lived experiences and want to help others live a life without violence. In tribal communities, where the rate of violence is five times more likely to occur than in non-native communities, it’s important to understand the root causes of violence. It’s important to understand the historical context and historical trauma and how they are a direct consequence of ongoing systemic violence against our Indigenous nations as a result of the establishment and expansion of the settler colonial project we know as the United States of America.
Systemic violence is not a theoretical issue, rather it is lived day in and day out. As an example, it is a fact that four out of five American Indian and Alaskan Native women experience violence in their life. This includes sexual violence, physical violence by an intimate partner and at least half experience stalking and 66% experience psychological aggression by an intimate partner. Overall, more than 1.5 million American Indian Women and Alaskan Native Women will experience violence in their lifetime.
To adequately deconstruct the roots of systemic violence, we must first acknowledge that there are systems at play specifically created to perpetuate further exploitation of labor and disenfranchisement of black and Indigenous people while removing us from the land. One recent example is the forced separation of Indigenous families. It is estimated that 60% of all Indigenous children were removed from their families into abusive and deadly boarding schools during the Boarding School Era. This was the U.S. government’s system that forced Native American children away from their homes and its devastating result was violence–a trauma-response behavior that has been passed down to the next generations.
Systemic violence also translates into impacts in people’s health and their ability to access adequate care. This area was highly visible once the social determinants of tribal communities during the Covid-19 pandemic were finally highlighted and got the attention of news reporters and leaders showing the gaps and lack of support for our people in response to the pandemic. A strong reminder of how systemic violence holds many faces but its impact is felt gravely in our communities.
Access to resources, generational wealth by land dispossession, and opportunity in the U.S. functions within a class system that benefits some and excludes others–as part of the systemic violence foundation in our society. This is the very foundation that can and must be changed.
This month is an opportunity to learn more, get involved, and support organizations working to dismantle systemic violence that impacts communities across NM through its many faces. This is the time to materialize resources and programs through our state, county, and municipal governments to tackle violence against our families.
Tiffany Jiron is from Sheh-Wheef-Tui also known as Isleta Pueblo and she is also the Advocate Coordinator for the New Mexico Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women.