- Rerighting the Historical Record:Violence against Native Women and the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
You must be able to see where you have been before you can possibly know where you want to go.Muscogee Creek saying
There is growing recognition that violent crime victimization is pervasive in the lives of Native1 women. Numerous scholars and activists have considered Congress's findings that violent crimes committed against Native women are more prevalent than for all other populations in the United States. One out of every three Native women will be raped in her lifetime, three out of every four Native women will be physically assaulted, Native women are stalked at a rate more than double that of any other population, and during the period of 1979 through 1992, homicide was the third-leading cause of death of Native females aged fifteen to thirty-four.2 Violence against Native women is a problem of epic proportions that not only endangers the lives of individual Native women but also erodes the sovereignty of Native nations and destroys Native communities.
At the opening of the Tribal Nations Conference and Interactive Discussion with Tribal Leaders in November 2009, President Barack [End Page 21] Obama responded to this violence by declaring it "an assault on our national conscience that we can no longer ignore."3 He further addressed this issue with his July 2010 signing of the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA). Hailed by many as a landmark piece of legislation that both acknowledges and attempts to reduce the severity of crime on Indian reservations, the bill's provisions have been particularly applauded for their potential to address the rates of violence against Native women. In particular, Title XI of the legislation deals specifically with domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and enforcement. This portion of the bill requires tribal and federal officials in Indian Country to receive specialized training to interview victims and collect evidence. It also calls for the implementation of standardized sexual assault protocol for tribal law officials and Indian Health Service facilities. Likewise, the provisions that bolster the prosecution and sentencing of perpetrators are aimed at reducing the incidence of violence in the lives of Native women.
It is critical, however, that we situate federal legislative efforts such as the TLOA in the larger context of Native activism and knowledge from which they emerge. President Obama alone cannot be credited with the implementation of this act. Its existence develops out of numerous historical moments, grassroots efforts, and indigenous struggles against settler-colonialism and heteropatriarchy. This essay documents one such previously marginalized historical moment by tracing the emergence, development, and eventual splintering of the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SDCADVSA) from the perspective of the Native women instrumental in its existence.4 My primary objective here is to rewrite/reright5 the position of Native women in antiviolence discussions by centering their voices and concerns and, accordingly, by decentering the mainstream, colonialist narrative that typically frames such narrations.6 For as the following indigenized history demonstrates, although the issue of violence against Native women has only recently garnered mainstream attention, Native women have been addressing this problem at local, national, and international levels for decades. It is this mobilization that the federal government builds on when finally considering the extent and significance of violence in the lives of Native women who have faced the unique challenge of combating racism in the antiviolence movement, sexism in their own communities, and marginalization in society as a whole when attempting to render this violence visible.
In addition, I aim to recount critically this previous attempt on behalf of the state, Native communities, and white citizenry to work together in eradicating violence in order to glean further insights about the insidious nature of settler-colonialism. For an indigenized history of the SDCADVSA is not critical solely because it renders visible Native women's engagement with antiviolence mobilization, but also [End Page 22] because it speaks to the complicated and myriad ways in which the "logic of elimination," which Patrick Wolfe so deftly delineates in his comparative study of the relationship between genocide...