Chief Arvol Looking Horse addresses the crowd
Published December 7, 2015
WASHINGTON – Around 9 o’clock Monday morning, the sun was peeking through the pillars of the United States Supreme Court Building where well over a hundred people were gathering to rally for the issue of tribal sovereignty and the right of jurisdiction, in civil cases, for tribal courts to protect native peoples, especially women and children, against non-tribal members. Inside the building, arguments were being heard in the case “Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.”
This case has generated a lot of interest throughout Indian country. And natives, representing tribes like Cherokee, Navajo, Dakota, Muscogee, Crow Creek Sioux, Ute, Potawatomi, Cheyenne River Sioux, Shawnee, Delaware, Tulalip Tribes of Washington, Tlingit, and many others, all came out on a beautiful, but brisk, December morning to support their Choctaw relatives.
The rally, called the “Quilt Walk for Justice,” was opened with a prayer offered by Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a 19th-generation keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Bundle. He holds the responsibility of a spiritual leader among the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota People. Next Terri Henry, co-chair of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women welcomed the participants and introduced the chant which was used throughout the entire event:
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
“What do we say?”
“SHAME ON DOLLAR GENERAL!”
For the next hour, several speakers addressed the crowd while marchers and picketers walked the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court Building holding signs which made statements such as:
“Dollar General – Our people ARE WORTH MORE than a dollar!”
“Nothing General about Tribal Sovereignty!”
Jana Walker, Cherokee and Senior attorney at the Indian Law Resource Center, informed the crowd that “the overall rate of violence for native women is 2 and a half times higher than for any other group of women in the U.S. One in three will be raped. Three in five will be physically assaulted.”
Bonnie Juneau, a councilwoman from the Tulalip Tribes of Washington asserted that “Dollar General, a multi-billion dollar corporation, entered into a consensual relationship with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to lease tribal land so they could operate a store on the reservation. They agreed to be bound by tribal civil jurisdiction…[But] Dollar General wants the best of both situations – they are trying
to take advantage of the benefits of doing business on the reservation, but don’t want to be subject to the tribes processes.”
Cherrah Giles, Board President of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center spoke about the need to stand for Tribal Sovereignty. And Michelle Demmert, Tlingit, from the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, spoke of “tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction as fundamental aspects of a functioning and robust government.” She also related the struggle of Native Alaskans, for whom the Supreme Court effectively created a ‘jurisdictional no man’s land’ when they ruled there is essentially no ‘Indian Country’ in Alaska, despite the 229 culturally strong tribes located within that state.
At 10 AM Chief Arvol Looking Horse offered a prayer for justice for Native women and then a song of encouragement was sung by Greg Grey Cloud. The event was then moved across the street to the grass in front of the US Capitol Building where the Monument Quilt was laid out.
The Monument Quilt: a public healing space by and for survivors of rape and abuse. The Monument Quilt is an on-going collection of stories from survivors of rape and abuse. Written, stitched, and painted onto red fabric, our stories are displayed in city and town centers to create and demand public space to heal. The quilt resists the popular and narrow narrative of how sexual violence occurs by telling many stories, not one. The quilt builds a new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed.
To date, over 1,000 collected quilt squares have been displayed in 22 different cities across the US (read more on CNN and MSNBC). As the quilt continues to grow, survivors, loved ones and supporters are encouraged to make a square. In a culminating display in Washington DC, 6,000 fabric squares will blanket over one mile of the national mall to spell “Not Alone.” (TheMonumentQuilt.org)
In front of the Capitol, more speakers addressed the crowd, including some direct survivors of abuse. An update was given after the legal arguments were completed inside the court and those in attendance were encouraged to continue to pray. A traditional gift of sacred tobacco was handed out and sprinkled over the quilt by the participants. Smoldering sage was made available for people to smudge. And the event ended with a final prayer being sung, followed by silence.
It was a fitting ending to a beautiful, and somber morning.
Native News Online photos by Mark Charles