Editor's Note: This statement by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center was released on Wednesday after the revelation of a criminal charge was brought by the State of Oklahoma against reowned Native artist Walter "Bunky" Echo-Hawk, Jr. See Native News Online's article here.
Allegations of criminal sexual abuse of an Indigenous minor child and domestic violence by a prominent Native artist have come to light this week across Indian Country. As a Native woman-led nonprofit advocacy organization, it is our sacred responsibility at the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center to center and stand in support of our relatives who are victim-survivors of sexual violence and domestic violence: We believe you. We stand with you.
Culturally-based resources are available for relatives who are hurting or know someone in need. StrongHearts Native Helpline is a safe, confidential helpline created by and for Indigenous people to reach out for help, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by phone, chat, or text at 1-844-762-8483 or by visiting strongheartshelpline.org. For relatives who are hurting, know that it is safe to reach out. You are not alone.
Tragically, many Indigenous people know the realities of domestic violence and sexual violence first-hand with more than 4 in 5 Native women who have experienced violence and more than half who have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Fears of not being believed, of retaliation by the perpetrator or their family, or of being blamed or shamed by their community are only a few of the reasons survivors may not come forward. When children are abused in their own home by a parent or parental figure, the earth-shattering trauma of the abuse can distort the child’s ability to remember the exact details of the horrendous abuse they suffered, and it can take years for children to realize that the abuse they suffered in their home is not normal or appropriate. Coming forward to disclose abuse by a family member takes an unbelievable amount of courage and bravery.
No one deserves to be abused. Survivors deserve healing and justice on their own time and defined in their own ways. Together, our families and communities must support their journey to healing and avoid blaming and shaming victim-survivors for the abuse. By uplifting our traditional ways, we all have a responsibility to honor and respect each other as relatives, as well as to hold perpetrators accountable and promote their responsibility and capacity to be good relatives.
It is also important that we call on mainstream and Native media to continually highlight the fact that violence in Indian Country is a critical issue, and that we all must do our part to hold perpetrators accountable in ways that protect the safety and privacy of any victim-survivors involved. Far too often, we learn of news coverage that blames victim-survivors, stereotypes or exploits victims and their stories, or jeopardizes the safety of victims and that of their families. This latest news serves as an important reminder to media and journalists to hold those with power accountable, avoid stereotypes of victims and Indigenous people, and avoid revealing personally-identifying facts and details of cases involving victims and minors to minimize harm. It is up to each of us to support the most sacred, and often the most vulnerable, in our communities–Native women and children.
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