May 04, 2007

Rape = genocide

Deer:  Demanding justice

Anti-rape activism in Indian countryHuman rights educator and Paiute spokesman Sarah Winnemucca (circa 1841-1891) has been an inspiration to me and other Native women seeking justice for rape victims. In Winnemucca's “Life Among the Paiutes,” the first book published by a Native woman in the United States, she documented systemic issues of sexual violence and degradation experienced by Paiute women. While the book covered a multitude of issues facing Native people in the late 19th century, I am particularly drawn to passages about sexual violence experienced by Winnemucca's sisters and cousins. “My people have been so unhappy for a long time they wish now to disincrease, instead of multiply.” She wrote in 1883. “The mothers are afraid to have more children, for fear they shall have daughters, who are not safe even in their mother's presence.” Her words left no doubt of the connection between sexual assault and genocide.

In 2005, Cherokee scholar and activist Andrea Smith continued this examination in her groundbreaking book, “Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.” Smith documents the links between sexual violence and other colonial attacks on tribal nations, including environmental degradation and spiritual appropriation. In Smith's analysis, rape of Native women is figuratively and literally an attack on our nations.

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