‘Protect me, my sister, my mother, my aunties, my grandma’

Sarah Eagle Heart, staff officer for Indigenous Ministries of The Episcopal Church, offers a heartfelt plea for support of the Violence Against Women Act, and shares important perspective about how violence affects Native American families:

Protect me. Protect my sister. Protect my mother, my aunties, my grandma… just do the right thing. Protect all my sisters and generations to come because we are your relatives. My tribe, the Oglala Lakota, have a phrase “Mitakuye Oyasin” which means “All my relations”. It is used to end prayers to acknowledge we are all related through our Creator. And so you are my relative.

As a lifelong Episcopalian and member of the Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Tribe, I urge all of my brothers and sisters in Christ to stand up for me, and generations to come. Please don’t allow perpetrators to run from justice. I wish I could tell you that the truth of Violence Against Women on Native American reservations was a myth or that the statistics were wrong, but they aren’t. In fact, I believe it’s much worse.

One of my earliest memories is of my mother being beaten by my white step-father on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He did not face justice as jurisdictional gap on tribal reservations allows non-Native Americans free through a loophole. Other childhood memories include a couple of aunts also dealing with domestic violence. In my twenties, I would learn of my twin sister’s rape as a high school student. In my thirties, I learned of my grandmother’s experience with domestic violence as she shared her story for the first time when she suspected that,I too, had entered an abusive relationship. She was right. As an educated advocacy professional, I too, could not escape becoming a statistic of dating violence.

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