Nearly half of all Native American women—46 percent—have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. The rates of domestic violence are even higher for Native women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or Two-Spirit. Recently, several organizations came together to raise awareness about these issues and push for stronger protections for Native women. Harlan Pruden, co-founder of New York’s NorthEast Two-Spirit Society, talked about the mental and physical toll that violence takes on Native communities, as well as what his organization and others are doing to end the cycle and speak up for Native women across the country.
OMH: What challenges do you find yourself encountering when raising awareness about violence against Native women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or Two-Spirit?
Harlan Pruden: There is the perennial problem of the Native community being marginalized, overlooked or completely devalued. When you overlay the issue of Two-Spirit (LGBT Natives) it only compounds this treatment. In the current re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) discussion, it is yet another clear example of where our community has to fight to be included where it should be a no brainer —seeing that Native women experience domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking at crisis levels. According to United States Justice Department, rates of domestic violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women are among the highest in the United States when compared to other ethnicities. One in three Native women will at some point in her life experience the violence and trauma of rape, and on some reservations Native American women are murdered at a rate of more than 10 times the national average.
The other major challenge for us in raising awareness and driving change is a dismal lack of funding. Most of the Two-Spirit organizations are volunteer-run and/or self-funded. For example, the NorthEast Two-Spirit Society’s annual budget is under $20,000 for the past five years, and we are one of the best funded organizations in the country.
OMH: What are some of the causes of these higher rates of violence against LGBT Native women?
Harlan Pruden: Native women who identify as lesbian, bisexual or Two-Spirit experiencing disproportionate levels of violence are particularly vulnerable to disparities in health outcomes. Female Two-Spirit members experience disturbingly high prevalence of both sexual (85 percent) and physical (78 percent) assault, both of which were associated with poor overall mental and physical health.
The work of health experts such as Dr. Katrina Walters shows the association between discrimination and self-rated health. In Dr. Walter’s study, reported levels of health were better for individuals with higher levels of actualization identity attitudes compared to those with lower levels of actualization identity attitudes. Meaning those who were firmly grounded their Two-Spirit identity were less impacted by discrimination and had higher self-rated health outcomes.
Other issues fueling violence are the high rates of alcohol and substance abuse within our communities, as well as the fact that non-Native people committing crimes of this type on reservations are often able to avoid prosecution.
OMH: What type of response have your efforts garnered from the community?
Harlan Pruden: The response has been great! We could have been happier with the quick response from the White House, the responses we are receiving from the legislative offices of Congressional Black, Hispanic, Asian Pacific American, Native American and Progressive Caucuses and other community based organizations like NMAC that are helping with increasing the visibility of our community the issue around violence.
OMH: What are the next steps for the coalition?
Harlan Pruden: With such limited resources, we will continue to advocate and bring attention to how our Native women cannot be left out in the cold. With VAWA not being re-authorized in the 112th Congress, we are now going to work to ensure when it does come before 113th Congress our Native women are included. Given we have some time now we are also going to broaden our coalitions by asking our allies and our Native and LGBT community-based organizations to stand with us.
Contact Harlan Pruden at firstname.lastname@example.org.