Pull Up A Chair…


(Sad teddy photo via R_Bish.)

Hilzoy from Obsidian Wings sent me an e-mail that I wanted to share with everyone.  It is a poignant story, but one that all too sadly happens pretty much every day in communities everywhere.  One of the more difficult aspects of this, though, is that it is apparently happening with even more frequency in Native American communities — who have very little in the way of resources oftentimes to cope with this.  But I'm getting ahead of myself, and will let Hilzoy's e-mail speak for itself for a moment:

I thought you might be interested in a shelter I heard about yesterday on NPR. It was in a story about the vastly higher rates of sexual abuse of Native American women. From the NPR transcript:

"Ms. JACKIE BROWN OTTER(ph) (Resident, Standing Rock Indian Reservation): I’m in McLaughlin, South Dakota. I live on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

SULLIVAN: Jackie Brown Otter lives about 30 miles from the nearest shopping center. The reservation covers 2.3 million acres. There are seven tribal patrol officers. Otter’s little sister was raped, kidnapped from her home and murdered six years ago.

Ms. OTTER: Chingkawa Wastewi(ph). That’s her Indian name. And that translates in English to Pretty Bird Woman. She smiled and she was well liked and always laughing.

SULLIVAN: It took almost a day for tribal police to arrive when Pretty Bird went missing. Her house was torn apart. A window was broken and bloody bedding was stuffed into the trash bin. It took several more days for the FBI to arrive. Her body was found later, beaten to death along a rural road. Otter opened a shelter for women at Standing Rock in her sister’s honor. But the group will run out of funding this month and will probably have to close. And still, the attacks keep coming.

Ms. OTTER: We’re so overwhelmed that we can’t see beyond the perimeters of it. It’s just beyond words for me."

It's the only battered women's shelter on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, which is huge and desperately poor. Even if they didn't provide shelter at all, the fact that they give people rides to the very distant courthouses etc. would be worth its weight in gold. I used to work at a shelter…, and we drew from the rather large nearby Native population; people had to come from way far away in order to get help, and we always used to wish that there were shelters on the reservations; the need was desperate.

As NPR says, it might close for lack of funds. I emailed the Director, and she says that small donations won't be pointless absent some large new funding source; they can, for instance, keep the hotline up, and so on. They have one paid worker and two volunteers, so, in some ways unfortunately, they don't use a lot of money. I don't know them, so for all I know they could be Donald Trump trolling for money in disguise, but NPR and Amnesty publicized them, and the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault just gave their founder an award for advocacy, ( so they seem legit to me.

Anyways, this is just to say: they seem like a group that should not be allowed to sink below the waves without help…

If you are interested in helping this shelter, here is their address:   Pretty Bird Woman House, P.O.596, McLaughlin South Dakota 57642.   Every little bit helps — even being able to help sustain the phone hotline where people can ask for help or talk to someone who can just understand and offer a shoulder to cry on…it can make a huge difference for someone who has been cut off from the world around her (or him, because this sort of abuse happens across gender lines).  I'm so glad that Hilzoy sent this to me, because she is absolutely right that having this shelter disappear due to lack of anyone caring would simply be too horrible to contemplate.

Beyond this one shelter, though, there are others like it all across the nation, and they are pretty much always desperately in need of funding help or donations of clothes or food or toys or anything else that you could ever think of that a woman or mother with children might need, having fled from an abusive partner with only the clothes on their backs.

This is the time of year that a lot of folks do some spring cleaning, and it is a perfect time to put a pile of clothes to the side to donate to your local women's shelter or homeless shelter.  I try to do that every year — and I mix the clothes up between every day clothes and business clothes, because often these women will be interviewing for jobs to enable them to get back on their own feet, and they need interview clothes desperately when they do.  They also need toys for kids who come with their mommas (stuffed animals are especially appreciated), cosmetics and toiletries, pretty much anything that you may use in your everyday life.

I have had folks who are very dear to me have to flee to shelters at various points in their lives, and so I try to do what I can when I can to help out our local shelter.  Hoping, I suppose, that what I do can help someone else back on their feet as the people that I know found theirs over the years. 

I have worked on a lot of domestic violence cases in my legal career, and there is such a similar pattern in so many of them.  It is a very, very difficult cycle to break, all too often because both parties in the relationship have grown up in a highly abusive home and think that this sort of violence in the home is the way things are.  There are issues of very low self-esteem, outright fear for the life of the person being abused or for the children's lives (a common threat is "If you leave me, I'll kill the kids."), or any number of other things that are intertwined in all of this.  Without a lot of counseling and care and a safe place to go, the cycle does not get broken — and even with these, it is sometimes not enough when someone's spirit has been altogether broken.

I thought we could talk a bit this morning about what we can all do to help.  Not just with local shelters, but in the broader context of violence and sexual abuse and all those other nasty things that go with it that rarely get discussed in polite company.  Because these issues do happen — right under our noses sometimes in our own neighborhoods — and it is in that moment where we reach out and say "how can I help?" that we can sometimes save a spirit or even a life.  And I choose to think that we can make a difference with just a little bit of hope and a whole lot of care.  Pull up a chair…

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