Leech Lake hosting film to tackle sexual assault
CASS LAKE – An American Indian is twice more likely than all other races to be raped or sexually assaulted.
One in three will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.
Those statistics from the Department of Justice are at the basis of a 2010 documentary titled “Rape on the Reservation,” to be shown at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the Drum Room at the Leech Lake Tribal College in Cass Lake.
Following the documentary, which examined life on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the sensitive topic will be discussed, with local experts fielding questions and providing assistance for those who want help.
While a free dinner will be provided and a drum group and prayer ceremony will precede the film, children under 13 are asked not to attend. Anyone 14-18 must be accompanied by parents.
Vanguard, a documentary series from Current TV, addressed sexual assault by visiting Rosebud Indian Reservation, a 1,400-square-mile reservation with about 10,000 residents.
Indians in South Dakota, the documentary reported, comprise 9 percent of the state’s population, but they represent 40 percent of all sexual assault cases in the state.
Jolene Engelking, the volunteer coordinator with the Anishinabe Equay Program through the Sexual Assault Program of Beltrami, Cass & Hubbard Counties, said the Indian population locally comprises 15 to 20 percent of the population but more than half of the clients served through her program are Indian.
“They are disproportionately high numbers,” she said.
The 45-minute “Rape on the Reservation” highlights the murder of 19-year-old Marquita, whose body was found naked, beaten and strangled with her hands tied behind her back. Her alleged attacker was a 17-year-old high school classmate.
While interviewing classmates at her high school, students described their lives with absentee parents off drinking and gambling while the kids themselves party every weekend.
The girls said that while they go to the parties, they don’t allow themselves to get too drunk, though, “‘Cuz something bad will happen.”
Another classmate, Antonio, who co-founded a gang there, talks about boys trying to get girls drunk to sleep with them.
How often does this happen? Every weekend.
Antonio later says he doesn’t think it’s any harder to grow up on the reservation than other places; in fact, he thinks it is easier.
“I guess it would be hard if you’re prey,” he said. But the reservation makes it easier for predators, Antonio said. “Natural hunting ground, I guess. Home court advantage.”
The students all attend St. Francis High School, an all-Indian school on the reservation. Only half of those enrolled graduate.
In addition to Marquita’s story, “Rape on the Reservation” profiles Donna, who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by her friend’s uncle.
Donna’s husband, too drunk himself, had sent her out to buy beer. She ran into her alleged attacker while on the errand, and, having known him for 17 years, he invited her to his home. That’s when she was raped, Donna said.
When she returned home, her husband yelled at her and said it was her own fault for going into the man’s house in the first place.
Like many Indians, Donna came from a large, close clan-like family.
“But they didn’t stick up for me,” she recalled, noting that just like her husband, they blamed her.
Non-reporting of crimes on reservations is rampant, according to the documentary. While the FBI investigates serious crimes such as rape and murder, they rely on already-burdened tribal police for assistance.
Further, speculates Donna, “I think a lot of it has to do with retaliation.”
Many of those on the reservation come from large, close families. If a female accuses a male of rape, he has a brother who might go after her or her family. And even if the brother goes to jail, he has another brother and even more friends with brothers of their own.
“The reservation is so damned small that everyone knows everybody,” Donna says. “You can run but you can’t hide.”
Donna, who at first tried to prosecute her attacker, eventually dropped the charge and moved three hours away from the reservation, leaving her husband and children behind.
“I know I’ll never forget what happened or who it was … but I want to keep on living,” she said.
“Native American women are the most victimized group in the United States,” says Brendan V. Johnson, the South Dakota U.S. attorney, in the documentary.
Johnson acknowledged a lack of trust, noting that federal agencies lack resources and funding to have a presence on reservations. Field offices are usually a couple of hours away.
Federal officers rely on tribal officers for collecting evidence and conducting interviews, but they themselves are already stretched, Johnson said.
In 2006, the federal government declined to prosecute more than 65 percent of the major crimes originating on reservations, according to the documentary.
“It’s not a justice system,” said Corry Robert, the vice principal at the reservation’s St. Francis High School. “It’s not justice for all. That’s the reality here.”
Many of those quoted in the documentary said the crimes can be traced back to a problematic cycle.
Antonio, who with his brother started a gang called the Regulators, recalled how he watched his father break “his woman’s” jaw. She never went to the police.
“I don’t want to say it’s OK, but if you’re going to have dominate power in a relationship, then yeah,” Antonio said.
Two group gatherings are included in the documentary. One is a victims’ retreat weekend. The other is group therapy for convicted Indian sex offenders.
The men are forced to confront their pasts without placing blame on others for their behavior. Still, nearly every hand is raised when they are asked if they were abused as a child.
“We are a broken people. Our tradition is gone,” one says.
“Nothing’s OK, man,” says another.