Sitting in the dreary, clinical conference room where she worked, Nikki showed me a pretty wary cold-shoulder when we first met. The room was dominated by large tables clustered together. We sat a few seats apart, not quite across from each other, and not quite next to each other. She passionately talked about judicial loopholes, explained Public Law 280 and blood quantum to me. When she began telling me her personal story her voice became monotone and disconnected, her eyes hollow.
We talked for an hour and a half, at which point she allowed me to take a picture of her without showing her face.
I was grateful for everything I had learned, but walking to my car that first morning I was aware that something was missing from our exchange. I felt like I was skidding along the surface instead of digging in, that I hadn't connected. I knew she had wanted to say more, that there was more for me to understand, but I also knew it wasn’t my place to ask.
That evening, as I sat in my motel room trying to process my thoughts, Nikki called me to arrange another interview, at her house.
We sat first outside on her porch, and then inside in her living room. We talked about her life, her fears and her nightmares. We talked about perpetrators, cultures and dominant society. I saw her laugh and I saw her cry. She allowed me to take pictures of her.
Nikki has been abused multiple times by different perpetrators, not an uncommon reality among Native Americans. She deals with PTSD from her abuse and has battled weight problems stemming from her emotional and psychological battles. She is slow to trust and I will never forgot the suspicion, heavy in her eyes that first day. Now I see the Nikki that is full of life and laughter. She is determined and strong willed, always trying to improve and overcome and help those who have survived similar experiences through outreach and mentoring. Even in her dark hours, when triggers send her reeling inwards, I know her battle cry is strong.